The Difference Between Remote Desktop and Virtual Desktop

02.11.22 11:09 AM
An effective remote work setup needs access to critical company systems and files. Virtualized systems like remote desktop and virtual desktops are typically an ideal option for providing connectivity while prioritizing security. 

Virtualized systems limit the need for locally stored files on laptops or other devices outside of the physical workplace, reducing risk. Plus, virtualization provides a substantial amount of agility, potentially making a connection to work-related data and applications possible from any internet-connected machine. 

However, the world of virtualization is complex, featuring terminology that may seem interchangeable initially but actually isn’t. Instead, each phrase represents a different virtualization technology. If you’re trying to select the right technology for your needs, here’s a look at each solution and the difference between remote desktop and virtual desktop that can make choosing an option easier. 

What Is Remote Desktop? 

Remote desktop programs allow employees to use one computer (and an internet connection) to tap into another, such as using a laptop to connect to the desktop they use at the office. Essentially, in that scenario, the laptop serves as a portal.
Once the employee launches the remote desktop connection through the laptop, it allows them to use the desktop as if they were sitting in front of it. 

Remote desktop can also create workplace agility. If an employee needs to shift away from their desk to handle a task, they can use any other company computer with a remote desktop application to connect to their machine. 

Pros Remote Desktops 

With remote desktop solutions, employees can work from anywhere while maintaining a consistent computing experience. It also ensures that any company data or files remain on their primary system, which can stay securely in their workplace. 

Remote desktop itself also provides some security. The connection between the two systems is encrypted. Plus, remote desktop is affordable overall, both to deploy and by limiting the number of licenses a company may need to support individual employees. 

Cons of Remote Desktops 

When it comes to drawbacks, remote desktop does require robust software that might need to be deployed widely. Having a reliable connection is also essential, or the approach becomes unreliable. 

You also have to deal with more hardware maintenance and costs. Primary computers for each employee need to remain up-to-date as they handle the actual computing. This can make tech maintenance more cumbersome. 

What Is a Virtual Desktop? 

Virtual desktops are computer images that rely on a server. The image can be accessed from any internet-connected device with the proper configuration. When an employee uses the image, they get a fully functional computing environment, just as they would find with a traditional work computer setup. 

The main difference is that the environment never resides on their device. 
Like remote desktop, the approach provides ample flexibility and agility.

Additionally, virtual desktops are highly secure, supporting encrypted connections and keeping all company data tucked away on servers. 

Pros of Virtual Desktops 

For virtual desktops, the biggest benefits are flexibility and agility. Employees can have the same experience over nearly any device. Plus, since they’re relying on a single image, it keeps costs down and minimizes administration. 

Another major benefit is that you reduce the need for hardware upgrades. The computing actually occurs on the virtual desktop server, so you don’t have to invest significantly in individual devices. By choosing a third-party solution, you can even eliminate the need for robust internal servers, reducing costs and maintenance. 

Cons of Virtual Desktops 

When it comes to the drawbacks of virtual desktops, the main one occurs if you have numerous employees that all need unique images. If personalized settings are the norm or there is a substantial number of one-off applications, it adds to the complexity and increases the load on the virtual desktop server. 

Virtual desktops and the needed infrastructure may also take more effort to set up initially. However, the long-term maintenance is low, which may offset it.

Additionally, licensing challenges can potentially occur, though a solid third-party provider can usually simplify navigating them. 

The Differences Between Remote Desktop and Virtual Desktops 

There’s one primary difference between remote desktop and virtual desktops, and that involves where the computing takes place. That computer could be owned and operated within your environment (data center or on-prem) or with a third party solution provider. With remote desktop, a computer is still hosting all of the activity typically via a managed third party solution provider. With virtual desktops, you tap into a server’s computing capabilities, relying less heavily on the device. 

With remote desktop, company data may reside on an employee’s primary work machine. This does create a level of risk. If the computer is stolen, that data could end up in an unauthorized person’s hands. If it’s damaged, data may be lost. 

With virtual desktops, data isn’t stored locally. Instead, it remains in a server, typically one with backups or redundancies in place. If the employee’s computer is stolen, there’s less risk since it isn’t holding company information. Additionally, if it’s damaged, there isn’t any data loss since the information wasn’t residing solely on that computer. 

Are Remote Desktops or Virtual Desktops Best? 

Ultimately, which option is best depends on your needs and preferences. Each solution has its own benefits and drawbacks, so it’s wise to weigh them carefully. That way, you can select the ideal approach for your situation.