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What is VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) and How Does VDI Work?

Author: Emma Collins
Emma Collins Article author

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) lets you create and operate virtual desktop environments totally separated from a physical host machine. From this article, you will find out what is a VDI, how does it work, and what tools will you need to make this technology beneficial for your business to the fullest.

What is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure?

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is a form of desktop virtualization that uses a centralized server to host virtual desktops and delivers them over a network to a user’s desktop PC, mobile device, or thin client. Users operate those virtual desktops directly on the server, without using any of their local resources.

What is VDI

How does VDI work?

On a server, typically located in a data center, a specialized software called hypervisor creates isolated virtual machines. Each of those machines has resources, OS, desktop, and installed apps, just like a real machine.

Users can access one of those virtual machine’s desktops (assigned or default) through a connection broker (specialized mediator software) from any compatible electronic device and interact with OS, apps, and resources just like they interact with the local ones.

Components of VDI

What is VDI

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure consists of several main components.

  • Client that wishes to connect to the virtual machines (VM).
  • Broker acts as an intermediary that directs traffic between the client and the servers. It handles user authentication and authorization.
  • Virtualization server that hosts the actual virtual machines.
  • Virtual machines allow the users to access the remote desktop to perform the required tasks.
  • Hypervisor: The virtual machine monitor or vmm is the software that creates the virtual machine instances and runs them. It makes it possible for the host computer to support the multiple guest virtual machines by managing and sharing available resources.

Types of VDI Deployment

The main types of VDI deployment are divided into three: persistent, non-persistent, and hybrid. But apart from these, we will also talk about two other VDI types in this section.

Before anything else, let’s first take a look at how persistent and non-persistent virtual desktop infrastructures (VDI) differ from one another since both can cause confusion due to the terms used.

Persistent VDI Environment

What is persistent VDI? Also called “stateful VDI,” it refers to a setup where a user can access his or her personalized virtual desktop without losing previously stored data. This VDI type is designed for individuals who need customizable settings, data, and applications.

Here are other things you need to know about a persistent VDI environment:

  • Ideal for power users who need to store application settings, including video editing software and AutoCAD.
  • Gives more backup and storage choices.
  • The same as having a laptop.
  • Machine loading takes time.
  • Mainly used with VMWare.

Non-Persistent VDI Environment

What is non-persistent VDI? It pertains to a situation in which the data or settings from the previous sessions are not saved. This type of VDI is the best choice for task-oriented individuals who don’t require customization.

Here’s everything else you need to know about a non-persistent VDI environment:

  • Profiles are possible to store on a different server rather than the computer.
  • Uses a similar image over and over again.
  • Keeps only basic settings that are rebooted every time.
  • Removes junk files like cookies, which results in a quicker boot-up time.
  • More secure and easier to patch and update the image.
  • Profiles and data can be saved on a lower-priced device.
  • Less expensive to run.
  • Generally used with Citrix.

Hybrid VDI

One of the types of VDI, Hybrid VDI comprises the elements of both persistent and non-persistent VDIs. Some users may get a virtual desktop with customized applications and settings, while others will make use of virtual desktops for task-oriented assignments. This type of VDI deployment is perfect for companies that house power and task-oriented users.

Session-based VDI

A session-based VDI alludes to a case in which multiple individuals use only one virtual desktop environment running on a server. Each person uses a remote desktop protocol (RDP) client to connect to the shared virtual desktop session.

Moreover, users can neither access their individual virtual machines nor maneuver the operating system. Instead, they use the server’s resources at the same time, such as RAM, CPU, and storage.

Dedicated Hosted VDI

With a dedicated hosted VDI environment, each user gets to have their individual virtual machine. They also have complete control over it, giving them the freedom to install software, manage files, and personalize settings.

This type of VDI environment is the best pick for users seeking a more personalized experience and flexibility.

To explain it briefly, a session-based VDI environment is where multiple users utilize the same resources, while a dedicated hosted VDI environment is where each user has their own resources.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) use cases

Remote work – with the ever increasing remote work model, VDI allows employees easy access to the corporate network.

Shift work – in an environment where dedicated computer stations are not required, VDI allows for ad hoc connectivity as and when needed.

Call Centers are perfect for a VDI implementation, allowing users to hot desk while still being able to log in to a familiar desktop.

Educational Institutions – much like a call center – learners will have access to resources without needing a dedicated workstation. Security and restrictions can be easily applied across the board and all user experiences will be the same.

BYOD deployments can be secured by having the desktop within a secure virtual machine. Graphic Intensive applications can be performed with lower end hardware as all the processing happens on the server.

How to implement VDI?

To make the most out of remote desktop technology, it is critically important to know how to use VDI safely and efficiently. Here is the list of key factors you need to consider for successful VDI implementation:

  1. Determine the required scope for your organization. Determine if you want to use VDI to replace your entire traditional setup or if you want to use VDI to make certain apps available virtually.For capacity planning you need to consider how many people might connect to your service concurrently. You need to ensure that your internet and network infrastructure is up for the task.
  2. Choose a VDI vendor to supply your connection broker. The broker is responsible for directing connecting clients to available resources on the remote server. Two of the most popular vendors include VMware’s Horizon and Citrix’s Virtual Apps and Desktops.
  3. Identify your users’ needs. Begin by understanding if your users require customized desktops or if they are task-oriented workers who can function from a standard desktop. Determine whether your organization is better suited for a persistent or non-persistent VDI setup. Assess your users’ performance requirements and differentiate the provisioning based on their needs.
  4. Implement and review your security. Cost saving should not be a consideration when implementing security. Make sure you use two-factor authentication (2FA or multifactor authentication (MFA) should be a minimum requirement. Usernames and passwords are not sufficient. Make use of traditional internet security in the form of firewalls and anti-malware software.
  5. If you are using on-site servers, make sure your VPN tunnels are set up and configured. Dedicated VPN firewalls will result in better performance for your users. Measure and review your setup continuously for connectivity and load so you can scale your capacity as required.
  6. Conduct a test. It is essential to conduct a test VDI deployment to validate if you have correctly provisioned your resources. Many virtualization providers offer testing tools for this purpose.

Benefits of VDI technology

Easier IT management – Software updates and security patches only need to be done once. The VDI administrators have 24/7 access to their servers and it’s not necessary to get access to the end user devices. New installations for new employees are easy to deploy.

Financial savings – By centralizing desktop management and consolidating hardware, VDI reduces hardware, software, and IT infrastructure costs. It also enables businesses to easily scale their desktop environment up or down based on their needs, reducing wasted resources. Additionally, VDI can reduce energy costs as it uses less energy than traditional desktops. Finally, VDI allows for a longer lifespan of hardware, as the virtual desktop can be accessed from any device with internet access, reducing the need for frequent hardware upgrades.

Agility – The business can adapt to their changing needs by creating new VMs quickly. Whether providing resources for additional contractors or seasonal workers, this flexibility together with BOYD allows the company to cater for various remote working models.

Improved remote working – Allowing your workforce full access to any and all applications wherever they are aligns with the recent changes in working remotely that has become more popular and continues to grow more popular.

Drawbacks of VDI

If deployed internally, you require a dedicated team to manage and administer the system. The initial hardware procurement can be costly and the VDI team needs to ensure that all applications that are to be made available on the server are licensed and installed in compliance with the business requirements. Software and security updates become an ongoing and time intensive task.


Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is a component of Windows Server 2008 that allows machines to connect remotely and virtually. RDS is different to VDI as it has one single environment that can be accessed by multiple people. With VDI, each client has a dedicated desktop that they connect to.

The Future of VDI

With the continual adoption of BYOD and a remote working model, the need for VDI is on the rise. Allied Market Research is predicting growth to exceed $10 million by 2023. This is from a $3.6 million valuation in 2016, an increase of over 170%.

More and more companies are embracing the cloud in all business endeavors. With this change, DaaS and VDI make sense. This technology allows for seamless work-home hybrid workplaces.

While VDI has been in existence for over a decade, its future is still bright – with a move from on site data centers to cloud based ones. Companies that have been in the game for a long time are constantly upgrading and improving their offering to meet the ever changing needs of the market.

What is difference between VDI and VM?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure, VDI for short, is a virtualization solution that lets people access a desktop-like environment hosted on a server. The process typically involves using a thin client or an endpoint device.

On the contrary, Virtual Machine (VM) is a digital version of a physical computer, having its own CPU, storage, memory, and network interface. It can let several operating systems work on a single computer.

Here’s another explanation to better understand virtual machine vs VDI.

VDI is the one utilized for bringing virtual desktops to users, while a VM is more about the integration of multiple operating systems or servers on one physical machine.

Now that you know the difference between VDI and VM, let’s move on to the types of VDI deployment.


VDI should not be mistaken for a remote desktop as the purpose of these technologies are completely different. Remote desktop connects you to a computer over a distance while VDI provides you with a virtual workstation that is isolated from both your device and other desktops on the server and will not use any of your resources.
The most typical example of using VDI is a business with multiple employees operating on a fully-remote or hybrid work model. Instead of investing in multiple laptops, peripheral devices, and software licenses, the company gives access to virtual workstations where each team member can work from anywhere using their personal devices.
Citrix Virtual Apps (formerly Citrix XenApp) is just one of many popular software solutions you can use to access Windows-based applications installed on a virtual machine hosted on a remote server.