What is a Virtual Desktop?

In computing, a virtual desktop is a term used with respect to user interfaces, usually within the WIMP paradigm, to describe ways in which the virtual space of a computer’s desktop environment is expanded beyond the physical limits of the screen’s display area through the use of software.

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Virtual desktops are preconfigured images of operating systems and applications in which the desktop environment is separated from the physical device used to access it. Users can access their virtual desktops remotely over a network. Any endpoint device, such as a laptop, smartphone or tablet, can be used to access a virtual desktop.

The virtual desktop provider installs client software on the endpoint device, and the user then interacts with that software on the device. A virtual desktop looks and feels like a physical workstation.

The user experience is often even better than a physical workstation because powerful resources, such as storage and back-end databases, are readily available.

Users may or may not be able to save changes or permanently install applications, depending on how the virtual desktop is configured. Users experience their desktop exactly the same way every time they log in, no matter which device they are logging into it from.

What are the different types of virtual desktops?

Virtual desktops rely on a technology called desktop virtualization, which separates the desktop environment and its applications from the physical device used to access it. The primary types of virtual desktops are determined by whether the operating system runs on local hardware or remotely.

Although local desktop virtualization allows offline access, remote desktop virtualization is more common (and the focus of this page) because it offers key advantages for connecting to operating systems and applications, including:

  • Support for a wide array of endpoint devices including standard PCs and laptops as well as low-cost thin clients and mobile devices
  • Secure data storage in the datacenter or cloud with only keystrokes and clicks transferred from the endpoint device
  • Support for a greater number and types of desktops than would be possible on most local devices alone
  • Centralized management and control for data, settings, and more
  • Device agnosticism to minimize the impact of instances when devices are lost, stolen, or malfunctioning

The ability to seamlessly roam sessions from one device to another in real time

Remote virtual desktops are traditionally delivered through Microsoft Remote Desktop Services (RDS) as the underlying technology.

A single operating system instance installed on a server is shared by multiple remote users connecting over a network.

Virtual applications and desktops are then displayed on client devices through a special set of data transfer rules defined within a remote display protocol.

With RDS, the Microsoft Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is used to access a shared group of remote servers based on a consistent virtual machine image within one or more resource pools.

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) is another variation of the client-server model of desktop virtualization in which desktop operating systems run inside a virtual machine, either on on-premises servers or within a public cloud. With VDI, users access individual desktops and the applications that reside on them, in a 1-to-1 mapping.

Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session is an exception, though, as it’s an Azure-only version of Windows 10 that accepts multiple simultaneous user connections.

Azure virtual machines are one of several types of on-demand, scalable computing resources that Azure offers.

Typically, you choose a virtual machine when you need more control over the computing environment than the other choices offer.

This article gives you information about what you should consider before you create a virtual machine, how you create it, and how you manage it.

An Azure virtual machine gives you the flexibility of virtualization without having to buy and maintain the physical hardware that runs it. However, you still need to maintain the virtual machine by performing tasks, such as configuring, patching, and installing the software that runs on it.

Azure virtual machines can be used in various ways. Some examples are:

  • Development and test – Azure virtual machines offer a quick and easy way to create a computer with specific configurations required to code and test an application.
  • Applications in the cloud – Because demand for your application can fluctuate, it might make economic sense to run it on a virtual machine in Azure. You pay for extra virtual machines when you need them and shut them down when you don’t.
  • Extended datacenter – virtual machines in an Azure virtual network can easily be connected to your organization’s network.
  • The number of virtual machines that your application uses can scale up and out to whatever is required to meet your needs.

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