Should You Be Using Virtual Desktops or Remote Desktops?

This post about “Virtual Desktops or Remote Desktops” was written by guest blogger Microsoft MVP Brien M. Posey. 

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 unique advantages and disadvantages.

Remote desktops are part 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 of using remote desktops is simplicity. Remote desktop environments tend to have fewer infrastructure requirements than virtual desktop environments, which translates directly into lower implementation costs.

Historically, the most significant disadvantage of using remote desktops has been application compatibility. In the past, many applications 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 DesktopsA virtual desktop environment (commonly referred to as VDI) makes use of extensive 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 extensive collections of virtual machines. Furthermore, a connection broker is needed 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 significant performance bottleneck.


Despite its cost and complexity, virtual desktop environments do offer several advantages over remote desktops. For one thing, virtual desktops provide end-users with a familiar experience. When a user logs onto a virtual desktop, they usually interact with 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 higher degree of personalization, because they consist of extensive 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 set 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 higher degree of flexibility but do so at a higher cost than what might incur with remote desktops.

About Brien M. Posey

Brien Posey is a ten-time Microsoft MVP with two decades of IT experience. Before 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 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.

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How to Use Virtual Desktops in Windows 10: How-to Geek

Virtual Desktops:

Virtual Desktops: Wikipedia

What is a Virtual Desktop, and Why Should You Care?: Small Business Computing

Virtual Desktops:


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