Desktop Virtualization

What is Desktop Virtualization and How It Works

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Today’s cloud-centered business world demands maximum mobility both from businesses and individual staffers. Corporates gravitate towards fully-remote or hybrid work models and expect their employees to be work-ready wherever they are. That is why desktop virtualization services have recently become such a hot topic.

From this article, you will get enough info on all three types of virtualized desktops so you can decide which one would be the best for your situation. Also, you’ll find out what benefits you can get from virtualized desktops and what are the top desktop virtualization software tools and suppliers.

What is desktop virtualization?

By definition, desktop virtualization is a technology that allows creating and storing multiple user workstations on a single host, residing in a data center or the cloud.

In simpler terms, PC virtualization is creating a virtual desktop environment that has an image of an operating system with all the apps and widgets your employees normally use so that they can access their workstations from any device or location. The only condition is a stable Internet or network connection.

One of the most common desktop virtualization examples is using it for the mega-popular hybrid work policy called Bring your own device (BYOD), which is about letting employees use any devices, not just corporate-provided ones. Virtual workstations don’t rely on the end-user physical equipment and don’t store any data there.

Even if one of your team members loses his device or has it stolen, there is no chance any sensitive corporate information will get into the wrong hands. Plus, a lost device will be super easy to replace with literally any other electronic device with a touchscreen or a display with a mouse and keyboard.

And that’s just one of the many benefits offered by virtualized desktop implementation. We’ll take a better look at some others too, but first let’s figure out what it takes to virtualize a personal computer.

How does it work?

Virtualization of desktops takes a specific purpose software tool called a hypervisor (or virtual machine monitor). That software is a simulator that creates digital images called virtual machines (or VMs) that have operating systems, installed software applications ready to use, and also can hold all sorts of personalized settings and user data.

Desktop Virtualization Workflow

In most cases, a user connects to a virtual machine via the Internet using the remote desktop protocol (RDP). Once he enters the login credentials and the connection is established, the remote desktop session starts with this user’s personal virtual machine or a standard VM assigned to him from a pool of virtual desktops at random.

In this case, whenever this user logs out, the virtual desktop won’t save any changes made to it during the session and, upon the next login, this user will get the new standard randomly assigned virtual machine.

Different desktop virtualization providers choose various approaches to the service they offer. Let’s have a look at the most popular deployment models, so you can decide which one of them will be best for your scenario.

Deployment types

Let’s take a look at the three most popular deployment models so you can decide which type of virtualization you should deploy to provide the best virtual desktop experience for your users and team.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI)

If you opt for the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) deployment model, you will get a specific virtual machine assigned to each of your users with an operating system and all required system resources, i.a., device drivers, memory, etc. It will be powered by a purpose-specific software (hypervisor). You can either invest in your own server equipment and operate in-house VDI or turn to a service provider.

In this case, your service provider will host all the virtual machines on the servers in their data center and run all of them in parallel, if needed. But in any case, with this deployment model, you’ll be the one to decide which apps, services, and tools will each of your users (or user groups) see on their virtual desktop.

Once the connection with a server is established, a user gets a desktop image transferred to him in real-time over the network and will be able to interact with that virtual image in the same way he’d operate a local computer.

Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)

In a desktop as a service (DaaS) deployment model, you basically rent some cloud-based virtual machines from a service provider. This option is much less customizable than the previous one. In most cases, you will get one typical virtual desktop for all your employees with a limited number of software products installed and no personal settings stored.

If you want your designer, tester, and data analyst to have different toolsets ready on their virtual workstation, you’ll have to pay for three separate subscription plans. And that, in a way, defies the argument of the DaaS model being the most budget-friendly option of them all.

On the bright side, DaaS is a fast, easy-scalable solution that allows you to never pay for features or services you don’t need. Plus, your virtual desktops will be accessible from any place in the world and any internet-connected device.

Remote desktop services (RDS)

The remote desktop services (RDS) deployment model (a.k.a. Microsoft Terminal Server) is very similar to VDI but is exclusively powered by Microsoft Windows Server operating system and works via Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Because of this, you will be limited to Windows Server apps for your virtual desktops. On top of that, to get more than two users connected to their virtual desktops, you’ll have to purchase additional licenses.

As a plus-point for this deployment model, I need to name the top-notch data safety measures Microsoft uses to protect its servers and added flexibility as, since 2018, it’s cloud-based and has a web client for easy access.

How to choose the right deployment type

Here is a list of factors you need to take into account while deciding which one of three popular desktop virtualization models will be a better fit for your business:

  • ✦ Budget

    Choosing a virtual desktop service is always a quest for a compromise between the cost savings and control over the infrastructure. If money is not that tight, it’s always better to opt for in-house solutions.
  • ✦ Competence

    Before spending a small fortune on server equipment needed for the in-house solution, make sure your IT team is qualified enough to keep it up and running.
  • ✦ Safety

    Please, remember: outsourcing PC virtualization is not an option for organizations with strict data security policies.
  • ✦ Control

    With a cloud-based solution, you give away a large portion of control over your organization’s infrastructure IT to your virtual desktop service provider.
  • ✦ Location

    For non-cloud solutions, the bigger the distance to your data center, the higher the network latency and thus the slower your virtual desktop’s response.
  • ✦ Scalability

    The amount of time needed to add a new team member may be a critical factor for businesses with part-time employees or freelancers, i.g. software development.

For your extra convenience, I’ve pulled together a comparison table of the three desktop virtualization deployment models that include all the factors:

VDI

RDS

DaaS

Budget-friendly

Requires IT team

optional

Safe

Admission control

optional

Distance sensitive

optional

Adding new user

takes time

optional

easy


Advantages of workstation virtualization

✅ Optimal resource management

Virtual desktop services provide users with all the software and hardware resources required for successful day-to-day operation. That means your company won’t need to worry about providing every employee with an expensive high-end device, as those devices will be only used for input and output.

✅ Perfect fit for teleworking

Desktop virtualization completely eliminates the need for corporate-provided computers and thus greatly expands your potential hire geography as you won’t need to worry about shipping costs for delivering equipment to the new employee. All it takes to get a new person set for work is passing them the login credentials.

✅ Top-notch data safety

A virtual workstation is completely detached from the user’s machine, so you won’t need to worry whether or not that machine has any protection from malware or direct hacker attacks. Every notable virtualization service provider already has the most advanced data protection for their servers.

✅ Easy scaling

Once you have pre-set virtual desktop templates for every position in your organization, adding or removing any number of new users will only take a couple of minutes of your IT team’s time.

✅ Budget savings

The cost of remote desktop virtualization services is a fraction of what you’d have to invest in the purchase and upkeep of server equipment, along with software licenses and more powerful work computers for all your team members.

✅ Improved flexibility

Thanks to the desktop virtualization technology, each of your employees will be able to efficiently work anytime, anywhere, and from any Internet-connected desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone, no matter the OS it’s running.

✅ No hardware constraints

A virtual desktop is always as powerful as the server it’s running on, no matter the device used to access it. That means you can use the most advanced resource-demanding software tools even on cheap and slow machines.

✅ Instant updates

Your IT team won’t ever need to schedule routine update maintenance sessions for every individual user. They will automatically get the latest versions of all the software products they’re using once you update them on the virtualization server.

✅ Extra security level

In addition to a multi-level authentication provided by the virtual desktop host company, you can also configure all desktops in a way that prevents users from accessing apps and data they don’t need to fulfill their work-related tasks.

✅ Improved end-user experience

While operating a virtual workstation, the user will have easy access to all the same functionality they’ve come to rely on while working in the office, e.g., printing or access to other USB-based devices.

Disadvantages of virtualization

❎ Initial investments

If you decide on in-house virtual desktop deployment, you’ll have to spend a significant amount of money on server equipment, storage infrastructure, and software licenses.

❎ Bandwidth requirements

To ensure the best end-user experience, you’ll have to take care that your network can handle extra bandwidth load from the virtual desktops.

❎ Availability issues

For cloud-based virtualization services, a stable Internet connection is a must-have. That means your performance will depend on your Internet provider’s reliability.

Opting for the best solution

The choices available in the current market are many but how to choose the best virtual desktop solutions in 2022 is a question that organizations may face. Here is a checklist to help you find a perfectly fitting solution for your specific situation:

  • ❏ Technology: based on your team’s and users’ needs, the IT infrastructure, and budget, decide which of the three models (VDI, RDS, or DaaS) will benefit you the most.

  • ❏ Top solutions: check out the list of the best virtual desktop solutions so you will get the premium quality product from a trusted service provider.

  • ❏ Subscription plan: make sure you only pay for what you will actually use. It’s always best to opt for a custom-fit subscription plan that allows you to provide different levels of resources for users with more mobility or those who are less mobile.

  • ❏ Security: to secure remote access to a corporate network, check to see what safety measures the service of your choice has in place already, as well as for extra options they can provide you. The bare minimum is multiple-factor user authentication.

  • ❏ User Satisfaction: a vital part of supporting remote employees as a manager is providing them with an easy way to access their workstation from any location with minimal disruption or downtime.