Well what is vSphere Desktop? What edition of the normal vSphere is is different or similar? When do we used it and what can we used it for?
VMware has vSphere Desktop licensing to be used by VMware own virtual desktop solutions it is and by third parties virtual desktop solutions. The only different is the licensing model is different.
First and foremost, vSphere for Desktop has the same features and functions of vSphere Enterprise Plus. Yes every single functionality is available.
Before we touch on the different licensing type, you can refer to also VMware Product Guide, on page 16, you will see what is allowed to be hosted on vSphere Desktop in summary: 1) virtual desktop infrastructure, 2) terminal servers 3) associated desktop management and monitoring tools.
If you are purchasing vSphere Desktop for third parties virtual desktop solutions and wants to run with vSphere, you would purchase vSphere Desktop instead of the normal vSphere. In vSphere Desktop licensing, you are allow to have as many hosts as you need however the licensing is by per powered on virtual machine. This is explained here.
To run a vSphere environment, you need a management server, in this case vCenter. However for third party solutions, the only options would be vCenter Server Foundation or Standard to manage this environment. I have explained the different vCenter previously here.
The next place where you will find vSphere Desktop and also vCenter Desktop (not available for purchase but bundled in VMware Horizon bundles) is in VMware Horizon bundling. In all VMware Horizon bundling it is always bundled with vSphere Desktop and vCenter Desktop. In this type of bundling, the licensing will be based on either Named User or Concurrent User. I wrote an article on Horizon Suite which now replaced by a new bundle Horizon 6 which detailed the named and concurrent user licensing with example which still applies.
With most customers I came across who runs third party solutions are on vSphere been the fact that vSphere is much easier to use and reliable.
So now with the confusion cleared, why cost seems cheaper to run with VMware Virtual Desktop solution instead? Reason is simple. When comparing with third party solutions running on VMware vSphere Desktop and VMware virtual desktop solution, the cost is automatically lowered.
Let's take the popular Citrix XenDesktop for example:
Taking the cost from here. Citrix has three editions namely: VDI Edition, Enterprise and Platinum for named user $80, $190, 300 and concurrently $165, $430, $600 respectively. This has not include VMware vSphere Desktop and vCenter Server Standard which will cost $6,500 per 100 VMs and $4,995 respectively.
If we take VMware Horizon 6 Standard, Advanced and Enterprise and the cost named user at list price (no named user for Horizon 6 Standard), $250, $250, $350 and concurrent user at $250, $400,
From this example, doing some math, you will discover other than Citrix XenDesktop VDI Edition with vSphere Desktop might cost slightly cheaper comparing to Horizon 6 Standard edition which comes only in concurrent user licensing only, where XenDesktop Enterprise editions and above with VMware vSphere Desktop will cost much more than VMware Horizon 6. Not to mention you now have to manage two separate technology with hiring someone with two different skillset.
Of course the cost might only be lower (in some editions it still costs more) unless you run the free hypervisor instead of VMware vSphere Desktop for third party solutions.
Hope this give you a clearer picture how vSphere Desktop is been used and licensed as well as the cost involved whether to use VMware or third parties solution.