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Evaluate each side in the VDI vs. RDS debate

The difference between a VDI and an RDS desktop may be small for users, but for IT, the decision of how to host its virtual desktops is extremely important.

Virtual applications and desktops play a key role in the modern enterprise, but before IT can get started, it has to consider VDI vs. RDS.

Both RDS and VDI are methods of storing and delivering virtualized desktops and applications, but they differ in a few key ways. VDI delivers individual desktops and applications to users who typically access their own individual virtual machine in the data center. IT can choose direct allocations for virtual resources such as memory and CPU with VDI.

With RDS, users access a shared OS and desktop image on a server where their virtual resources come from one pool that encompasses all users.

Generally speaking, VDI provides more control and customization, while RDS minimizes storage and overhead costs. Organizations thinking about VDI vs. RDS should consider compatibility, licensing and more during the decision-making process.

Could IT run into compatibility issues with VDI or RDS?

One major consideration in the VDI vs. RDS debate is that with VDI, IT can virtualize any applications that are not compatible with the user's OS and deliver the virtual apps separately to avoid any compatibility issues.

Organizations that subscribe to RDS can also virtualize and host applications on their own infrastructure, but they must rely on Microsoft Application Virtualization (App-V) to do so. IT must work within the App-V hosting guidelines. Once IT uploads an application to App-V, it can deploy it to users just as it would any other virtual application.

IT pros using RDS should create silos that separate the storage of each application.

The greater issue comes when applications aren't compatible with the desktop, which can create performance issues across all the desktop deployments that IT cannot easily fix. To avoid such issues entirely, IT pros using RDS should create silos that separate the storage of each application, preventing one application's issues from causing problems with other applications.

Do VDI and RDS allow for desktop personalization?

The VDI vs. RDS debate isn't black and white when it comes to desktop personalization because each technology has options for different levels of personalization.

For organizations with VDI, persistent desktops provide the security and management benefits of virtual desktops while also allowing users to maintain a desktop that is exclusively their own. Nonpersistent VDI distributes desktops randomly to users, so personalization is more difficult to accomplish.

Organizations can establish user profiles to personalize nonpersistent desktops, but IT must still find a way to store all of the user profile data. IT can store the profiles on the endpoint devices or in network storage, but each of these options comes with drawbacks.

If IT stores the user profiles on the endpoints, users must have devices with enough storage capacity to house the data, which is often not the case with low-cost thin clients. If IT pros store the user profiles on network storage, they are negating some of the storage savings that nonpersistent VDI provides.

Typically, RDS offers limited personalization because all the users access the same OS and applications during their desktop sessions. The personal session desktop, which Microsoft added to RDS in Windows Server 2016, is IT's best bet to provide RDS users with personalized desktops.

Personal session desktops provide individual users with the same desktop whenever they log on. Personal session desktops also give IT the option to retain administrative privileges over the desktop or allow users to work as their own desktop administrators.

How does Microsoft Office licensing work for VDI and RDS?

Considering VDI vs. RDS in terms of licensing give RDS the advantage of complexity. Microsoft licenses its Office 365 products on a per-user basis, which can cause problems for nonpersistent VDI.

While persistent desktops belong to specific users, allowing IT to assign licenses to users, with nonpersistent desktops, multiple users can access the same desktops. Software licenses typically stick with the same user and desktop, so when users access a different desktop with each logon, the traditional model of licensing doesn't work.

IT can address this licensing confusion with Microsoft Office ProPlus, which assigns the license to the desktop rather than the user. As a result, IT can allocate Microsoft Office licensing for the number of users that might be working on the desktops at any given time.

RDS simplifies the issue of licensing for IT by taking advantage of Office 365's Shared Computer Activation mode, which allows users to run Office 365 on a temporary license that doesn't count toward a device limit. This setting is ideal for users accessing virtual desktops from various devices or for users sharing a desktop.

This was last published in August 2018

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