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 Windows Virtual Desktop and Windows Remote Desktop Services 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.
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.
Windows Remote Desktop 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, Windows Virtual Desktop 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.
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 Windows Virtual Desktop. 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.
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.
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.
Windows Virtual Desktop, 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.
Migration: Which one is easier?
Desktop virtualization technologies have attracted organizations worldwide with their enormous benefits, with employees, especially, enjoying the flexibility of accessing work resources from any region. As companies press the digital transformation lever harder, some are analyzing WVD and remote desktops as potential answers to hybrid/remote working.
That said, decision-makers must be diligent about the user-friendliness of both these desktop virtualization solutions. Remote desktops are easy to install as they require fewer components. End-users utilize shared critical resources functioning on a common OS instance, enabling the commissioning of workstations in a flash. In addition, RDS is a great choice for enterprises looking for mutual servers with group policies, profiling options, and IT administrators who manage access controls. However, users cannot customize their desktops and applications as needed since everybody accesses OS during their desktop sessions and is confined within the same configuration. Besides, if many users distribute the server’s resources simultaneously, companies can endure contention and performance issues.
Conversely, WVD is more suitable for enterprises desiring the near-accurate experience of physical systems from remote desktops, along with at-scale personalization. The flip side of all this flexibility, however, is its complexity. Companies must have competent IT personnel to deploy and maintain WVD.
Nonetheless, WVD’s impeccable adaptability makes it ideal for businesses employing diverse workforces for multiple use cases. In addition, the technology does not have compatibility issues as every user is allotted a dedicated VM operating an independent OS. Consequently, employees do not confront performance issues as IT professionals can allocate more power to those who actually need it.
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.
Does Windows virtual desktop use RDP?
Windows Virtual Desktop leverages remote desktop protocol (RDP) to fine-tune the delivery of servers’ remote graphics to client workstations over corporate networks. RDP modifies different parameters in real-time to offer the optimal user experience based on the availability of computing resources, use cases, and network bandwidth.
Microsoft initially rolled out RDP with Windows NT 4.0 Terminal Server Edition (codenamed Hydra). Since then, the business-centric OS has been continuously evolving with every Windows Server and Microsoft Windows launch. Today, RDP supports numerous types of transport stacks.
Is VDI and RDC the same?
While both VDC and RDC are desktop virtualization technologies, they differ when it comes to technological setup and delivering remote desktop experiences.
Remote desktops run on the server-based OS. A single server can host multiple active user sessions. However, RDC does not provide individual OS instances to end-users. Instead, users access shared desktop environments operating on remote servers to use the same computing power, OS, and applications.
Virtual desktops run on desktop-based OS hosted by the hypervisor server(s). Every user maintains their own VM instances, which are accessible from their personal devices, irrespective of their location. Further, VDI offers a centralized public cloud network for hosting applications and desktops.
How does Windows virtual desktop compare to the classical RDS environment?
Both WVD and traditional RDS are remote desktop protocols; however, they have various technical differences.
For instance, WVD delivers a pre-engineered image of applications or OS – separate from devices used to access them. RDS, on the other hand, enables users to access systems stationed in another location and connect to them as if they are actually working on them.
Further, companies can set up RDS on-site or on a private cloud managed by third parties, while WVD operates on a public cloud network. As such, firewalls, patching, and the Internet is distributed among multiple users.
Is VDI faster than RDP?
Virtual desktops have the edge over remote desktops as they compartmentalize the resources, offering a smoother user experience. Moreover, VDI delivers performance equivalent to standalone desktops with dedicated resources for every VM, including GPU power, for heavy graphics and media.
Thus, virtual desktops find use in graphic-reliant software, such as AutoCAD, that consume excessive processing power.
On the flip side, RDP users access desktop sessions via the Windows Server OS, which falls well short for latency-intensive workloads, including video/audio conferencing. Also, RDP’s performance takes a toll when organizations have to facilitate a diverse set of users.
What is Windows virtual desktop used for?
WVD offers an easy-to-use and secure virtual desktop setup for a company’s workforce. It takes care of the remote work demands by delivering a foolproof platform for cloud VDI. End-users can log into Windows desktop servers and hosts remotely, hence, remain productive without keeping IT security at stake.
With Windows virtual desktops, businesses can focus on image management and user access control while deploying virtual workstations and applications. Microsoft looks after all the remaining services. This considerably slashes the amount of administration and overhead needed to support a VDI setting.
Furthermore, the Windows 10 enterprise multi-session feature enables several end-users to connect to remote desktops simultaneously. This provides them with an experience they witness while using physical systems.
Is Microsoft remote desktop a VDI?
Microsoft remote desktop solutions mimic VDI when it comes to managing remote workstations or virtual machines over a secure network connection. That said, virtual desktop solutions offer users a single virtualized instance of the Windows Client OS, delivered via Azure or straight to the company’s network. On the contrary, Microsoft remote desktops enable multiple users to log into virtual machines or OS. Users can join a remote desktop session and share the servers’ applications, OS, and hardware resources.