Virtual desktops offer flexibility, performance and security. But which one of the two main technology types should you choose?
RDS and VDI – what’s the difference?
Both Remote Desktop Services (RDS, formerly known as Terminal Services) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) offer similar functionality.
With both technologies, users log on to a remote system, which provides users with a desktop containing all the software they need to carry out their work. All files and applications are stored remotely, which makes it easier to troubleshoot any issues and handle software upgrades. Since the user’s machine doesn’t do much processing itself, it can be a less powerful, and potentially more affordable device. Some platforms offer the virtual desktop via HTML, so it can be accessed via any normal internet browser.
Remote desktops are also better for security because no files are kept on the user’s own machine – everything lives on the server, where it can be safely backed up as insurance against hacking, viruses, physical disaster or just accidental deletion.
With the recent coronavirus crisis, remote and home working has become the new normal for many workers. Both RDS and VDI offer an excellent way to keep everyone working together, even if they can’t make it into the office.
For users, the experience of actually using either RDS or VDI is pretty much the same. However, there are important differences behind the scenes, which affect aspects such as flexibility, maintenance and reliability. Those, in turn, make each solution more suitable for different types of organisation, based on their requirements.
Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of each technology.
Pros and cons of RDS
With RDS, everyone on your team logs on to the same server to run their applications. While each user has their own session, all the sessions are handled by the same operating system running on the same server. The technology was originally developed by Microsoft with the aim of making users less dependent on their local desktop.
RDS is simpler to set up, and new users can be added in minutes. Licensing costs are minimised, and hardware resource demands can be lower. Maintenance is often quicker and easier too.
However, while RDS is simpler, it can also be more limiting. Users can’t personalise their desktops or the applications they use very much because everyone uses the same system and is locked into the same configuration. Not every application will run on a RDS Server.
RDS also needs an ‘always on’ internet connection – so if users can’t connect, they can’t work. And if a large number of users are using the system at the same time, ‘contention’ may mean that performance suffers.
Pros and cons of VDI
With VDI, users log on to a remote server, which creates a separate virtual OS, running on top of a hypervisor, for each individual user. When the user logs on, a connection broker links their session to their own ‘virtual machine’ (VM), where they get their own individual OS, resources and applications. Because the VM is isolated from the rest of the system, there are no problems with contention, and IT staff can also allocate more power to users who really need it – for example, those working with graphics or video.
This virtual machine can run a regular Windows desktop OS, instead of Windows Server. That means users can work in a more familiar environment, which can allow them to do their jobs quickly and easily, and may even boost their morale. The standard Windows environment can also run a wider range of applications with few compatibility issues.
The system can offer ‘bring your own device’, so users connect with their own tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop. VDI also supports offline working, so users can continue working and their data simply syncs up with the server once they can get back online.
The flip side of all this flexibility is complexity. You need a skilled provider to set up and manage the various virtual machines, and there may be more licensing costs for additional software too.
So which is best?
The simple answer is ‘it depends’. If you have lots of users who all do similar tasks, using the same applications and the same amount of computing power, RDS could well be right for you. Your storage and overhead costs will be low, but you’ll pay a price in terms of flexibility. On the other hand, if you use a lot of less-common apps, and/or you have many user types doing different types of work, it might be worth paying more for VDI.
Here at Computer Service Centre, we’ve deployed over 300 RDS servers for our clients, and are also expert in setting up and managing VDI systems. Our state-of-the-art Nutanix HCI offers the perfect environment for hosting either type of solution, with frequent data snapshots and full data replication supporting near-instant disaster recovery. If your computing needs grow, our provision can easily scale up without limit.
We’re always happy to consider your needs and advise on which virtual desktop solution is best for you. To learn more about RDS or VDI, contact us on 01603 431200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org