VDI is an impressive solution, one which was born organically and through a legitimate need for more capable delivery technologies. While it was successful in fulfilling that need, it is an expensive technology and legacy solutions are nigh on impossible to scale within higher education IT budgets. So what are the VDI alternatives to large, sprawling VDI estates?

It’s also important to understand other components to VDI like what is VDA today and the other licenses required by a virtual desktop infrastructure.

What is VDI?

Introduction to VDI

VDI (desktop virtualization) is a virtualization technology that delivers software applications by creating and using virtual machines on a server, running apps on the virtual machine, and then pixel-streaming this data to users.

There are many variables within VDI, such as persistent vs non-persistent or hosted vs on-premise. You can learn more about VDI and VDI alternatives in The ultimate guide to VDI by AppsAnywhere.

What are the benefits of VDI?

  • Cross-platform delivery
  • Delivery to zero clients or ultrathin clients
  • Off-site delivery
  • Enable BYOD and deliver to non-managed devices

What are the limitations/drawbacks of VDI?

  • Requires constant network connection
  • Expensive and difficult to scale
  • Often involves many 'hidden' costs

Alternative 1: Application virtualization

Application virtualization is a very strong contender as a VDI alternative as it carries all the benefits fo VDI except cross-platform delivery and delivery to ultrathin clients. AppsAnywhere's app virtualization technology is the best and most capable on the market, allowing it to virtualize and deliver 100% of Windows apps to Windows devices with no exceptions.


  • Leverages hardware of end-device
  • Affordable and scalable
  • Doesn't require a constant network connection


Application virtualization differs from desktop virtualization in that it doesn't need to virtualize a whole desktop in order to deliver software titles. It uses a virtual desktop infrastructure, often referred to as a virtual bubble, the creation of which takes place natively on the end-user's device. and virtualizes applications totally separately from the underlying operating system on virtual machines.

A slight drawback of some app virtualization solutions, referred to as isolated application virtualization, is that the apps are unable to communicate or otherwise interact with plugins, other apps, and system processes such as print or save functions. This is due to their total separation from the operating system they're executed on. The answer to this is an integrated application virtualization solution, such as AppsAnywhere.

Understanding what is VDA today is important to know for a cost and simplicity comparison in the VDI alternative conversation. Application virtualization licenses cost a lot less than VDI licenses and don't require CALs or VDA licenses to run, as they end device they're to be executed on will already be running a licensed version of Windows. App virtualization requires much less hardware infrastructure than on-premise VDI solutions. It is much less complex and time-consuming to manage, helping to also reduce costs in these areas and lending to the affordability of app virtualization to be highly preferable over VDI as a VDI alternative. It can also help universities save costs in endpoint hardware investment when delivering to BYOD devices via virtual machines, as it is able to leverage the hardware capabilities of the end device.

Once you know what is VDA today, it becomes clearer to see that unlike VDI, application virtualization doesn't require a constant internet connection. Once an app is fully virtualized, it can continue to be used offline due to it being executed inside a virtual bubble on the hardware of the end-device. This is highly beneficial to users, awarding them more mobility and flexibility when using university software delivery and means that expensive VDI will be less heavily relied on for accessing applications.

Alternative 2: Smarter provisioning

Using some intelligent provisioning as a VDI alternative, universities can reduce their need for VDI and ensuring they're leveraging the most appropriate delivery technology for a given situation. Carefully planned and designed provisioning logic, partnered with professional remote desktop services and a solid remote desktop protocol can help reduce the reliance on expensive technologies like VDI and laborious technologies such as imaging, ensuring duplication of work and long delivery processes are avoided as much as possible.

On-site or off-site?

If needing software delivery to a device on-site, the only real reason to use VDI is if the device is ultrathin or non-Windows. If delivering to Windows devices on-site, application virtualization is your best bet, even if delivering to BYO devices via a virtual desktop access point. Not only is it a cheaper technology to deliver with, it often offers the best user experience. App virtualization is able to leverage the hardware capabilities of the end device, to continue being used in the ever of connection interruption, and apps and software delivery using integrated app virtualization function on a virtual desktop exactly as if they were locally installed.

Managed or BYO device?

If needing software delivery to a managed device, consider the app being delivered. Consider including essential and universally-used software titles, such as browsers, PDF readers, and MS Office, in your master image. These apps are likely to be needed fairly frequently by all of your students and on each machine. For more specialist software being delivered to end-devices with sufficient hardware, application virtualization is usually the best technology to use. It is obviously not possible to image BYO devices and virtual desktop infrastructure in the way managed machines would be imaged. Therefore, unless delivering to an ultrathin or non-Windows BYO device, app virtualization is still the most appropriate and cost-efficient technology.


Reserve VDI for certain software delivery contexts in order to keep costs down. One context where VDI will definitely be required is for delivery to non-Windows devices. If delivering to Windows devices, is there another delivery technology you can use, such as app virtualization?

FOSS/downloadable apps

For FOSS apps, unlicensed apps, or software delivery that can otherwise be downloaded and installed by end-users, consider providing the download link. This saves software delivery technology licenses from being used up and helps to conserve IT budgets to be used more efficiently or in other areas to progress key strategic projects and goals like setting up your virtual desktop infrastructure and your in-house or outsourced remote desktop services.

Alternative 3: AppsAnywhere

AppsAnywhere is the only universal software delivery solution for higher education; it is designed to be able to deliver software to any delivery context using its built-in application virtualization technology, smart provisioning, and contextual detection capabilities.

It integrates with all leading deliver technologies allowing it to leverage the more heavyweight, less scalable technologies such as VDI where necessary.

App virtualization

As referenced throughout this article, and as per our recommendations, application virtualization is often the most effective and appropriate delivery technology to use. It is more cost-effective and scalable than VDI, doesn't result in the complicated image bloat of imaging, and is less complex and laborious to implement than both technologies. AppsAnywhere's integrated app virtualization technology also provides the greatest user experiences for students accessing their university software as applications behave exactly as they would as if locally installed.

Smart provisioning and context detection

AppsAnywhere can help reduce the workload and automate provisioning for delivery to different contexts. By detecting information of end-devices such as their OS, location, and more, AppsAnywhere can choose the best delivery method for a given context and use it to deploy software. It can even detect when software titles are already installed on end-devices and launch them through its slick and easy-to-use front end portal.

Usage insight with AppsAnywhere Analytics

AppsAnywhere's reporting engine, AppsAnywhere Analytics can deliver insight into how software is delivered and needs to be delivered, as well as setting automated provisioning logic to ensure students are accessing their software in the most appropriate and cost-effective way possible. Use AppsAnywhere Analytics to expose license usage and understand the intricacies of your software delivery estate, how it's used, and information on the devices and contexts it needs to deliver to.

Arrange your demo of AppsAnywhere to learn how it can offer an alternative to VDI now

Some useful & related reading..

The ultimate guide to VDI

The ultimate guide to VDI

VDI was one of the standout technologies of the last decade. But 10 years on has it delivered on its promises? We look at the benefits, disadvantages and alternatives to VDI

The ultimate guide to application virtualization

The ultimate guide to application virtualization

Application virtualization is a technology that virtualizes apps that are encapsulated from the OS they are to be run on. Learn everything there is to know about application virtualization including how it works, comparisons with VDI, the benefits and different solutions on the market.