Affordable VDI alternatives to Citrix and VMware

Thanks to a handful of vendors or architectural choices, virtual desktops infrastructure can be an affordable option for organizations.

Though many affordable VDI providers were acquired or folded in recent years, organizations that want to update their end-user computing strategies without increasing budgets do have some options.

Selinsgrove Area School District in Pennsylvania, for instance, is a rural school district that had its budget slashed by $100,000 over the past three years. 

Two-thirds of the district's $200,000 budget goes to software licensing, which leaves little money for endpoint devices and servers, said Peter Geipel, the director of technology at the school district. Still, the district has managed to roll out 760 NComputing virtual desktop thin clients and software running on just seven Microsoft Hyper-V virtual machines.

Geipel has deployed those virtual desktops for the same total cost of ownership as a traditional fat client device. Plus, he's been able to deploy 450 Amazon Kindle Fire tablets at the high school that students can use to access those same desktops. 

VDI adoption rates stays steady

VDI adoption remains at only 7.5% of the total number of enterprise seats deployed, an Entelechy Associates 2012 end-of-year survey of 198 enterprises found. Yet 55% of respondents have VDI systems in production or under test for pilot projects of 100 or more users.

"We looked at Citrix initially, and it's off-the-wall expensive. And at the other end, we also looked at Pano Logic," Geipel said. "That didn't really work out for us, obviously."

Virtual desktop startup Pano Logic went out of business in October 2012, after initially billing itself as an affordable virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) alternative to established vendors. Its assets were purchased by Propalms Ltd., an application delivery vendor, which intends to integrate Pano Logic into its organization as a new division and continue to support and develop Pano Logic's zero client technology.  

Now the list of affordable VDI alternatives is "really few and far between," said Brett Waldman, an analyst with IDC Corp., a research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

Microsoft has become the de facto affordable alternative to Citrix Systems Inc. and VMware Inc. for VDI for many organizations because of its Remote Desktop Protocol, Windows Server and Hyper-V installed base, Waldman said. 

The more affordable vendor tier below Microsoft includes the Dell-Wyse-Quest combination, Virtual Bridges and HTML5 streaming from Ericom Software. For companies comfortable with the cloud, there are Desktop as a Service and even startups such as Armor5, he added.

NComputing VDI updates for enterprises

NComputing saw the market opportunity for affordable VDI and over the last year has worked aggressively to become more than just a virtualization platform for small and medium-sized businesses and a thin client partner for Citrix, said CEO Raj Dhingra.

"We're not trying to compete with Citrix or VMware," Dhingra said. "It's like the car market. SUV and truck buyers are looking for different capabilities than someone buying a hybrid. Even though both vehicles can take four people comfortably from Boston to Disney World, each serves different purposes."

To that end, the company has rolled out significant upgrades and improvements to both its software and hardware, including the addition of mobile access clients and an administrator management console. Version 7.1 of vSpace Server now supports Windows 8, Windows Server 2012 and Windows MultiPoint Server 2012.

NComputing has become an attractive and affordable VDI alternative because of those incremental improvements to its session-based virtualization approach and because it offers both virtualization software and thin client hardware components, Waldman said.  

While NComputing and the slew of affordable VDI competitors have typically been a great option for deployments of fewer than 1,000 seats, there's no technical limitation preventing them from scaling to large implementations of greater than 5,000 users, Waldman added.

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