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PCs vs. DaaS: A Total Cost Analysis

Several years ago, IT managers and companies realized that they could drastically slash their IT budget by virtualizing much of their server architecture and infrastructure. The benefits were clearly and quickly apparent. After all, running servers in-house is expensive: from the physical costs of having a climate-controlled server room to the price of energy consumed to the cost of keeping maintenance staff on hand, the expenses can add up.

Hot on this success, many in the IT and managed services field began experimenting with taking virtualization to the next level with DaaS: Desktop as a Service. With DaaS, companies could, in theory, cut costs even more drastically than with virtualized servers. After all, most companies have significantly more PCs than servers in operation. Unfortunately, desktops and the infrastructure required to support them is significantly different from servers, and many of the cost offsets seen in server virtualization simply aren’t available when switching to DaaS. Fortunately, there are still plenty of savings to be found in using desktop virtualization, even if some of them are only apparent on a longer timeline.

Before moving into discussions of savings offered by DaaS, it’s important to quantify the total actual costs of your current fleet of PCs. A VMWorld white paper recently estimated that the costs of running a traditional PC run to roughly $1,281, with the vast majority of those costs being year-over-year management costs per computer per user, including power and IT labor. Another white paper by Citrix agrees, putting the yearly cost at $960. These yearly costs include maintenance just on the PCs themselves, and not costs on the networks and infrastructures that keep them operating. Included are things like physical relocation and adjustments, patching and upgrading software, reimaging drives and resolving issues, and back-ups and other preventative maintenance.

On top of the yearly costs is the price of the desktop itself. A full office desktop can cost anywhere from $150 for a barebones repurposed/refurbished model to $300 and up for new units. These costs can grow significantly if you have some employees that require specialized workstations. A desktop for a graphic artist, video editor, high-end developer, or data-analyst can easily run to over $1000, especially since few companies order enough of these specialty units to get large volume discounts. Additionally, if you DO virtualize some desktop functions, but do so in-house, you run the costs for server hardware and maintenance.

Enter DaaS. Much like SaaS (Software as a Service), the principle is that you outsource infrastructure and physical management, and instead manage only the software used on a pay-as-you-go model. Unlike more traditional desktop virtualization setups, you manage only the users and the desktop image which you use, instead of managing the users, the desktop image, and the physical servers and infrastructure. According to the VMWorld white paper, this has a huge impact on your management costs year over year. Whereas a traditional PC runs around $950 per year, a VDI (traditional virtual desktop service) will cost about $650. DaaS services manage to beat both, coming in at just over $300 per year in management costs. When viewed in a per user per desktop basis over a longer time-period, that savings of over $600 per year adds up to a much smaller IT budget.

On top of the savings from IT staff costs, DaaS also has a significant advantage in physical endpoint costs. Whereas typical PCs can cost hundreds of dollars, DaaS gives you the option of using thin clients, desktops that not only cost significantly less money than traditional PCs (between $50 to $100 per unit) but also require significantly less power and cut down on energy costs. A DaaS platform can also allow you to implement a safe, secure BYOD policy, cutting computing costs even more drastically. Since all work is done in a virtualized environment inside of a sandbox, the typical security worries involved with BYOD are greatly minimized.

All in all, DaaS is quickly turning into the future of computers in the office, and it’s clear why. A DaaS setup can cut total costs per user per PC by at least 30% in many organizations, and more for ones that did not have the most efficient PC management policy in the first place. While the technology is still young, it shows a lot of promise for drastically reducing IT budgets. Is it right for your company? Hard to say. It definitely will be in the next year or two, as the technology matures. But those who wait have to factor in losing out on a year or more of savings by early adopters.