Desktop Virtualization vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Desktop Virtualization vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

Summary: Do you know the difference between desktop virtualization and virtual desktop infrastructure? Wonder no more. Remove the confusion and join the discussion about these two exciting technologies.


I think a lot of people confuse these two virtualization technologies and maybe you're one of them. The distinction is not apparent from the names given to them but rather in the scale of the technologies behind them. Desktop virtualization means that you run a virtual machine on your desktop computer. Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a data center technology that supplies hosted desktop images to remote users. There is, as you can see, a huge difference between the two.

But, before I discuss more about desktop virtualization or VDI, I need to establish a baseline of information and terminology so that we're speaking the same language.

The basic premise behind virtualization is that it is a "computer within a computer." An operating system runs within an application (virtualization software) that emulates or abstracts actual hardware into a standard set of virtual hardware. Virtual hardware consists of virtual disks, virtual CPU(s), virtual memory, virtual display, virtual serial ports and so on.

Some examples of this type of virtualization are Oracle's VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop, VMware Workstation, QEMU and Microsoft's Virtual PC.

Desktop virtualization is the simplest form of this computer within a computer concept. Generally speaking, desktop virtualization is a single desktop computer that hosts a single guest virtual machine. The virtual machine can be a Linux system, a Windows desktop or server, a FreeBSD system, a DOS virtual machine, a Novell server, a Mac OS X or another operating system.

This type of virtualization makes running another operating system easier and more efficient than dual booting for the operator. The desktop system user/operator can run a host system simultaneously with the guest and enjoy the advantages of both systems. Application developers can test new software on virtual machines without the need for dozens of physical systems sitting around losing value.

And, virtual machines are much easier to rebuild should something go wrong. Reimaging a physical system might take several hours whereas creating a new virtual machine takes minutes.

VDI is an alternative to traditional desktop computing. The theory behind it is that removing the desktop operating system from a local computer and placing it in a shared hosting environment, like a cloud hosting data center, relieves some of the costs associated with desktop support. There seems to be a great deal of myths, paranoia and general resistance against VDI. Some of that resistance stems from the assumed control one has over a local operating system and cloud security.

At the hardware level, VDI consists of virtual host system clusters that provide the computing horsepower for groups of virtualized desktop systems. In other words, you have a group of VMware ESX host machines on which your Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP and Linux desktop systems run. You connect to your desktop via remote connectivity software from any Internet-connected device.

You can connect via a secure virtual private network (VPN) connection so that your information travels to and from the remote desktop in an encrypted format. Contrary to popular belief, these hosted systems are no more or less secure than any other desktop system from a pure software perspective. You still must have anti-spyware, anti-malware, anti-popup and firewall protection installed on every one. Requiring a secure connection between the remote client and the desktop operating system makes the service safe to use.

If you have any questions about desktop virtualization or VDI, please ask in the Talkbacks so that everyone can benefit from the dialog. You may contact me directly via the Contact link in the left pane.

Topics: Cloud, CXO, Hardware, Storage, Virtualization


Kenneth 'Ken' Hess is a full-time Windows and Linux system administrator with 20 years of experience with Mac, Linux, UNIX, and Windows systems in large multi-data center environments.

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  • RedHat is cleaning VMware's clock with RHEV

    You can do a TCO/ROI at Redhat and see just how much cost reduction there is when RedHat RHEV is compared to VMware.

    And the recent formation of Open Virtualization Alliance shows there is a lot of support behind KVM, the Type 1 hypervisor upon which RHEV-H is built.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Desktop Virtualization vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate

      "You can do a TCO/ROI at Redhat"

      Yes, I am sure they are very objective in their assessment.
      • Pricing is not something secret.

        The numbers speak for themselves and there is no room for speculating or manipulating price information if that is what you are suggesting. All figures obtaining are fully justified.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
    • RE: Desktop Virtualization vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate

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  • OK...but...

    Comparing Virtual Machines to VDIs is only dynamic. When I think of VDI Solutions, I am not thining of rudimentary TCO models like KVM, I am thinking of other factors such as:

    1. the importance of data proximity. When I want a VDI, I want it close to the data in terms of bandwidth, latency, and protocol flow control. If my PTC Pro/E data is in Alpharetta, GA, and my desktop in Singapore I will go with VDI or Citrix.

    2. Speaking of Citrix .... Again, this is not a VM vs. VDI debate --- solutions like Microsoft Remote Desktop Services or Citrix XenApp are other choices, not a simple VM.

    3. App streaming vs Virtual machine. OK, I can do more with App streaming vs virtual machines. The savings in time and staff of keeping consistent images in a data center and pushing to remote clients is greater than maintaining VMs and does not bear the cost of VDIs.

    In short, VM != VDI, app streaming ~= VDI, VM ~= app streaming.

    It depends on the workload, the infrastructure, and the capabilities of the staff. Filling out a simple TCO spreadsheet or a checking a list off is inadequate to determine which solution in an entire range of solutions is appropriate for your organization.

    Don't run down the rabbit hole because you read someone in a talk back forum repeatedly harp on their favorite sacred cow.
    Your Non Advocate
    • Nobody is running down any rabbit hole. IT Budgets are strapped.


      If numbers matter to you (and your CFO), then it is worth a visit to RedHat as a matter of due diligence to investigate the newest Virtualization alternative, RHEV.

      Your friends are reaching out to you at Facebook dot com.
      Dietrich T. Schmitz, *~* Your Linux Advocate
  • RE: Desktop Virtualization vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

    Desktop virtualization and VDI certainly have their places in the overall IT infrastructure. When considering these technologies, however, it?s always important for enterprises to remember that virtual desktops are likely not the right computing platform for all the employees operating within their networks. I work for Symantec and in talking with our customers, we?ve found that virtual desktops certainly are playing a role in many of their organizations, but their infrastructures typically remain very much heterogeneous. Most enterprises are simply realizing that one computing model is usually never enough to make all users the most productive they can be.

    Brian Duckering
    Symantec Corporation
    Brian Duckering
    • RE: Desktop Virtualization vs Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

      @Brian Duckering

      I totally agree with you about the need of a proper use case. The nice thing is that you have a bigger number of competitors offering a wide range of products.

      From what I've been observing in Germany bigger companies and organizations are more interested than smaller ones and they are experimenting with different scenarios for using VDI. The company I'm working for ( has just released a 100% OpenSource VDI product called "UCS Desktop Virtualization Services". The technical idea matches the one described in this article: a server infrastructure runs the virtual desktops.

      At the same time I'm seeing a lot of interest in client based Desktop Virtualization. The idea is that a laptop (or fat client) with decent hardware runs a stripped down Linux that provides the user with a virtualized desktop, even when there is no network connection.

      I'm looking forward to seeing both technologies emerge in the markets. So far, my desktop is still real :-)

      Jan Christoph Ebersbach
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  • Remote desktop hosting

    I think that the ideal remote desktop is the one you do not need to install on device. I mean, you always have to install at least some files having particular size usurping space on your hard-disc, instead of running RMD online directly from remote server. Unluckily, there are only few firms that provide such service e.g.