Paper: VDI TCO Analysis for Office Worker Environments

Microsoft has released a paper titled: VDI TCO Analysis for Office Worker Environments. The paper which is 36 pages contains the outcome of a research on the costs of using VDI, resulting in a conclusion that overall VDI is 11% more expensive per user than well-managed PC environments for office workers. Although hardware and service desk costs are reduced, new software and engineering costs are causing the overall costs to increase.

Office workers provide key support functions for organizations, are moderately paid, and have a high turnover cost. Examples include employees that work in accounting, procurement, marketing, and could include specialists like financial traders and software developers.


Cost reductions were primarily driven by:

  • Low VDI end-point costs ‒ thin clients are inexpensive and have a longer service life, easily offsetting the new server, storage and network costs
  • Low service desk costs ‒ the ability to remotely re-initialize a failed virtual PC offsets the need for most desk-side support visits

Cost increases resulted from:

  • Additional licensing costs associated with virtualization, management and desktop software from VMware and Microsoft
  • More demanding desktop engineering requirements due to the complexity of designing and managing the VDI environment

The research used several techniques to generate its data:

  • 105 phone surveys with organizations that employ 500 or more VDI desktops
  • Two-week benchmarking studies conducted at four deployed organizations
  • Sizing and deployment guidance from a Systems Integrator specializing in VDI deployments
  • Existing data from vendors, analysts and consulting firms


The paper covers the following topics:

  • VDI motivations and perceptions – detailing the motivation of deploying VDI in terms of cost, flexibility, service levels, security and green IT.
  • Total Cost of Ownership findings – providing cost estimates for Windows XP and Windows 7 PC environments versus a VDI environment.
  • Facilities, Hardware, Software, IT Labor, Finance and administration and Business costs – and how they contribute to the research.
  • VDI best practices – providing best practices for VDI.
  • PC Management Best Practices – providing best practices for traditional PC management.

"…Key Findings

  • VDI reduces hardware costs by 32% but increases software costs by 64%, cancelling any savings
  • VDI redistributes IT labor costs, but total labor costs are almost identical in the PC environment
  • Users that move from a well-managed PC to VDI complained about a diminished user experience

Microsoft believes that VDI is an innovative technology that can deliver significant value in specific use cases, such as for shiftbased task workers and for contractors. However, for the office worker, the value driver will not be TCO reductions.

Microsoft recommends that each organization evaluate its use cases and drivers for VDI to ensure the best choice of technology for their users and IT organizations…"

Brian Madden has an different opinion about the outcome. He states that based on this study, he beliefs that Microsoft prefers a world of traditional desktops instead of VDI. The reason that VDI is more expensive is because of the fact that the licensing costs for Windows are a contributing factor for making the solution more expensive.

"…Quantifying these numbers, the Microsoft study showed that "VDI reduces hardware costs by 32% but increases software costs by 64% canceling any savings." At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that study reported the additional licensing costs as "Additional licensing costs associated with virtualization, management and desktop software from VMware and Microsoft." In other words, VDI is more expensive because Microsoft is making it so! (Well, at least that’s a contributing factor.)

In all seriousness, this Microsoft study is really, really good. It outlines a lot of the harsh realities of VDI today based on polling of 500 organizations in the US with at least 500 VDI users each, and of them the study mentioned that, "Their opinions are based on perceptions of their currently deployed environment and not on benchmarking." This study certainly reflects many of the harsh realities of VDI today, including that while it sounds great in theory, for most people VDI is complex, expensive, and delivers a worse user experience than traditional desktops…"