The Desktop Virtualization Choice is Yours: VDI or RDS

December 13th, 2016
Vadim Vladimirskiy
Vadim VladimirskiyFounder & CEO, Nerdio

CIOs make lots of tough technology decisions, and all too often their choices make someone—if not several someones—unhappy. Fortunately, there are technologies that make so much sense that pretty much everyone can get on board (eventually, at least). Desktop virtualization, for example, increases productivity, saves money over time, and gives users what they want, when they want it. It’s a win-win-win-win!

Desktop virtualization makes sense in today’s highly mobile and constantly changing business environment. But while it may be relatively easy to decide to make the move to desktop virtualization, figuring out how to actually get there can be a bit more challenging.

There are two main ways that companies can implement desktop virtualization: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and Remote Desktop Services (RDS). Depending on organizational needs and resources, each comes with its own benefits and drawbacks. So which best suits you and your business? Read on.


With VDI, a user’s entire desktop is accessible through an installed client application, web browser, or mobile app. Users can access their desktops from any device, switch among devices, and access the same content and capabilities.

User desktops run in Virtual Machines (VM) hosted on data center servers. There is a separate VM for each user, and each VM contains a desktop OS instance. This isolationist model enables companies to provision each user’s individual desktop with only the applications, services, and rights that he needs. This saves a company time and money while equipping them to keep a tight rein on sensitive data and a handle on compliance concerns. The downside? Things can grow pretty complex pretty quickly without standardization.

If you’re asking yourself, “Haven’t I been hearing about VDI for a while?” the answer is yes. It’s like that cool band you heard about but never once listened to. VDI as an option has been around for a few years, but in a lot of ways, it’s been a technology ahead of its time—until now.

More powerful mobile devices and widely accessible Internet connectivity play a big role, for sure, but the performance and availability of the cloud has enabled VDI (and so many other things) to fall into a business sweet spot.



RDS is a proprietary Microsoft technology that enables users to connect remotely to a shared server. Sound familiar? You may know RDS better as Terminal Services, which is what it was called in Windows Server until Server 2008. At that time, Microsoft expanded Terminal Services into what we now know as Remote Desktop Services (RDS).

So, what’s the biggest difference between RDS and VDI? With RDS, users share VM and OS resources. This shared model increases system density so that organizations can theoretically dedicate fewer servers to more users. Organizations can also flexibly scale up or down, depending on how many users need certain resources in a set time frame.

The potential downside is a “user storm,” when several users are logging on or accessing resources at the same time, like first thing in the morning. This can cause a significant slowdown in performance.

The Choice is Yours

The choice between VDI and RDS comes down to the needs of your users and your business—not just your needs right now, but in the future, too. It’s important to anticipate the growth your company will experience (always think positively!), and the kinds of demands your internal and external customers will put on system resources when deciding which technology makes sense.

But the decision shouldn’t rest entirely on you. CIOs should sit down with senior execs and line-of-business managers to determine if, and how, each of these desktop virtualization technologies fits into users’ day-to-day tasks and future goals for the business, all in the context of existing hardware, software and cloud resources, and future budget expectations. Be sure to check out vendors’ hardware capacity and planning guides for details on minimum hardware and software specs.

In the end, though, you may not have to choose at all. There are scenarios in which the use of both VDI and RDS within one organization makes sense. Maybe sales and communications staffs’ systems are based on VDI, for example, while call center employees make use of RDS. Who says we all can’t get along?

Are you considering desktop virtualization for your organization? What are your top criteria when choosing a solution? Please let us know in the comments section below.