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What Is Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)?

A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) application suite runs on top of a hypervisor on Intel x86 hardware platforms, allowing IT departments to host and manage user desktops on virtual machines (VM) in the data center. Users access server-hosted virtual desktops from a device using a remote display protocol.

Why is VDI important?

More companies are deploying VDI because of:

  • The increase in employees working remotely
  • The need to help ensure productivity for remote workers
  • The need to provide secure access to sensitive data and business-critical applications across geographies
  • The need to help ensure applications perform as well anywhere in the world as they do on-premises
  • The benefits of reduced CapEx and OpEx
  • The flexibility to use any device anywhere
  • The ability to easily scale your infrastructure as needed

How does VDI work?

VDI decouples the user's desktop computing environment from the hardware. The virtual desktop is hosted on a server VM and delivered across the network using a remote display protocol. The end device no longer stores the user's applications or data, which are housed in centralized storage in the data center.

End-user devices can be:

  • Thick client, such as a PC or laptop
  • Thin client, which provides an optimized device that interacts with a hosted virtual desktop
  • Display terminal with keyboard, video, and mouse, interacting with a hosted virtual desktop secure corporate workspace or virtual desktop within the user's own PC or laptop
  • Tablet or smartphone that acts as a thin client

What are key use cases for VDI?

  • Healthcare: Mobility between desktops and terminals, compliance, and cost
  • Federal, public sectors: Teleworking initiatives, business continuance, continuity of operations (COOP), and training centers
  • Financial: Retail banks reducing IT costs, insurance agents, compliance, and privacy
  • Education: K-12 student access, higher education, and remote learning
  • Regional and local governments: IT and service consolidation across agencies and interagency security
  • Retail: Branch-office IT cost reduction and remote vendors
  • Manufacturing: Task and knowledge workers and offshore contractors

How is VDI delivered?

Applications can be installed and shared from the server or virtual applications can be provided. This technology can be referred to as Remote Desktop Services (RDS) or Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH).

Virtual applications

Key applications are virtualized and made available to users based on their role. These applications are then delivered to the end user and can appear as part of their device's installed applications.


Virtual Windows desktops

A Windows or Linux desktop OS that can include installed applications and/or virtualized applications. The end user has defined control over what they can modify on the virtual desktop. This use case is the definition of VDI. Virtual desktops can be assigned to specific users or can be randomly assigned.


Virtual Windows server sessions

A Windows server OS desktop is shared by multiple users in sessions. Each user appears to have a virtual desktop with a customized interface that looks like a desktop OS.

VDI platforms

It is likely that you will deploy two or more of the delivery mechanisms in your environment. Combining your knowledge of delivery mechanisms with your user types is important for user adoption and satisfaction. There are three general-purpose user types that help you understand which type of delivery mechanism might be appropriate:

Platform types

  • Task worker: Primarily working in a single application, such as CRM/ERP users; payables; receivables; medical records
  • Knowledge worker: Multiple applications open and active, such as full Microsoft Office Suite; high-res websites; online videos
  • Power user: Full Microsoft Office Suite; high-res websites; presentation designers with animation; hi-res graphics applications open and active

Key consideration

  • Scale: How many users for each delivery mechanism will you start with? How many will you grow to?
  • Geography: Will you host your VDI infrastructure in one data center? In multiple data centers? Regionally, nationally, or globally?
  • Management: How will you manage each component of your VDI deployment (hardware/software/users)?
  • Flexibility: Can you deploy different platforms for different use cases?

Get started

Learn more about Cisco products and solutions related to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).