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Windows Virtual Desktop Vs. Remote Desktop Services: Which Aligns Better with Business Growth?

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Virtualization technology came into being about two decades ago. However, with numerous IT advances in the tech realm, the desktop virtualization journey only got better. Besides, the dramatic changes in work cultures, accentuated by the global health event, have pointed to more obvious cloud-based solutions: Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) and Remote Desktop Service (RDS).

These virtualization technologies have played wonderfully in supporting the overnight shift to remote and hybrid work environments. Pioneered by Microsoft, both WVD and RDS offer pretty similar functionalities. However, the differences between the two experiences lie internally, as each has a different licensing model, back end, and user base.

This article is a head-to-head comparison between WVD and RDS, complemented by a verdict toward the end.

The Basics

Windows Virtual Desktop is an all-encompassing cloud service running in Azure for virtualizing desktops and applications. More precisely, it is a stack of Microsoft technologies to develop virtual desktops for end-users. WVD comes with a single virtualized instance of the Windows Client operating system (OS), provided via Azure or directly to an organization’s network and domain. Furthermore, the desktop virtualization solution optimizes Office 365 ProPlus, multi-session Windows 10, and support for RDS environments.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) link end-user devices (remote or onsite) – the terminals – with the host system or server over a network connection. Earlier called terminal services, RDS enables users to log into a device from any location and run and access databases, apps, files, and network resources. Hence, it is regarded as shared computing. Further, only those remote user devices supporting Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) can be a part of this nexus.

Operating System

RDS is limited to a single server OS wherein end-users access the OS on their devices, akin to the server OS. It is a Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) model, allowing users to pick storage, server type, and security groups. With RDS, businesses can ensure secure remote desktop access for their employees where OS and infrastructure might depend on a remote server machine. However, this entire setup triggers issues around user experience and application compatibility.

Unlike RDS, WVD is not limited to a single OS or application architecture. As such, end-users’ devices can run on different OSs like iOS and Android. WVD functions on a desktop-based OS – multi-user Windows 10. The virtualization tech delivers an integrated public cloud for hosting companies’ applications and systems. Moreover, the scalable OS enables multiple Windows 10 users to connect on a single virtual machine (VM).

WVD is both infrastructure and platform services (IaaS and PaaS), where VM is the host, and the remainder of the service is PaaS. With significantly fewer devices to look after, WVD is a more specific setting than RDS for organizations’ IT teams.

Licensing

To deploy RDS, organizations need to buy server OS licensing, Client Access License (CAL), and Subscriber Access License (SAL) for desktop deployment in Azure. Not to mention the additional VMs to operate and manage. Putting all these elements together is expensive and complicated, and maintaining a virtual desktop setting properly licensed with time further adds to the problem.

There is no need for CAL for WVD. Users can continue with their existing Microsoft 365 (Business, A3, A5, E3, or E5) or a standalone Windows 10 subscribership. The only additional costs include Azure storage, computing, and networking related to the VMs used. In a nutshell, organizations enjoy all Office 365 functionalities, Edge, OneDrive, and Azure Marketplace.

Also, as enterprises increasingly turn to Microsoft 365 anyway, WVD becomes a zero-fee add-on to an already existing subscribership, saving end-users money each month.

IT Management

In RDS, enterprises have complete control of the ecosystem. That said, they can outsource some infrastructure roles, such as RD Gateway, RD connection broker, and RD web access, to Managed Service Providers (MSP) offering DaaS or IaaS. These roles receive a user’s connection request, determine its appropriate destination, and place it on the relevant desktop VM. However, this required additional server equipment and ongoing administration, for instance, monitoring and Windows patching.

As WVD is PaaS, the service provider (Microsoft) takes care of these infrastructure roles, alongside software updates, installation, and monitoring. So, when end clients connect, they land at Microsoft’s control plane first and are later verified and redirected to the relevant desktop based on their permissions. This not only trims the cost of infrastructure required to support virtual devices but also saves on ongoing administration labor.

Security Framework

As RDS is entirely server-based, IT teams can run any corporate application, even the older versions. The desktop virtualization experience offers more data security as it is deployed on a private cloud or on-prem by MSPs. Additionally, all security measures, including firewalls, antivirus, or OS patching, are only dedicated to a specific end client.

WVD, on the flip side, operates on a public cloud network. Therefore, the Internet, firewalls, or patching is shared among multiple users. Also, IT pros cannot run third-party apps but the existing desktop apps with suitable configurations. Finally, as WVD does not run on servers, it has to connect with other servers in the Azure setting to become functional for end-users. So, making it bank-grade secure could become challenging.

The Bottom Line

So, which desktop virtualization solution ranks the highest? There is no fixed answer as it banks on organizations’ various factors, preferences, and needs.

Businesses with many employees using the same resources and applications would find RDS better. On the other hand, WVD is a better pick for more sophisticated and customizable user configurations.

Eventually, it all squares down to the IT teams to decide which virtual experience is best in times when companies are increasingly taking their devices and applications to the cloud.

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