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Compare virtual apps vs. virtual desktop deployment

Selecting a desktop virtualization method is a difficult decision for any IT admin. It's important to consider efficiency and user experience to make the best choice.

When it comes to Netflix, people have different ways of watching TV shows. They either binge-watch whole seasons in one sitting, or they watch one episode at a time. Choosing between different types of delivery for users' corporate resources is similar.

With the variety of ways to implement virtual desktops and apps, companies can pick and choose which option works best for them. Organizations can implement a full virtual desktop deployment, deliver individual virtual applications, or develop a hybrid of the two. To choose the right path, it is important for IT to figure out exactly what the company is trying to achieve with virtualization.

The path of full virtual desktops

Desktop virtualization refers to applying an OS that deploys onto a remote or local client. IT admins manage the original OS and the users access it through their devices. Host-based virtual desktops -- such as VDI or Microsoft Remote Desktop Services -- require a remote display protocol connection and can be used on thin clients, smartphones and tablets.

Client-based desktop virtualization runs on local hardware. This kind of desktop virtualization uses OS streaming, and the OS is accessed on a remote disk image that runs across the network. These virtual desktops do not require a continuous network connection to run.

Why take the desktop road?

Determine whether desktop virtualization will help or hurt user productivity.

For businesses that still depend on Windows desktops, it makes sense to use full desktop virtualization such as VDI, because employees need all applications to be accessible. Using a full desktop also allows users to have a consistent experience with apps when they switch from physical to virtual desktops. It can also provide a more stable alternative to application virtualization.

Application virtualization individualizes the user experience to make it app specific, while full desktops give users the experience of a complete desktop. Full virtual desktops also work well if a business wants to allow employees to use multiple devices. The major VDI vendors offer client components for an array of available endpoints.

The second path of app virtualization

The trending demand from employees is remote access to business applications. Instead of a having to virtualize a full desktop, organizations may choose to use individual application virtualization. App virtualization can either be remote or streaming. Remote apps run on a server and are connected to the client through a remote display protocol. For streaming apps, only certain parts of the app are needed to launch, allowing the remainder to download as needed. This allows end users to access the apps as instant downloads when they need them.

IT can use products such as Citrix XenApp, Microsoft App-V, and VMware ThinApp and App Volumes for application delivery. ThinApp is useful for moving legacy apps to new OSes and high-security desktops. App Volumes places apps into compartments that IT can deliver to specific groups of users, using virtual disk files. Admins can remove, update, or install apps instantly.

Citrix uses its HDX protocol to deliver XenApp through Microsoft's Remote Desktop Session Host, where users can access desktops and apps on any device. Citrix also offers AppDisk, an app layering tool that groups apps using virtual hard disks or virtual machine disk files. The groups are not tied to golden images, so admins create app groups on a user-by-user or department-by-department basis.

Microsoft's App-V uses an agent-based installation approach and separates each app individually for virtualization, adding permissions to control user access within those apps. App-V is a good option for IT admins looking to have added control with application deployment. Plus, it's now available as part of Windows 10 Enterprise.

Desktop virtualization vocabulary quiz

How much do you know about the essential terminology of desktop virtualization? Take our quiz to find out. Would you like to brush up first? See our Quick Start Glossary.

Why walk the app way?

App virtualization offers a great alternative to full desktop virtualization because it provides users with on-demand capabilities. Plus, if IT delivers a combination of physical and virtual desktops, it's a good idea to virtualize apps to deliver and manage them on both types of desktops.

App virtualization offers IT the control of VDI with the added ease of customizing app deployment based off the users' needs. With a full virtual desktop deployment, there is more competition over hardware resources. With app virtualization, there is less data being transferred, lowering the impact on the hardware. App virtualization can also make it easier for IT to authenticate access requests from specific remote apps and create policies for specific users or groups.

How to decide which path to take

The golden rule is to determine whether desktop virtualization will help or hurt user productivity due to the capabilities and limitations of the software. Also keep in mind that VDI vendors offer desktop clients for almost all devices, while virtual app clients are not available for all devices. The only way to get around that is if you combine VDI with virtual app deployment. Virtual app clients are often less expensive, and offer more user freedom. Each type of app and virtual desktop deployment has its pros and cons, but which path will you use?

Next Steps

Compare VDI vs. DaaS

How to work with desktop virtualization on Windows 10

Understand how app layering works

This was last published in February 2017

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