Pivot3 vSTAC: Too much for too little?

VDI is an intriguing technology but often surprises people that look at ROI/TCO. Read on.

This week, I had the good fortune to attend Virtualization Field Day 2.  One of the companies presenting at this event was Pivot3, a company that showed it’s new Pivot3 vSTAC™ VDI appliance product.

The vSTAC is intended to massively simplify the process for deploying VDI into an organization. Based on VMware’s View product, vSTAC goes from shipping box to production use in under an hour. Impressively, during the presentation to the VFD2 delegates, the company started with a brand new out-of-the-box unit to show us just how quickly the device could be deployed in the real word and in real time. It’s always impressive to see vendors that are willing to back up their claims with a demonstration!

Pivot3 has taken an intriguing approach to the VDI problem. They’ve taken a stock Dell R510 server and carefully customized it to the following specifications:

  • Dual six-core Intel Xeon Processor X5675
  • 96 GB RAM
  • Two 10Gig ESFP+for LAN and iSCSCI connectivity
  • Integrated VMware vSphere 5.0 hypervisor
  • 50 GB SLC write-cache flash

  • 150 GB SLC flash tier

  • 3 TB Enterprise SAS tier


As you can see, each individual appliance includes multiple layers of storage, including flash cache, 150 GB of flash storage and a full 3 TB of commodity SAS storage. VDI implementations can eat a lot of disk space, so 3 TB per appliance certainly isn’t shabby!

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The “technical cool” part comes now: Pivot3 has architected these units in a way that, when three or more units are stacked, the storage is shared between the units in a network RAID configuration. So, you can lose a unit in the stack and remain operational. You can also lose individual disks in a unit and remain operational. As you add units – up to 8 in a stack – you scale out the shared storage, up to 24 TB in all. Because of the sheer number and variety of disks, the vSTAC doesn’t suffer from some of the performance issues that can be inherent in many VDI implementations.

The vSTAV VDI appliance solves a couple of key problems that can plague VDI deployments:

  • Storage is distributed across lots of spindles and between spinning storage and flash storage, helping to eliminate storage issues.
  • The deployment is massively simplified. If you have a clue how to use vSphere, you’d golden. The learning curve is all but eliminated.

All is not rosy

Technically, I have a great deal of respect for the vSTAC VDI solution. It’s simple. It’s elegant. It lives up to its technical promises.

But it’s expensive. According to our presenter, current pricing places the vSTAC at an equivalent of around $350 per virtual desktop, although the company hopes to be able ot get this down to $250. This is the per-VM price that you’d see if you buy, say, three appliances and amortize the price across the units.

So, let’s add up the costs:

Component

Cost

vSTAC

$250

VMware View license (Premier)

250

Endpoint

350

Monitor

150

Keyboard/mouse

20

Total

$1,020

Personally, I find that cost very, very high. In the interest in long-term equity, I’ve used the lower cost for the licensing. At $1,020 per end point, I could do much better by just continuing to buy PCs. Even using the standard edition of View, the cost comes in at $920 per endpoint.  By the way, these costs don’t include any potential Microsoft licensing that may be imposed.

If I have a different use case in mind – expanding outreach, for example – it may be worth the cost for the new capability, but as a straight cost saver, I’m struggling to see how the solution has an immediate impact on the bottom line.

My verdict: Awesome solution, but the pricing model is simply too aggressive.

My questions to you: Am I missing something? Do you think that the TCO numbers would bear out some savings? Does the deployment simplicity result in enough training and skill savings to offset what appears to be a high per-endpoint price?  Seriously, I WANT to see where I’m wrong!

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