RDS or AVD – Remote vs Virtual Desktops Explained


A smartly dressed man leaves a glass-walled corner office. He turns and walks down a long, well-lit hallway, making his way back to his office. On the way, he mulls over what just happened.

The man is Scott Smith. He is the CIO of Defense Industries, a small but rapidly growing defense contractor start-up. Scott’s boss had asked him to determine the best way to provide remote Windows desktops for all the company’s 243 employees.

Scott knows that using remote desktops is a good way to meet the stringent compliance requirements his company needs to meet. So, he was already looking at his options. But how should he decide on the right path forward? RDS or ADV?

There are a number of similarities between RDS and AVD; both facilitate remote access to corporate resources and share some technical fundamentals. But they are very different.


Remote Desktop Services (RDS) has been around since the late 1990s and has gone by a couple of different names in that time. The service allows users to take control of a virtual machine or application hosted on a server over a network connection.

In corporate environments, RDS is coupled with Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI). It provides users with virtual machines that they connect to using low-power corporate or even personal devices.

While remote connections can be allowed for traveling salespeople or workers located remotely, companies with security concerns have traditionally kept RDS connections limited to those who are on-site and within their network environment.

RDS/VDI is a good option for those who need to have total control of their RDS environment and have the technical resources to implement and maintain complex systems.

RDS/VDI runs on your physical server hardware dedicated to running Microsoft Server OS. This allows for all types of custom hardware configurations. The server hardware requirements vary based on how much demand is placed on it by the virtual machines. For example, a small company would need a low specification server. Compared to a large company that will require multiple high-powered servers.

For users who need to perform complex computations (e.g., CAD engineers, video editors, etc.), a dedicated graphics card can be added to the VDI server and dedicated to that user’s virtual machine. They also may be provisioned with a large amount of RAM and compute resources. In contrast, another user may only be using Teams and Edge for their daily work. That user requires a basic virtual machine to get their tasks done.

Using RDS also gives your IT team complete control over the service from hardware configurations, deployment methods, virtual machine configurations, to the software installed on those virtual machines.

Because it is deployed on-site, RDS servers can be protected by the company’s existing network infrastructure (firewalls, protection policies, etc.) and work with your existing Active Directory environment. Additionally, running on local physical servers provides for an ultra-fast totally dependable connection for users.

One of the biggest hurdles with RDS is the setup. An IT specialist is required to configure the Remote Desktop Session Host, a Remote Desktop Gateway service, for larger deployments a Remote Desktop Connection Broker, and connect everything to Active Directory. If you want to offer the service externally, you will also need to enable Remote Desktop Web Access with the appropriate firewall changes.

If you want to use a base image of Windows 10, or other OS, for your virtual machines when they deploy, IT will need to configure it and have it stored on the network.

Now that everything is set up, you will need to ensure that you have the appropriate licensing to run your RDS/VDI service. They are Microsoft Server for every server and an RDS Client Access License (CAL) for every user who will use the service.

With the introduction of Azure virtual servers, it is now possible to put your VDI in Azure. The same infrastructure requirements apply, but the hardware overhead is removed.


Azure Virtual Desktop (AVD), previously know as Windows Virtual Desktop, is the modern, Azure PaaS-based solution for virtual desktops. AVD is a relatively new service that Microsoft is offering. It removes the hardware management requirement of RDS and streamlines the process.

The AVD platform provides the hardware, software, and infrastructure for developing, running, and managing applications without the cost, complexity, and rigidity that comes from building and maintaining the same service on-premises.

The Windows 10 license required to run on AVD is included in all Microsoft 365 subscriptions and Windows 10 Enterprise Edition.

AVD easily scales as companies grow or shrink. It eliminates the inefficiencies of purchasing physical servers for when the demand is high and then having them sit idle when it is low.

RDS vs. AVD Features

As stated before, RDS has been on the market for decades. It has been put to the test by companies large and small. It is a mature technology that is well understood.

Because it has been on the market longer than AVD, there is an untold number of custom apps that may not work in Windows 10 Enterprise multi-session, at least for now.

By using RDS, companies not only retain full ownership of the desktop virtual machines, but they also own how/where the data flows as well as the infrastructure.

AVD is a Windows 10 native experience; it feels like a desktop. RDS provides a Windows 10 “desktop experience” on Microsoft Server OS. RDS uses a simulated desktop experience running on a server OS.

AVD uses technology from FSLogic to store and manage user profiles. This is important when using non-persistent virtual machines. The technology allows users to have a consistent desktop experience even when the virtual machine they use changes or is reprovisioned.

AVD supports OneDrive and indexed search in pooled desktops for those times when searching across multiple virtual machines is required.

Apps like OneDrive and Teams have been integrated and optimized to work in AVD, while there are often challenges with these apps in RDS.

One of the most significant features of AVD is that it is a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). Microsoft takes care of all the infrastructure for the service. They manage the servers, the data flows, the storage, the server maintenance, and all the other IT tasks involved with providing the service.


The two services manage their service and their virtual machines in different ways. RDS is managed and monitored on the host server with Remote Desktop Connection Manager. Using Connection Manager, the host can monitor the client connections, the users, and the running processes. The host server can also be configured to connect with Remote Desktop licensing servers and connection brokers.

RDS was designed so its virtual machines are configured and deployed using System Center Configuration Manager. Since they are on the local Active Directory network, they can be subject to local group policies like any other computer.

AVD, on the other hand, uses AVD Management Service for managing the service. This is instead of requiring a connected Active Directory Domain Controller either on-premises or in Azure. The virtual machines use Microsoft 365 Endpoint Manager/Intune for configuration and management. If all company computers are already managed by Endpoint Manager, it creates a single point where they can be managed.


RDS requires purchasing physical servers, networking hardware, server licensing, RDS CALs, and continual maintenance.

AVD requires purchasing Microsoft 365 subscriptions and the monthly Azure infrastructure resource costs on an as-consumed basis.

We highly recommend that companies take advantage of one-year or three-year Azure Reserved Virtual Machine Instances. They offer significant cost savings over the monthly rates.

If your primary deciding factor is cost, then how do you decide? There are two different scenarios when it comes to pricing and helping determine which option is best. If the company already owns Windows 10 Enterprise licensing or has Microsoft 365 subscriptions. Or if they do not.

If the company uses Microsoft 365 subscriptions, then AVD is the winner when it comes to cost. With no management overhead costs (no AD servers, management virtual machines, etc.) and costly on-premises infrastructure is not required.

If the company doesn’t use Microsoft 365 and only needs to purchase it for AVD, the costs are almost equivalent. On the other hand, if the company is large, there may be potential cost savings if they go with RDS. But with the added physical infrastructure costs, the benefit of RDS disappears.


So, what did Scott decide to present to John at their next meeting? Scott took a long look at the numbers, his current Azure deployment, and the current lack of on-premises infrastructure. He decided to go with an AVD deployment for his company.

AVD simplifies the licensing and deployment of virtual desktops. With many organizations moving towards Microsoft 365 and Azure, it is a natural and relatively low-cost way to deploy desktops and applications in the cloud.

If you are interested in joining Scott and deploying Azure Virtual Desktops or for help evaluating what technology is best for your organization, get in touch with our IT Pros here. We’re here to help you simplify your cloud management with IT advice and services tailor-made to your organization.