Desktop Virtualization: What It Is and Why Implement It?

Desktop virtualization is a technology that allows the creation and storage of multiple user desktop instances on a single host, residing in a data center or the cloud. It is achieved by using a hypervisor, which resides on top of the host server hardware to manage and allow virtual desktops to utilize the computing power of the underlying server hardware. The hypervisor creates VMs that simulate the user’s desktop environments, which can hold different operating systems, applications, personalized settings, and user data. Users can remotely access as well as operate these desktops from any endpoint device.

How does Desktop Virtualization Work?

Thanks to desktop virtualization, each user gets a VM with a dedicated instance of the Windows Operating System (OS) and associated applications grouped in the form of a desktop environment. Virtual desktops increase the accessibility and availability of businesses due to their high availability and remote access. Moreover, the administration of virtual desktops becomes hassle-free due to the centralized nature of client-server hosting.

Virtual desktops are cost-effective solutions as you invest only in the server’s processing power instead of standalone workstations. Every desktop running as a virtual machine is isolated from each other in terms of user data, applications, and OS, which ensures privacy and security. Most desktop virtualization solutions offer a single interface for administrators to manage and personalize desktops. These infrastructures are known as VDI.

Types of Desktop Virtualization

Desktop virtualization has two major deployment models: Hosted Desktop and Client Virtualization.

Hosted Desktop Virtualization

Under this model, a server that resides in a data center hosts the virtual machines. Users can connect to the server through standard protocols such as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or connection brokers. There are three major variants under Hosted Desktop Virtualization:

1. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

In VDI, the operating system (OS) runs virtual machines (VMs)—which contain the desktop image—on a server within the data center. VDI technology leverages a hypervisor to split a server into different desktop images that users can remotely access via their endpoint devices. VDI provisions a dedicated VM running its own OS to each user within the virtualized environment.

2. Remote Desktop Services (RDS)

RDS, formerly Terminal Services, allows users to remotely access shared desktops and Windows applications on Microsoft Windows Server OS. In RDS, users access remote desktops by sharing the hardware, OS (in this case, a Windows Server), apps, and host resources.

3. Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)

DaaS’s functionality is similar to that of VDI: users access their desktops and apps from any endpoint device or platform. However, in VDI, you have to purchase, deploy, and manage all the hardware components yourself. In DaaS, though, you outsource desktop virtualization to a third party to help you develop and operate virtual desktops.

How to Choose Between VDI, RDS, and DaaS

When it comes to selecting between VDI, RDS, or DaaS, your decision will depend on end-user experience and business and IT considerations such as capabilities, cost, infrastructure control, geography, and agility.

Business capabilities

As an organization, you need to ask yourself whether you have adequate expertise, resources, and the compelling need to mount VDI, RDS, or DaaS. Would it be better if you consumed desktop virtualization as “as a service” or implemented it as VDI or RDS? If you don’t have adequate personnel to manage VDI or RDS, you could use cloud resources or simply leverage the DaaS option.


Cost is always a primary concern whether you’re implementing VDI, RDS, or DaaS. When it comes to VDI deployment, significant costs result from CAPEX that goes towards setting up the infrastructure, scaling expenses, and periodic maintenance costs. The same applies to RDS. However, with DaaS, you execute all the desktop workloads in the cloud.

DaaS is entirely an OPEX cost-oriented model and more flexible than VDI and RDS. An organization with a clear IT usage pattern with foreseeable expansion and enough resources would be better off implementing VDI or on-premises DaaS.

Infrastructure control

When it comes to VDI and RDS deployments, your IT admins have absolute control in terms of updating the infrastructure, including securing network services. As such, VDI and RDS are the most appropriate solutions in cases where an organization wants to have complete control over the infrastructure, such as in heavily regulated industries.

On the other hand, DaaS deployment takes away infrastructure control from the organization to a cloud vendor. While the DaaS option has faster update cycles and the potential for more use cases, it may not be the best option in a heavily regulated industry.


When comparing VDI, RDS, and DaaS, an organization must determine the location of its data and where its users reside. DaaS deployments make sense if you want to support multiple users in different places. Also, it makes sense to use the DaaS option if your data already resides in the public cloud.

With RDS and VDI, you need a deployment that is close to the supported location. Proximity to the site is vital because it would translate into lower network latency. RDS and VDI deployments may hurt the end-user experience if the data center is miles away from users.

Agility and elasticity

If you need a desktop virtualization solution that is easier to set up and run, then DaaS is your go-to solution. For example, if you would like to accommodate seasonal or contract workers on your infrastructure, it makes sense to select DaaS over RDS and VDI which takes time to set up.

The table below compares VDI, RDS, and DaaS under business capabilities, cost, infrastructure control, geography, and agility:

Feature/Desktop virtualization




Business capabilities

Great for organizations that want to build their own infrastructures

Adequate staffing is required to set up,
configure, and manage infrastructure

Great for organizations that want to
develop their own infrastructures

Adequate staffing is needed to set up,
configure, and maintain infrastructure

Great for organizations that want to
consume desktop virtualization “as a


Great for organizations that want a purely CAPEX cost model

Involves fixed workload VM expenses

Great for organizations that want a purely CAPEX cost model

Involves fixed server expenses

Great for organizations that want to use a purely OPEX cost model

Involves pay-as-you-go pricing schemes for VMs

Infrastructure control

Great for organizations that want to have absolute control over their IT infrastructure

Great for organizations that want to have complete control over their IT

Great for organizations that want more use cases and update cycles


Suitable for local regions or co-location
data centers that are close to users’ data

Ideal for local areas or co-location data
centers that are close to users’ data

Suitable for dispersed data centers that reside in the public cloud

Agility and elasticity

Suitable for organizations that want to set
up their infrastructures in moderate time

Great for organizations that want to set up their infrastructures in moderate time

Great for organizations that want to set up their infrastructures quickly

What is Client Virtualization?

In Client virtualization, you install a hypervisor on a client device to allow you to run multiple OSs. Client virtualization eliminates the need for users to have their own dedicated hardware and software. Client virtualization deployment has two variants:

Presentation virtualization

Presentation virtualization provides a web-based portal through which users leverage to interact with published desktops and apps. Organizations can use this approach to deliver apps or desktops from a shared server.

Application virtualization

Application virtualization allows apps to run on other platforms. For example, you can run Windows apps on Linux. You can use Application virtualization to simplify OS migration by creating portable software. You can then transfer applications between computers without having to install them.

Desktop Virtualization vs. Server Virtualization

A hypervisor abstracts a server operating system and its applications from the underlying hardware in server virtualization. Several VMs can be run on a single server, each with its own server OS, applications, and all the server requirements needed to function as if on bare metal.

Client software, the OS, and the applications) is abstracted from a thin physical client which connects to programs and data remotely, usually via the internet, using desktop virtualization. This abstraction allows any user to access their virtual desktop from any device. Desktop virtualization can significantly raise an organization’s bandwidth requirements; however, this depends on the number of concurrent users during peak hours.

Desktop Virtualization vs. Application Virtualization

Desktop virtualization abstracts the whole desktop – OS and apps – which is thus accessible by almost any client device, whereas application virtualization isolates executing programs from the underlying hardware.

Program virtualization makes it easier to install each application, which is installed once on a server and then virtualized for usage on numerous end-user devices. A packed, pre-configured executable is distributed to client devices, making deployment easier.

Maintenance is much simpler because a virtualized application resides as a single instance in the application server. There is just one instance that needs updating. When a program is retired, it is removed from the application server and from all users’ computers. Virtualized apps cannot communicate with each other or cause other programs to fail since they are wrapped in their own ‘containers.’ Finally, because virtualized apps are independent of the device OS, they may be run on any endpoint, including Windows, iOS, and Linux/Android.

On the other hand, application virtualization is not appropriate for all applications. Compute- and graphics-intensive programs might slow down, resulting in perceptible lag during rendering, and a strong broadband connection is required to give a similar user experience.

What Are the Benefits of Desktop Virtualization?

Depending on the deployment model you choose, there are several desktop virtualization benefits. However, six prominent ones stand out:

Simplified administration

Desktop virtualization enables IT admins to manage a server from a centralized location, allowing for quicker deployments and simplified maintenance. This saves IT resources and time for an organization.

Secure and mobile access to apps

Organizations can use virtualized desktops to provide their remote employees with high-throughput apps by enabling GPU sharing via a secure connection from any end device or platform.

Enhanced employee productivity

Employees can securely access their corporate virtual desktops from any end device, location, and at any time. Desktop virtualization is a perfect fit for telework because employees access specialized apps and functionalities on the go as opposed to typical mobile computing technologies.

Reduced downtimes and accelerated deployments

With virtualized desktops, users can easily be migrated to other VMs in case there is a hardware failure. As such, there’s no lost time and productivity. Similarly, IT admins can quickly deploy new hardware within a centralized infrastructure—getting new employees on board and up to speed.

Lower IT costs

Desktop virtualization allows organizations to shift their IT budgets from capital to operating expenditures. By delivering computationally-intensive apps on VMs that are hosted in a data center, organizations can extend the shelf life of older PCs or even less powerful machines. Besides, you also save on software licensing requirements because you only need to install apps on a single, centralized server as opposed to individual workstations.

Enhanced user experience

Desktop virtualization can provide a feature-rich experience without sacrificing the hardware on which apps run. For example, users can still access USB ports or printing services on their end devices.

Implementing Desktop Virtualization with Parallels RAS

Every organization takes a leap of faith when they entrust any vendor to extend their personal desktop experience with virtual machines. But not every vendor provides everything in a single basket with simplicity. Your virtual desktop solution can turn into an expensive and complicated setup if not chosen properly.  

Parallels ® Remote Application Server (RAS) is a complete, easy to deploy, and cost-effective solution that offers both application and desktop delivery under a single license. In addition, it alleviates the need for installing any supporting component and tricky licensing (as opposed to many of its competitors). 

By deploying Parallels RAS, IT staff can create virtual desktops on top of any standard hypervisor, such as Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware ESXi, and hyperconverged solutions such as Scale Computing HC3. Parallels RAS also supports linked-clone technology that accelerates the on-demand deployment of VMs utilizing master images.  

Parallels RAS reduces the risk of data security breaches with features like multi-factor authentication, data encryption, and access filtering. Overall, Parallels RAS facilitates bring-your-own-device (BYOD) and choose-your-own-device (CYOD) models, which are a very user-friendly approach.  

Last but not least, you can deploy the Parallels RAS solution in cloud platforms, such as Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS), in minutes and start creating virtual desktops with ease.

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