VDI vs RDS--and Other Options

Last Updated:
April 11, 2024

VDI vs RDS--and Other Options

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and Microsoft® RDS (Remote Desktop Services) both enable remote work, but utilize two different approaches to do it.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) hosts desktop environments (preconfigured images of an operating system and applications, typically Microsoft Windows®) on a centralized server and deploys them to end-users on request. With VDI, a hypervisor segments servers into virtual machines (VMs) that in turn host these virtual desktops. All processing is done on the host server.

The virtual desktop image is delivered over a network to an endpoint device, which allows the user to interact with the operating system and its applications as if they were running locally. The endpoint may be a traditional PC, thin client device or a mobile device.

Microsoft RDS provides a centralized platform for delivering and managing Windows-based applications and desktops to users via Microsoft’s remote desktop protocol (RDP).

To implement RDS, IT utilizes several Windows Server functions. The primary workload role is Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH), which has session-sharing capabilities to enable multiple users to access desktops and applications simultaneously on a single instance of Windows Server. Other RDS workload roles include RD Connection Broker, RD Gateway, RD Licensing and RD Web Access. For user access, Microsoft provides Remote Desktop clients for Microsoft Windows, Apple® macOS®, Apple iOS, Google Android™ and HTML5-capable browsers.

The most fundamental difference between VDI and RDS is how server resources are allocated.

In an RDS environment, multiple users access a single environment, which can be customized on a per user basis but cannot dedicate resources to a particular user. In a VDI environment each user can access their own centrally hosted VM, access a shared VM, and IT can have CPU, memory, and disk capacity allotted to a specific user based on his specific computing needs.

RDS vs VDI—Similar Functionality

VDI and RDS do provide similar functionality:

  • Users log into a remote system that provides them with a desktop that allows them to do their work; the OS and applications are running on a server rather than the user’s device.
  • Users’ applications and files are stored remotely, not on the local device.
  • Since applications are installed centrally on a server, not locally, it’s easier for IT to patch, update, and troubleshoot them, reducing helpdesk requests and user downtime.
  • Since most processing is being done on the server, users don’t need powerful, high-end devices and thus don’t need device replacement as often as they would if they were using local apps, saving money on user hardware.
  • VDI and RDS enable access via a browser, so end users can use multiple devices to get work done.
  • Since applications and data are on the server and not local machines, backing up and securing data is centralized and thus easier for IT.

So, at the 10,000 feet level, RDS and VDI seem very similar. However, because RDS and VDI take very different technological approaches to enabling remote access, IT needs to consider the consequences of each approach to determine what’s best for them.

Advantages of VDI—More Flexibility

  • Since virtual desktops operate separately from the device operating system, there’s no conflict between the virtual desktop and the device. Additionally, if a user’s image contains memory-intensive software (for instance, graphics-intensive apps), IT can allocate more power to those users in the virtual desktop without creating issues on the physical device.
  • Users can run a wider range of apps with fewer compatibility issues because the virtual desktop runs separately from the physical device.
  • If configured appropriately, VDI supports offline working in case internet access is unavailable or goes down during a work session.

Disadvantages of VDI—More Complexity and Cost

  • VDI requires more software components than RDS and enables different types and levels of server resource allocation, which makes it more complex to implement and run. Additionally, VDI requires a hypervisor to create and run a VM.
  • VDI is more expensive than RDS. Implementing VDI requires a high up-front cost in software and hardware, plus the personnel needed to plan and execute an implementation.
  • Implementing, rolling out, and managing a VDI implementation requires a special skillset that can be hard to find. Personnel with that skillset can command more compensation than an “average” IT admin. An alternative is to find a specialist firm to implement VDI; or, an organization can implement DaaS (VDI in the cloud provided as a service) and leverage the skillset of the DaaS provider’s service organization.

Advantages of RDS—More Simplicity

  • RDS is simpler to set up than VDI, in part because all users access a single server environment, new users can be added quickly, and no hypervisor is required.
  • RDS requires Windows Server licensing plus RDS CALs (one per user or per device). No additional licensing is required. By comparison, VDI leverages Windows licenses as well as the specific VDI solution licensing costs.
  • Management and maintenance of an RDS implementation is easier than VDI.

Disadvantages of RDS—Simplicity Limits Functionality

  • With RDS, every user utilizes the same configuration and cannot personalize their computing work environment.
  • Since RDS runs on Windows, not every application will run on an RDS server.
  • The internet must be ‘always on’ for RDS—and users—to work.
  • If a large number of users are simultaneously accessing RDS, performance may suffer and reduce user productivity.

RDS vs VDI—Which Will Work Better for You?

If your users all perform similar work, use the same applications and the same CPUs, RDS could work for you. Your infrastructure will be less complex and easier to manage, although you may be challenged by the lack of flexibility inherent in an RDS implementation.

If you support many different user types performing a wide variety of roles and using a wide variety of apps that may need more CPUs to deliver a good user experience, it can worth the higher complexity and cost to use VDI.

But, if you need to deliver Windows applications—not desktops—to your users, there is an alternative to RDS and VDI—GO-Global.

GO-Global is an application publishing solution providing multi-user access to Windows applications from any location, device, and operating system. GO-Global fully replaces Microsoft functionality including multi-session kernel, Remote Desktop clients, display driver, protocol, internet gateway and management tools.

Because GO-Global does not use Windows, applications published using GO-Global require less IT implementation and management effort, scale more economically, and provide users with a web-native experience on any device with a browser. Browser-based user access does not require installation of a client on a user’s device, making it easier to enable and support users with non-Windows devices.

To learn more about GO-Global, request a demo here or download a free 30-day trial.