Best Remote Access Solutions for SMBs: VDI vs RDS

A remote access software is a type of software that allows you to connect and control your computer from another location. This type of software is often used by companies and individuals who want to remotely access their work PC or laptop.

Remote access programs are often called remote desktop programs or “remote control” software because they are used for this purpose. They have various levels of complexity, security, reliability, or cost that should be considered before purchasing one.

VDI and RDS provide similar virtualization benefits, but the designs and infrastructure of the two services vary to cater to different business needs.

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What is VDI?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a virtualization technology where computing resources are centralized and available to users from any device in any location. It is a way to work remotely and access company resources through the web.

Virtual desktops are becoming more common in today’s workplace, with tons of benefits for employees and employers alike, including

  • remote working flexibility and data accessibility
  • cost, time, and resource-saving
  • easier to troubleshoot issues
  • better manageability with centralized management
  • improved security and backup of data
  • enhanced productivity, smooth user experience, better profile management

One of the major criticisms of VDI is that it can be expensive and difficult to manage. The cost of the services and support required for remote users is usually more than that required for local users. The other issue with VDI is that it doesn’t scale well. There are limitations in regards to hardware which means the number of connections cannot exceed a certain threshold.

When looking for the best way to provide access to virtual desktops, most companies would need to assess their needs and how they will be used.

What is RDS?

Formerly known as Terminal Services, Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is a Windows Server role that provides multiple users with remote access to a virtual machine (VM) or server’s applications, files, and data. Remote Desktop Services enables IT professionals to provide centralized management of user connections to multiple servers running Windows Server.

Users can connect remotely through the use of Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) or by using a web browser through Integrated Windows Authentication mode. RDS offers various features and benefits including

  • simpler setup, accessibility, and flexibility
  • easier and cheaper resource management (CPU, memory, users, etc.)
  • lower costs cheaper storage
  • single point of maintenance
  • minimal licensing fee

RDS has some limitations such as administrative issues, lack of personalization, and security issues as all users share the same OS, applications, and resources. This sharing also leads to contention and performance issues when a large number of users access the system simultaneously.

VDI vs. RDS

While both VDI and RDS offer similar functionality, some distinction exists between the two in terms of deployment and infrastructure. Unlike RDS that can only be deployed using Windows Server, VDI is independent of any single operating system or application.

While RDS allows multiple users to access a single environment, VDI provides dedicated resources to each user which allows them to either access their own centrally hosted VM or a shared VM. With VDI, each user receives their own virtual server with a CPU, allocated memory, and disk capacity which allows users to work in their own space without affecting the performance of other users.

Unlike RDS which requires full-time internet connectivity for users to access a remote server, VDI also supports offline working. Users can continue working offline and the data gets synced with the server once they get back online.

With RDS, all users share one server which may cause potential security risks as well as personalization and administrative issues. With VDI, VM is isolated from the rest of the system; there are no security threats or personalization issues.

VDI is an expensive option for businesses because of higher upfront costs including licensing costs, hardware costs, and IT support costs. If your business requires multiple users to use the same applications and resources, RDS is a better option for you with lower implementation costs. For organizations where different users are required to carry out different tasks without any hindrance, VDI is the most feasible option with dedicated resource allocation, enhanced security, and better application compatibility.

Feature comparison chart of the best VDI products

Each of the tools we compared included single sign-on (SSO), multi-device support, a self-service portal, and access controls and permissions. 

Third Party IntegrationsLoad BalancingTwo Factor AuthenticationDaaSFree Trial
Citrix Virtual
VMware Horizon
Virtual Box
Amazon Workspaces
Kasm Workspaces
V2 Cloud
Parallels RAS

Best VDI products for small business

Choosing the right virtual desktop infrastructure solution is vital for your business. We have covered the 7 best VDI software for you. Let’s have a look at their features, pros, cons, and pricing.

Citrix Virtual Apps & Desktop: Best VDI Software for robust architecture & excellent graphics

Pros

Citrix offers three virtual desktop deployment solutions for business— on-premises, cloud services (VDI and Desktop as a service or DaaS), or a hybrid model. Previously known as Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp, Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktop Service allows you to centralize all of your business applications and desktops securely in data centers. This gives your employees a high-definition virtualization experience to easily and securely access sensitive data from any place without compromising confidentiality.

IT staff gets full visibility and administrative control to manage different user-profiles and limit the access based on job needs. They can create isolated virtual machines for every user and control them from a single unified platform. It offers easy integration with other apps such as Azure and AWS, supports multiple hypervisors, regular software updates, and advanced management.

Cons

Some users complained about the high pricing and unclear licensing of Citrix, difficulty in loading and integration with certain apps, and glitches when used on mobile devices. Others suggested that there’s room for improvement on the hypervisor side and other connectivity, lag, and troubleshooting issues.

Pricing

  • On-premises: subscription-based, contact Citrix to get customized pricing plan and license
  • Standard service: $16/user/month; Pay-as-you-go monthly subscription
  • Premium Service: average $15/user/month (3-year contract, may vary)
  • Citrix Workspace Premium Plus: $25/user/month (starts with at least 25 users, 03 years contract)

VMWare Horizon: Best VDI Software for flexibility & unified management

Pros

VMware Horizon (previously known as VMware View) VDI is VMware’s answer to Citrix VDI and Oracle VirtualBox. With its ability to be deployed as on-premise, cloud, or hybrid, VMware Horizon provides a digital workspace with virtual desktops and applications to equip employees anywhere, anytime, and on any device. It allows IT staff to centralize desktop management, provision new users, manage end users, contain costs, and improve security and compliance.

By implementing role-based access control and single sign-on (SSO), administrators can secure the virtual desktop infrastructure and reduce potential data breaches. With advanced virtual GPU and technologies such as NVidia Grid as well as advanced Blast Xtreme display protocol, businesses can deliver a rich graphic experience to their users.

Cons

The initial startup cost can be a bit expensive and infrastructure can be complex for some users. Also, the boot process can be a little slow at times and some users occasionally face connectivity and troubleshooting issues, especially while roaming. The majority of the users complained about the arduous upgrade process, difficulty in understanding and implementing, lesser customization options, errors, and lags, lack of technical support and mobile access.

Pricing

VMWare offers customized pricing and licensing models for different products. You can fill out the form, mentioning your infrastructure needs and company size and their support will formulate a subscription plan. The licensing models fall into two categories: as per user model and as per device model.

VirtualBox: Best VDI Software for Open-source

Pros

Recognized by G2 as a Leader in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure report 2021, Oracle’s VirtualBox is an open-source (free) virtualization software that works on almost all operating systems. It helps organizations in setting up multiple VMs simultaneously. With its snapshot functionality, users can save a specific state of the VM to use later as required. Administrators and users can easily access and transfer data, create clones, sync files, create backups, and do much more. It offers extensible RDP (remote desktop protocol) authentication for tighter security.

Cons

Though VirtualBox is free and easy to use as compared to other VDI, there are a few issues as well. Sometimes the performance lags and it takes time to boot. It requires more space and other resources to run smoothly and might not work properly on PCs with low-end specs. Some users complained about USB connection and transferring files. Other issues include crashes, bugs, update problems, issues with guest functionality, and adjusting resolutions.

Pricing

VirtualBox is available as open-source software as well as a closed-source extension pack. VirtualBox Extension Pack offers additional features and is free to use for evaluation or educational purposes. But for commercial use, you have to pay an enterprise licensing fee.

Amazon WorkSpaces: Best VDI Software for better integration

Pros

With AWS’s Amazon WorkSpaces, you get an all-in-one desktop virtualization solution for Windows and Linux that lets you access resources from any supported device. It provides a secure platform to users and businesses with Amazon Virtual Private Network (VPC), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and IP-based custom access features. Through WorkSpaces Application Manager (WAM), users may add and track the usage of external applications on their virtual desktops. With Amazon WorkSpaces API, businesses can integrate several third-party systems as well as with your organization’s Active Directory.

Cons

Using Amazon WorkSpaces requires a high-speed internet connection and a high processor. Some users faced connectivity and data transfer issues with the software. Others complained about the high price, support quality, as well as lag issues.

Pricing

Amazon WorkSpaces allows you to pay for monthly or hourly usage, billed monthly. Hourly billing is ideal for customers who use the WorkSpaces occasionally or some days a month such as part-time workers, corporate training, and other short-term projects. It offers several Linux and Windows bundle options starting from $21/month.

Kasm Workspaces: Best affordable VDI Software for Small Business

Pros

Developed by a team of cybersecurity experts to meet the remote workforce requirements, Kasm Workspaces uses open-source container streaming technology to securely deliver DaaS, VDI, application streaming, and browser isolation. It can be deployed on-premise, in the cloud, or a hybrid configuration. It’s a highly configurable platform that can be customized to meet any scalable business needs.

With its containerized desktop infrastructure (CDI), it’s easy to set up, cost-effective to maintain, and secure to use. Zero-trust web isolation helps to protect your organization and workers from any malware or phishing attack. Other features include data loss prevention, enterprise authentication with SSO and 2-factor, persistent profiles, custom desktops, and web filtering.

Cons

Like other virtualization software, Kasm Workspaces also face connectivity issues and crashes sometimes. Some users suggested that developing customized Kasm apps and overall performance and speed could be improved.

Pricing

Kasm Workspaces offers highly affordable pricing plans based on self-hosting and SaaS, and with per-user or per-session licensing. Self-hosted, per-user plans include:

  • Community Plan: Free; for individuals and non-profits.
  • Professional Plan: $5 per user per month; billed annually.
  • Enterprise Plan: $10 per user per month; billed annually. Includes advanced support and cloud auto-scaling.

V2 Cloud WorkSpaces: Best VDI Software for Security

Pros

V2 Cloud offers desktop virtualization solutions including on-premise as well as DaaS to business owners, managed service providers, IT managers, and independent software vendors. It enables your employees to work anywhere without compromising security with 2-factor authentication, HTTPS encryption, and ransomware protection.

Administrators can set up multiple logins on various virtual machines, enable restricted access, and easily transfer and share files with remote teams as well as backup data. Other features include hybrid desktop hosting, backend hosting, OS compatibility, daily backups, 1-click web access, complete admin console, multi-device support, mobile access, and third-party integrations.

Cons

Some limitations do exist while using V2 Cloud WorkSpaces. Some users complained about the high price, difficulty to set up, and a few compatibility issues. Others faced difficulty in copy-pasting text to the clipboard or Excel, and issues with downloads.

Pricing

V2 Cloud pricing plans fall into two categories: individual cloud desktops and team cloud desktops. Team Cloud Desktop is well-suited for businesses that are further categorized into Basic and Business Plans. Basic Plan starts with $40/user/month. Business Plan includes features on top of those found in the Basic Plan.

  • The Founder: $60/month; recommended for 1 user
  • The Startup: $105/month; recommended for 4 users
  • The SMB: $210/month; recommended for 8 users
  • The Firm: $420/month; recommended for 16 users
  • The Company: $840/month; recommended for 32 users
  • The Enterprise: $1680/month; recommended for 64 users

Parallels RAS: Best VDI Software for Simplicity

Pros

Parallels Remote Application Server (RAS) provides a comprehensive VDI solution to access data anywhere, anytime. It offers simplified infrastructure, easy deployment, IT agility, outstanding user experience (UX), and enhanced security with SSL encryption and multi-factor authentication. The platform integrates smoothly with Microsoft Hyper-V, Azure Desktop, VMware ESXi, AWS, and other major hypervisors. Other features include a unified and centralized management console, customizable tools, automated image optimization, and scalability.

Cons

As suggested by users, there are some areas of improvement, such as increasing the number of minimum users, better connection, MFA setup, easier software upgrades, screen/session freeze issues, glitches, and crashes.

Pricing

In addition to a free trial, Parallels RAS offers the following pricing plans:

  • 1-year subscription: $99.99 per concurrent user
  • 2-year subscription: $189.99 per concurrent user
  • 3-year subscription: $269.99 per concurrent user

Choosing the right VDI product for your business

Remote work and desktop virtualization have become a necessity, especially since the pandemic. Each VDI platform has its advantages as well as limitations. So, it’s important to deploy the most feasible remote access solution that caters best to your organization’s scalability needs.

Maheen Kanwal
Maheen Kanwal is a contributor at TechnologyAdvice. She's passionate about writing well-researched content about technology and business. As a freelancer, she has written hundreds of engaging articles and blogs over the years in various niches such as technology, business, HR, education, career, and other general stuff.

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