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Can hyper-converged infrastructure cut VDI costs?

Hyper-converged systems may cost more upfront, but organizations must also calculate long-term costs to determine if HCI is a fit for their virtual desktop infrastructure.

Proponents of hyper-converged infrastructure have seen VDI as a primary use case for the hardware platform since its inception, and they claim it can help reduce costs and simplify management, but there are many factors that affect the total cost of ownership.

There are a number of ways that hyper-converged infrastructure can reduce VDI costs. One of the most important is the easier management and reduced maintenance overhead that HCI offers. Organizations need fewer IT resources to deploy and maintain the system, compared to the typical data center platform.

Simple setup and management

HCI comes preconfigured and performance-tuned for specific workloads, including VDI. Not only does this translate to lower personnel costs, it also reduces the need for specialists to help set up and optimize a VDI platform. This can be especially beneficial for smaller organizations that don't have extensive budgets or the necessary in-house resources to deploy VDI themselves.

HCI is also easier to manage over the long term. The appliances automatically receive updates from the vendor and disaster recovery is built into the system. Plus, it's easy and fast to scale HCI. Administrators need only add self-contained nodes that are ready to use upon installation. In addition, an HCI platform provides a single interface to manage all its components, so administrators don't have to use multiple systems like they do with a traditional platform.

HCI also has a smaller footprint than traditional servers and storage arrays because the components are integrated and optimized, which saves data center space and reduces energy consumption. It can be cheaper to buy an HCI appliance than purchasing the components individually if IT doesn't already have those components on hand.

That said, an HCI appliance also comes with a steep initial price tag, and it's not until organizations calculate those costs over the long term that they will start to see savings.

Unanticipated HCI and VDI costs

HCI can also reduce VDI costs by using resources more efficiently than traditional systems, which are often overprovisioned to support varying workloads. However, HCI's modular architecture can offset some of these advantages, forcing organizations to add compute and storage resources as a single unit rather than as separate components.

If organizations use HCI for workloads that don't fit into this scaling model, IT pros might need to overprovision some resources to meet the needs of others, eliminating any cost advantage. On the other hand, the latest HCI systems provide more scaling flexibility, making them even more competitive with traditional platforms.

Decision-makers should also weigh the cost advantages of a do-it-yourself HCI platform compared to purchasing a packaged appliance. A prebuilt appliance is much faster and easier to install and set up, but it comes with a higher price tag. A DIY approach can be cheaper to build and scale, but it can also require far more time and personnel to implement, even if IT pros use a comprehensive reference architecture.

Decision-makers should perform a careful cost analysis to compare the DIY approach to prebuilt appliances or other platforms. The only way to calculate long-term TCO is to consider the VDI workloads that the hardware will support, the applicable licensing fees, the storage requirements, the on-hand resources and the existing systems.

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