Windows Virtual Desktop vs RDS

Published on May 22, 2020

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Remote Desktop Services (or Terminal Services for anyone still running legacy versions of Windows Server) have been an essential part of the Microsoft remote access story for over 20 years. Now that Windows Virtual Desktop is increasing in popularity, it’s time to compare the two. Do you stick with RDS or move to Windows Virtual Desktop? Maybe there is a place for both of them in your environment: let’s explore this, too.

Windows Virtual Desktop – The Future of Remote Work

Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) brings the power of the cloud to virtual desktops, providing a seamless Windows 10 experience across devices. With WVD, companies can:

Enable secure remote work through virtualized Windows 10 desktops hosted in Azure

  • WVD provides a full Windows 10 desktop experience that is hosted and delivered securely via Azure.
  • Remote workers can access their desktops from any device, with built-in RDP/SSL encryption to keep data secure.
  • Azure handles compliance certifications and uptime SLAs, reducing the security burden on IT.
  • Desktop data remains in the cloud instead of on local devices that could be lost or stolen.

Scale quickly to meet changing business needs

  • WVD makes it easy to spin up new desktops to support a growing remote workforce or seasonal demands.
  • Desktop capacity can be scaled up or down dynamically based on usage.
  • IT can deploy virtual desktops to new users in minutes without needing to procure and set up new hardware.
  • Geographically distributed teams can be supported since desktops are hosted in the cloud.

Reduce costs by eliminating on-prem infrastructure

  • With WVD, there is no need to maintain a complex on-prem VDI infrastructure.
  • Servers, storage, and networking can all be downsized or retired since these resources shift to the cloud.
  • Operational costs are reduced by minimizing rack space, power, and cooling needs.
  • IT staff time is freed up to focus on more strategic efforts versus desktop management.

Simplify desktop management with unified cloud-based tools

  • WVD provides integrated management tools for deploying and managing desktops from Azure.
  • Everything is managed through a single pane of glass vs. juggling multiple consoles.
  • Tasks like app publishing, updates, and configuration changes can be automated across desktops.
  • Cloud-based analytics provide usage insights to optimize the desktop environment.
  • IT spends less time on desktop management, freeing them to add more value.

WVD combines the familiar Windows experience with the flexibility of the cloud. Users can access their desktops through any device, while IT maintains centralized control.

Comparing WVD and RDS

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) both enable virtual delivery of desktops and applications but take different approaches.

RDS Overview

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) utilizes a simple client-server model, with an RDS server or desktop acting as the host, and any RDP client device able to connect as the user endpoint.

Key capabilities:

  • Provides secure remote access to virtualized desktops and applications for remote workers or mobile users. Users can access a consistent desktop experience across devices.
  • Allows users to easily access Windows Server applications directly from their desktop devices while in the office. Eliminates needing dedicated terminal servers.
  • Uses session-based desktops, where each user gets their own dedicated VM replicated from a master image. Enables personalized desktop experience.
  • Requires RDS server roles like Connection Broker and Gateway to be installed on-premises. RDS must be configured, managed, and scaled by IT staff.

Limitations of RDS:

  • Complex to initially set up and manage, requiring trained IT staff. Deploying the infrastructure requires manual installation and configuration of RDS server roles.
  • Constrained to providing single-session desktops, as each user needs their own dedicated VM instance. This limits scalability and efficiency.
  • On-premises model results in higher capital and operating costs. IT must continually scale up infrastructure to meet demand.

WVD Overview

Windows Virtual Desktop  (WVD) is a cloud service from Microsoft for delivering virtualized Windows 10 desktops hosted in Azure. It aims to simplify management using cloud capabilities.

Key capabilities:

  • Enables multi-session Windows 10 experience allowing multiple concurrent users per VM to share resources. Improves efficiency.
  • Management is unified through the Azure portal. Desktops can be provisioned, scaled, load balanced, and updated from a single interface.
  • Desktop VMs are hosted in Azure, eliminating the need to maintain on-premises infrastructure. Reduces capital and operating costs.
  • Elastic scaling allows IT to dynamically adjust capacity up or down based on usage. Quickly spin up new desktops to meet demand.

Limitations of WVD:

  • Requires migrating any on-premises desktop VMs to run in Azure. This could involve app compatibility testing and re-platforming.
  • Being cloud-hosted means depending on Azure for service availability and performance. Requires sufficient internet connectivity.
  • May not work for legacy or highly customized apps that expect a dedicated VM instance.


The cost of WVD

To understand the cost of WVD, you have to break it down into its subcomponents and consider the cost of each component when comparing them to other alternatives like Remote Desktop Services (RDS).  

The three primary building blocks for WVD are: 

  • Azure Infrastructure – WVD supports two types of desktops, namely personal and pooled. The consumption cost for Azure resources depends on many factors. The cost of this Azure infrastructure is similar to if you were using RDS to deliver Windows desktops using “desktop experience” rather than the native Windows 10 look from WVD.
  • Windows Virtual Desktop Management Service – the installation and management of RDS roles are no longer necessary, seeing as they form part of WVD Management Service hosted in Azure. This eliminates previously associated costs as these now fall on Microsoft.
  • Software Licensing – You probably already have the necessary licensing (Windows 10 Enterprise) taken care of through your Microsoft 365 subscription (A3, A5, E3, E5, Business), a Windows plan (E3, A3, A5, Business), or Windows 10 Enterprise VDA. 


Windows Virtual Desktop or RDS?

Anyone trying to go fully cloud will be compelled to discard RDS in favour of Windows Virtual Desktop:

  • WVD allows easy, scalable cloud management and deployment
  • It sits on the public cloud – no need for your own infrastructure
  • WVD gives users an up-to-date, fully featured (with ProPlus) Windows 10 desktop

You may choose to stick with RDS because:

  • You are running applications that may not work immediately in Windows 10 multi-session
  • You retain full ownership of the desktop VMs and don’t want them in the public cloud
  • You can use it on-premise and in Azure

THE VERDICT: RDS still has a place for hybrid infrastructures with significant, legacy technology investments. For everyone else: Windows Virtual Desktop is a compelling solution, particularly in this day and age of remote working.


Experteq are experts in Windows Virtual Desktop and RDS. Contact us to discuss your environment, users, and use cases – and hear what projects we’ve recently completed. Let our expertise guide your journey toward the Modern Workplace.

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