Windows Virtual Desktop looks set to become 'the next big thing' in Higher Ed software delivery. As a hosted solution able to partially, or even wholly absorb CALs and VDA license costs, it addresses many of the obstacles posed by legacy VDI solutions to university IT.

Despite all this, there are still numerous reasons for universities to seek alternative solutions to Windows Virtual Desktop. Perhaps if a significant investment has already been made in VDI hardware infrastructure and staff, or perhaps sensitive data needs to be kept on-site. What are your alternatives to Windows Virtual Desktop?

Alternative VDI solutions

VDI comes in many forms and with many variables. If Windows Virtual Desktop isn't suitable for your needs, for whatever reason, another VDI solution may do the trick. Below we'll detail some of the other VDI technologies available on the market and discuss how they differ to Windows Virtual Desktop.

Traditional VDI solutions

Parallels RAS

  • Available hosted or on-premise
  • Excludes CALs/VDA
  • Persistent or non-persistent VDI

Sometimes referred to as a 'hybrid' solution, Parallels RAS uses elements of VDI and elements of RDS (remote desktop services) to deliver both persistent or non-persistent desktops. It is available both hosted in a chosen cloud solution or on-premise in university-owned hardware. A key benefit of Parallels RAS in comparison to legacy VDi solutions is that it is considerably cheaper and, therefore, easy to scale. As with all Server OS-based delivery technologies, CALs are required when being accessed by non-campus owned devices.


  • Available hosted or on-premise
  • Excludes CALs/VDA

Citrix Virtual Desktops is a legacy VDI solution that features very strong integration with Citrix's app virtualization product, Citrix Virtual Apps. While costly to implement and run, it is a very capable and powerful VDI product. As far as alternatives to Windows Virtual Desktop go, Citrix Virtual Desktops may be a good option for universities who have already invested in VDI hardware infrastructure and staff and need to keep their data on-site.


  • Available hosted or on-premise
  • Excludes CALs/VDA

The same case for VMware can be made as is made for Citrix. They were developed in competition, essentially simultaneously, though perhaps the edge can be given to VMware given it developed the original VDI solution. The same use cases exist and this extends to higher education IT seeking alternatives to Windows Virtual Desktop. It will likely come down to the best deal a university can get based on their needs, and the integration strength, and compatibility with other products used.

Hosted VDI

Amazon WorkSpaces

  • Only available hosted
  • Partially absorbed CALs/VDA
  • Persistent desktops

Amazon's VDI offering, WorkSpaces is similar to Windows Virtual Desktop. It is exclusively a fully hosted solution with a 'pay-as-you-go' model, allowing universities to get the technology implemented with a very low upfront cost. WorkSpaces' ability to partially absorb the price of CALs and VDA into its usage model costs helps to reduce the 'hidden' costs of VDI and avoid any surprises for universities when it comes to expectation versus reality.

Application virtualization

Delivering software through virtualization technology does not always require a full desktop to be virtualized.

Application virtualization provides a method of virtualizing applications without needing to spin up entire virtual desktops. We'll discuss the benefits of app virtualization and give a comparison between the two technologies below.


  • Leverages hardware of end-device
  • Affordable and scalable
  • Doesn't require a constant network connection
  • Extra CALs/VDA licenses not required
  • Better user experience


VDI is executed on a server with the output pixel-streamed to end-devices. This is useful in delivering to ultrathin clients or cross-platform, but today's students often have very powerful machines. If IT can leverage some of these hardware capabilities to subsidize the hardware they usually must provide in order to deliver data, software delivery can greatly decrease in cost. What's more, this applies to BYO devices, meaning that enabling elusive BYOD policies becomes much more affordable and scalable.

App virtualization's nature of being executed on the hardware of the end device (yet encapsulated from the endpoint's OS) means, once virtualized, a network connection is no longer required. This allows students to continue using software in spotty network connections, during network outages or in locations with no network access at all.

With application virtualization, a full desktop is not required in order to virtualize and deliver and app; once again, the end-device's hardware is used and this hardware will already be running a licensed version of Windows, whether managed or a BYO device. This means that the cost of CALs and VDA licenses simply do not need to be accounted for or factored in for software delivered by application virtualization.

VDI is often a high-performing delivery technology, however, when network connection is questionable, or with certain apps, the performance of delivered software can take a hit. This can be particularly problematic for quite a number of apps. We have heard using Photoshop through VDI likened to 'painting a canvas' through a mail slot. Application virtualization does not suffer from this as everything is local. Apps behave and are used as if locally installed and are totally indistinguishable from local apps, especially in integrated application virtualization solutions.

Smarter provisioning

One alternative to Windows Virtual Desktop is to reduce the need for VDI solutions altogether, leveraging other delivery methods where possible. With some careful provisioning logic and perhaps some provisioning tools, universities can reduce their reliance on VDI technologies, instead favoring delivery methods such as app virtualization or direct download links.

Off-site delivery

VDI is a great tool for delivering software off-site, however, it isn't the only option. Universities often default to VDI in order to deploy software off-site instead of considering the cheaper option with better user experience, application virtualization. If the app in question is available for direct download and install on the end-device, then this is by far the most cost-effective method of delivering to students.


If delivering a Windows application to a Windows device consider using application virtualization in order to save expensive VDI licenses for situations where only VDI will suffice, such as cross-platform delivery. Otherwise, app virtualization is a much cheaper option and generally presents a better user-experience to students for all but the heaviest of applications.


AppsAnywhere provides higher education IT with a method of marrying different delivery methods, detecting a number of variables on users' delivery contexts, and putting in place provisioning logic to help automate the delivery of software. Together, these features help to identify areas where VDI might not be the most appropriate delivery technology as well as being able to deploy software through alternative methods.

AppsAnywhere's ability to detect the context of end-users' and provisioning tools makes smarter, automated provisioning possible and helps to illuminate all the areas in which VDI may not be the most appropriate delivery tool. An effective alternative to using Windows Virtual Desktop to universally deliver off-site or to BYO devices would be to use AppsAnywhere's application virtualization technology to deliver all Windows apps to Windows devices and reserve VDI alternatives for cross-platform delivery.

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.