Demystifying Virtual Desktop Pricing

What is the true cost of virtual desktops? Understand pricing options and cost considerations. Discover the alternative: enterprise browsers.

Demystifying Virtual Desktop Pricing

If you’ve recently received your VDI renewal bill, you know firsthand that costs are on the rise. Anecdotally, reports of renewal bills doubling year over year are not uncommon. As IT budgets tighten under the pressure of these sharply rising costs, many IT leaders find themselves navigating the tricky waters of financial constraints while needing to invest in innovation.

The good news is that there is a modern alternative to virtual desktop solutions — one that can radically reduce your reliance on VDI and its associated costs. To understand how this new enterprise technology can ease the pain of being stuck in expensive VDI cycles, we first need to dig into the two most common virtual desktop pricing models.

What is desktop virtualization?

Desktop virtualization is a technology that hosts a virtual computing environment remotely, allowing remote access over the network. A virtual desktop behaves like a traditional endpoint, providing users access to applications and other resources. Virtual desktops are primarily used to centralize management and access controls of the desktop environments within an organization. They allow for detailed control over application provisioning, access controls, and security settings. 

Virtual desktop pricing options

The most notable virtual desktop providers include Citrix, VMware, Amazon AWS, and Microsoft Azure. Their pricing models vary based on factors such as the number of users, the intensity of computing resources required, and where the solution is hosted.

Self-Hosted Virtualization 

Many organizations choose to host the virtualization infrastructure in their own data centers. In this model, the costs of server infrastructure, hosting, and maintenance are the responsibility of the customer. The virtualization vendor licenses their solution, typically based on total number of users or number of server units. 

The advantage of self hosted virtualization is complete control over the environment and network resources. The costs are generally fixed and predictable for the duration of the contract. 

The downside to this approach is the significant capital costs required to build and host the virtualization infrastructure, plus ongoing maintenance. For organizations with fluctuating usage demands, or rapid growth of users, efficiently scaling the virtualization environment can be a challenge. And, as mentioned above, this model is still susceptible to unexpected pricing increases by virtualization vendors. 

Cloud-Hosted Virtualization 

A newer model for virtualization is cloud hosted or desktop as a service (DaaS). Similar to other cloud subscription models, this is typically offered with a variable cost structure, based on actual usage. All the infrastructure and hosting costs are carried by the vendor, making this a capital-light option. 

This model is ideal for businesses that experience fluctuating needs or for organizations with rapid user growth. With dynamic pricing, organizations can scale their resource usage up or down based on business demands. This can be a positive, as the organization doesn’t have to pay for idle infrastructure, but it requires careful monitoring and planning for the variable subscription charges.  

Under this model, diligent and continuous monitoring of usage is crucial to understanding the cost implications of the services being run. Virtual desktop costs can vary significantly with changes in resource consumption. So optimizing the virtual desktop configurations based on usage is key to budgeting accurately and avoiding unexpected expenses. 

Virtual Desktop Pricing Options at a Glance
Self-Hosted Cloud-Hosted
Cost structure Fixed Dynamic, Pay-as-you-go
Pricing based on Number of users or server units, plus the cost of hosting and maintaining infrastructure Actual usage of virtual desktops, with variable costs based on configuration and resource usage
Best for businesses that Prefer full end-to-end control and have predictable usage trends Have fluctuating usage needs or rapid user growth

Virtual desktop alternatives

A modern alternative to traditional virtual desktops is an enterprise browser. These specialized browsers are designed specifically for enterprise work. They secure and simplify access to cloud applications and internal resources, providing a lightweight and often more cost-effective solution compared to full virtual desktop infrastructures.

What is an enterprise browser?

An enterprise browser is a specialized web browser designed for the unique needs of businesses, with built-in security, policy management, productivity tools, and integration capabilities.

Unlike consumer browsers, which require additional layers of tech for security and IT policies, enterprise browsers provide tools for IT departments to control and secure everything that flows through the browser — no extra layers required. 

Virtual desktop vs. enterprise browser

An enterprise browser is not a virtual desktop, but the way they’re used is often very similar. Now that most applications are accessed through a browser, an enterprise browser offers a more direct platform for managing access and security. 

A virtual desktop replicates a full computing environment on a remote server, allowing users to access an entire operating system and its applications from any device. However, this can often result in a clunky user experience characterized by slower response times and reduced graphical performance, especially over low-bandwidth connections. 

An enterprise browser is specifically designed to securely access web applications and other resources within a corporate framework, without the overhead of managing a complete desktop environment. This delivers a smooth, familiar user experience that enhances productivity with minimal disruption. And because it’s a browser, there is nearly zero learning curve for end-users.

Organizations might choose an enterprise browser over a virtual desktop for its simplicity, cost-effectiveness, inherent security, and superior user experience. The enterprise browser is ideal for companies that heavily use web apps and SaaS, have a largely remote workforce, employ a BYOD strategy, and/or work extensively with third-party contractors.


The pricing models for enterprise browsers and virtual desktops reflect their differing scopes and technological demands. 

Enterprise browsers tend to be more cost-effective due to their simplified infrastructure needs and focused functionality. They are designed to optimize and secure web access without the overhead associated with virtualization infrastructure. 

Pricing for enterprise browsers usually involves subscription-based models that can be scaled according to the number of users the feature set required. This approach reduces upfront costs and aligns ongoing expenses more directly with actual usage, making enterprise browsers an economically advantageous option for organizations that rely heavily on web-based and SaaS applications.

Whether you’re currently self-hosting VDI or subscribing to cloud hosted virtual desktops, an enterprise browser can significantly reduce the costs associated with virtual desktops.

For fixed VDI plans, cost reduction is slower but larger because fixed costs associated with VDI, such as hardware, software licenses, and maintenance, can be substantial, and an enterprise browser streamlines operations by reducing or eliminating these overhead expenses. By consolidating and centralizing browser management and security, organizations can defer or avoid costly upgrades and expansions of their VDI infrastructure​​.

A smaller but more immediate cost reduction is seen with cloud hosted VDI plans because dynamic plans are typically usage-based, where costs fluctuate based on actual consumption. An enterprise browser reduces the need for extensive virtual desktop environments by directly managing and securing web applications. This efficiency reduces the number of resources consumed, leading to immediate cost savings with usage-based virtualization pricing.

The Island approach to enterprise browsers

Island's enterprise browser offers a compelling alternative to virtual desktops by providing robust, built-in protections against common web threats, advanced data control capabilities, and streamlined management tools that are easy for IT teams to deploy and maintain. 

No backhauling traffic. No servers to maintain. No frustrated end users. At a fraction of the cost. All built into a Chromium-based browser end users can deploy and use with zero training. Island simplifies administration and delivers a smoother, faster, and more secure user experience, tailored to meet the demanding needs of modern enterprises.

Further reading

Revolutionize the way you secure and enable work with an enterprise browser. 

Discover its benefits, key features, and real-world applications.