What Is Desktop Virtualization?

At its core, desktop virtualization is simply the practice of running one desktop from within another desktop. Essentially, your computer runs an application that simulates another computer -- right on your desktop.

For example, a Mac user may require the use of Windows software. They could go out and purchase a new machine to run Windows on, or they could create a virtual computer on their Mac and run Windows alongside Mac OS.

Their costs go from the purchase price of a brand new PC to merely the cost of a license. And, they don’t have to lug around two separate computers.

This is just use case for desktop virtualization, which has now entered numerous use cases across many industries. The number of separate companies and protocols that enable desktop virtualization, sometimes called virtualization for short, have now greatly proliferated.



There are a lot of brand names and acronyms that are commonly used when discussing desktop virtualization and remote desktop virtualization. Early players in the remote desktop market like Citrix, Microsoft, and Remote Workstations will sometimes rebrand their products, too. We’ll list some of the major solution brands and acronyms here.

VDI: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure. This has become industry parlance for virtualization software served from a private cloud. Typically, the computers that host the virtualized desktops are located within the premises of the organization itself. Users then remotely access those machines from their own devices.

DaaS: An acronym for Desktop as a Service, DaaS is used to refer to a specific use case for virtualization. Specifically, DaaS refers to remote virtualization hosted on an off-site cloud. DaaS software environments are also often managed remotely.

WVD: Window Virtual Desktop. Microsoft is releasing its own Desktop as a Service offering in the second half of 2019. This release is being met with much fanfare from media outlets and software partners. It is an implementation of DaaS that runs on the Azure cloud.

Workspaces: Amazon Workspaces is Amazon’s DaaS offering and a direct competitor to the upcoming Microsoft WVD. It runs on the AWS cloud, itself a direct competitor to Microsoft’s Azure cloud.

Workspace One: This is VMWare’s implementation of DaaS. It offers a layer of software management over the infrastructure of remote computers. VMWare are pioneers in the virtualization space and were an early standard solution in the virtual desktop world. VMWare is also a strategic partner with both Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure.


Competing Companies and Protocols for Remote Desktop Virtualization

While there are powerful use cases for virtualization on a local computer, much of the competition is now in the developing remote virtualization market. There are numerous technologies championed by different companies vying for space in this rapidly emerging market. Below are the three that currently have majority space in remote desktop virtualization.

Microsoft RDP: Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol was first released in 1998 and received its last major update in 2016. It serves as the foundation for RemoteFX and RDS (Remote Desktop Services), which both use RDP to deliver remote graphics output for virtualized desktops. RDP is heavily used in the DaaS market not just by Microsoft but by competitors such as Amazon and Remote Workstations.

It offers extremely low latency and also, as may be expected, excellent compatibility with Windows Operating systems.

Teradici PCoIP: PCoIP, or PC over IP, was developed by Teradici and is currently licensed by both VMWare and Amazon. Its first iteration was in 2007 and its last major release was in 2016.

Citrix HDX: Citrix HDX (high definition experience) is built on its own ICA (Independent Computing Architecture) protocol. HDX is analogous to Microsoft’s RemoteFX in providing additional capabilities over the underlying protocol.
It is currently a major alternative to PCoIP and RemoteFX/RDP.

VMWare Blast: Although VMWare licenses PCoIP from Teradici, they recently released with their virtualization solution, Horizon 7, their own in-house remote display protocol. Blast is a relative newcomer to the market. VMWare claims it has feature parity with PCoIP, which is an impressive claim.

Backed by the venerable VMWare, Blast looks to have a strong future in the market, as well.


Implementations of Remote Desktop Virtualization

One of the most powerful capabilities desktop virtualization can provide is to the ability to access computing resources that are in another location.

This is possible through protocols that provide the display outputs of these remote machines to your local desktop machine. With the most recent iterations, latency is extremely low. For many users, the experience is nearly indistinguishable from simply using a local computer.

The benefits of providing virtual desktop capability are magnified in this implementation. Users can not only access the capabilities of another software environment, they can tap into the superior performance of a remotely located machine. That machine can be remotely managed for maximum uptime and software maintenance, and can enjoy the benefits of better physical and networked security.

There are numerous protocols and providers for remote desktop virtualization, often called Desktop as a Service (Daas). We cover the major players in the market, such as Amazon, Microsoft, Citrix, and Remote Workstations in our article: What Is Daas?.