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The cost benefits of VDI

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Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is the trailblazer of software delivery technology, born organically of real-world use cases, capable of delivering apps to most user contexts and with a reputation for being expensive.

While there is substance behind VDI’s notoriety for being potentially bank-breaking and carrying ‘hidden’ soft costs, many often forget that the savings it generates in other areas, and the added revenue it drives can often mitigate its associated costs.

What is VDI

Accessing university applications via VDI
VDI creates virtual desktops to run apps on and deploys them to end-users’ machines. The app is still executed and run server-side, with only audio/visual output leaving campus or a managed datacenter.

Desktop virtualization, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, delivers software and end-user services by creating virtual machines, traditionally on on-premise servers. These virtual desktops are usually imaged with various software titles and a VDI solution will choose which imaged virtual machine to spin up based on the software title being requested. These titles are then run and executed inside the virtual machines, with the resulting visual data being pixel-streamed to the end-device.

Customers of VMware server virtualization began using a VMware server and ESX servers to host virtualized desktop processes in 2002. In the absence of a connection broker, Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) was used to connect to a Windows XP virtual machine.


What are the benefits of VDI in Higher Ed?

VDI is used to solve some of the trickiest delivery contexts in higher education and has a number of key strengths. Usually, if an obstacle is in the way of delivering a specific piece of software to a certain device or delivery context, VDI has the capability to solve it.

  • Cross-platform delivery of any Windows app
  • Delivery to ultrathin and zero clients
  • Deliver offsite, even with prohibitive license agreements
  • VDI is more secure

Cross-platform delivery of any Windows app

The way VDI functions means that the end device’s interactions with software titles are limited to receiving visual data, and sending keyboard/mouse input data. This means that any device can be used to access Windows applications via VDI providing they can access each VDI solution’s clients, which are usually Mac, Windows, and HTML5.

Delivery to ultrathin and zero clients

With VDI, all of the computing and execution of apps are handled server-side. This means that hardware capabilities of the end device don’t factor into whether that device can access software via VDI. Higher Ed IT could use VDI to run Solidworks on a Chromebook, SPSS on an IPAD, and so on. Thin clients, zero clients, low-spec machines; VDI can deliver to them all.

Deliver offsite, even with prohibitive license agreements

A notorious and common problem with delivering software titles to offsite machines/users is that their license agreements often stipulate that the title must only be run on-campus. Given VDI runs and executes software titles on servers onsite, then deploys the resulting pixel data to end-devices, VDI allows IT to deliver software titles offsite while remaining license compliant. However, some vendors are beginning to respond to this by including VDI clauses in their agreements.

VDI is more secure

Whether using a legacy, on-premise VDI solution, or the newer model of pay-per-use cloud-hosted VDI solutions, security is almost always tighter with VDI. If your VDI is on-premise (eg, Citrix and VMware’s offerings), IT can manage it with confidence that data is safe; especially if end-users use VPNs. If using a newer, cloud-hosted solution, then IT’s data is in the hands of the most tried, tested, and trusted organizations in the world of data security, period. Amazon and Microsoft are proven in this context.


Key cost benefits of VDI in Higher Ed

While there is substance behind VDI’s notoriety for carrying ‘hidden’ soft costs, many often forget that the savings it generates in other areas, and the added revenue it drives can often mitigate its associated costs.

  • A better IT service boosts FTE and revenue
  • Reduce investment in physical machines (computing power of machines)
  • Leverage student-owned hardware (number of machines)
  • Virtual machines don’t need hardware upgrades
  • Less time spent/reliance on imaging physical machines
  • More energy-efficient than some alternatives
  • Cloud-hosted solutions have pay-as-you-go models

A better IT service boosts FTE and revenue

VDI allows higher Ed IT to provide better, more consistent, and more convenient access to software for students, through the use of virtualization infrastructure. As past research has shown, IT service is intrinsically tied to student experience, outcomes, and ratings. And the better these three aspects of students’ experience are, the more students will enroll. Higher enrolment equals higher revenue.

Reduce investment in physical machines

As mentioned previously, VDI can deliver to thin, ultrathin, and zero clients. This means that IT can invest less money in machines with standalone computing power/hardware and, instead, opt for lighter clients that cost less to purchase, but will run apps via VDI with the same performance as a high-spec machine running apps locally.

Leverage student-owned hardware (number of machines)

With VDI’s cross-platform capability and lack of reliance on the computing power of the end device, IT can deliver to student-owned BYO devices more frequently and in more delivery contexts. More students accessing software on their own devices means that IT can reduce their hardware budget spend by simply buying fewer machines. By extension, this helps IT

Less maintenance and hardware upgrades

Virtual desktops generally need much less maintenance than physical ones, and the process of upgrading them is much simpler. This alleviates pressure and frees up time for IT to focus on key strategic projects.

Less time spent/reliance on imaging physical machines

While imaging is still needed and useful when deploying virtual desktops, it is much less laborious and time-consuming than imaging thousands of physical machines. This results in time saved for IT and makes deploying updates, patches, and new software titles a quicker task.

More energy-efficient than some alternatives

An alternative to VDI is using Remote Desktop Protocol or RDP Services to allow students to remote into physical machines out of hours. This requires all machines to be left on and so is very high in power consumption. VDI uses virtual machines, so no physical desktops need to be left on and only the servers need power. This is the greener and cheaper option.

Cloud-hosted solutions are pay-as-you-go

Windows Virtual Desktop and other cloud-based alternatives feature pay-as-you-go usage models, allowing universities to only pay for what they need. There is negligible upfront investment required for cloud-hosted VDI solutions when compared with legacy VDI and other delivery methods.


Can VDI be the more cost-effective solution?

How can VDI save universities money?

Legacy VDI implementations do need a substantial commitment and upfront investment, however previously mentioned cost benefits still apply to even legacy VDI. When used correctly, it can enhance Higher Ed IT’s service significantly, while remaining viable and manageable.

Newer, cloud-hosted solutions have even more potential for presenting a sustainable and scalable solution for BYOD software delivery and avoiding disruption to service. Their minimal upfront investment, elastic usage agreements and series of other cost benefits mean they should be a serious consideration for HEIT. If implemented smartly, they empower IT to deliver and unparalleled IT experience to students.

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