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How to decide to deliver apps through VDI vs. installing them locally

Admins have a tough choice in how they deliver new apps to their users. In some situations it's better to do it through VDI while in others its best to install them locally.

Most organizations have multiple options for delivering new applications to users. Depending on the application...

and its use cases, it may make sense to deliver apps with VDI or it may be better to install the application on users' PCs directly.

In rare situations admins may even be able to deliver the same application to some users with VDI and to other users locally.

It's not always a hard choice though. If an organization's users work with zero clients, then IT must deliver apps with VDI because applications cannot run locally on zero clients. At the other end of the spectrum, if admins do not use VDI at all then it probably doesn't make sense to implement VDI just to deliver a particular app.

The reality is most organizations fall somewhere between those two extremes, with VDI in some areas and local applications in others. At some point, IT administrators must decide which approach is the best fit for their organizations to deliver apps. There are quite a few considerations so in most cases, it's a fairly subtle decision to use VDI or local installations for new applications.

When to deliver apps with VDI

When admins must deliver on-premises applications to business partners they should use VDI.

Admins should use VDI if they have a VDI-first policy where the only applications they run locally on users' devices are the ones they absolutely have to because those particular apps do not work with VDI. Or if the only local applications users have are simple such as web browsers or voice over IP applications, VDI is the way to go.

When users work with non-Windows devices such as Macs or mobile devices admins need VDI to deliver Windows apps because they cannot install them locally on the devices. Delivering virtual Windows apps is much more efficient than providing each staff member with an additional Windows laptop or desktop just so they can run Windows apps.

Finally, when admins must deliver on-premises applications to business partners they should use VDI because it allows them to give the partners application access on their computers, but keeps the applications and data on premises where admins have more control.

Because VDI places the desktop VM in the data center alongside the server containing the data, its network latency is only a couple milliseconds, which is faster than using a WAN link, which can take tens to hundreds of milliseconds and a mobile data connection, which can be hundreds of milliseconds.

Why admins should not use VDI

To access VDI applications users need a network connection back to the data center. There are still plenty of places where this network connection might not be possible such as when users work in remote areas. It can also be too expensive for smaller companies. In those cases local apps are better.

Most VDI products are compatible with some USB devices and pretty much all of them work with keyboard and mouse devices, but there are a lot of other peripherals users want to attach to their PCs that VDI cannot work with. General-Purpose Interface Bus scientific instruments and Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) devices are two examples. Anything that requires a custom PCI card in the client is not going to work with VDI. There won't be many cases where this problem applies, but when it does it's a VDI deal breaker.

Test your knowledge of mobile VDI access

Users require access to virtual resources on their mobile devices. IT can manage VDI on smartphones and tablets using authentication methods, individual virtual app delivery and more. Prove your knowledge of mobile VDI management with this quiz.

VDI products have made huge advances in graphics performance over the last few years. The ability to have graphics processing units and remote display acceleration allows IT to deliver more applications through VDI. But these products are expensive to implement. For an application with a small number of users, it may be more cost-effective to give each user a PC with a workstation class graphics card rather than deliver the apps through VDI.

Next Steps

Virtual app delivery guide

Virtual apps or full virtual desktops?

App layering pop quiz

This was last published in March 2017

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