Should You Be Using Virtual Desktops or Remote Desktops?

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This post about “Virtual Desktops or Remote Desktops” was written by guest blogger Microsoft MVP Brien M. Posey. We are extremely excited and pleased to get to share his post as a special guest blog this week!

Virtual Desktops or Remote Desktops?

One of the big questions that administrators will have to address when designing a private cloud is whether to use remote desktops or virtual desktops. Each approach has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Remote desktops are based on the use of Microsoft terminal servers. In a terminal server environment, users establish a connection to one or more centralized terminal servers. The user’s applications run directly on the terminal server rather than running in a virtual desktop environment.

The primary advantage to using remote desktops is simplicity (at least when compared to virtual desktops). Remote desktop environments tend to have fewer infrastructure requirements than virtual desktop environments, which translates directly into lower implementation costs.

Historically, the biggest disadvantage to using remote desktops has been application compatibility. In the past many applications simply would not run in a terminal server environment. Over the years, most of these compatibility problems have gone away. Some applications still won’t run properly on a terminal server, but it is possible to use an application virtualization solution as a workaround to the problem. Of course doing so does have an impact on cost and complexity.

Virtual Desktops Virtual desktop environment (commonly referred to as VDI) make use of large collections of virtual machines running on top of hypervisors. VDI environments tend to be much more complicated than remote desktop environments. In a VDI environment, administrators must manage large collections of virtual machines. Furthermore, a connection broker is needed in order to match in the user sessions two virtual machines. If not properly implemented the connection broker can become a single point of failure or a major performance bottleneck.

In spite of its cost and complexity, virtual desktop environments do offer a number of benefits over remote desktops. For one thing, virtual desktops provide end-users with a familiar experience. When a user logs onto a virtual desktop they normally interact with a desktop operating systems such as Windows 7 or Windows 8. Remote Desktop environments on the other hand, sometimes force users to use a server desktop.

Virtual desktops also allow for a far greater degree of personalization. Because virtual desktops are based on large collections of virtual machines, it is possible to create multiple categories of virtual machines to service the various means of users throughout the organization. For example, an administrator could create one virtual machine image for the finance Department and a different virtual machine image for Human Resources.

Similarly, an administrator can decide whether to make virtual desktops persistent or nonpersistent. In other words, a virtual desktop can be configured to begin every session in a pristine state, or it can be configured to maintain user state data from one session to the next, thereby acting as a personal virtual desktop.

The choice over whether an organization should use virtual desktops or remote desktops largely depends upon the organization’s needs. Virtual desktops generally offer a greater degree of flexibility, but do so at a higher cost than what might be incurred with remote desktops.

About Brien M. Posey

Brien Posey is a ten time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Prior to becoming a freelance technical writer, Brien served as CIO for a national chain of hospitals and healthcare facilities. He has also worked as a network administrator for some of the nation’s largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox.

Since going freelance in 2001, Brien has become a prolific technical author. He has published many thousands of articles and numerous books on a wide variety of topics (primarily focusing on enterprise networking). In addition to his writing, Brien has provided consulting services to clients and speaks at IT events all over the world.


Virtual Desktops: Wikipedia

Unlock Virtual Desktops: How To Geek


virtual desktops

Giorgio Bonuccelli is a Marketing and Communications Director at Parallels. Giorgio has extensive experience in cloud computing and virtualization, with a background of many years in multinational corporations (Dell, EMC and McAfee). In his career he has filled different roles, from sales to training and marketing. This wide-ranging experience and flexibility helps him simplify concepts and write content that is easy to read and understandable even by newcomers to the subject. As a blogger and technical writer he has published more than 1000 papers.

  • Ali Kiaeifar

    Usefull article! Is there any comparation document between 2X & vmware veiw?

  • Charlie Williams, Marketing Director

    Hi Ali, we are currently working on comparison matrices. Once they are finalized, we’ll get them posted.

  • VPN Accounts

    Showing research and very informative, a great compilation, an Excellent share will be looking for more.

  • Brandon

    * Users can easily make connections on any operating system via the browser
    * It can be deployed to a range of thick and thin client access devices
    * User’s applications run directly on the terminal server

    * Scalability: Resources such as RAM capacity, disk space and other peripherals can easily be allocated
    * As the remote desktop is hosted on the server, the virtual desktop can easily be restored using snap-shots
    * With the capability to clone and create templates a virtual machines can be deployed in a few minutes