Over recent years, more and more universities have been turning to remote access solutions to help students stay connected and offer a more streamlined university experience. With BYOD policies becoming the norm at universities around the world, physical desktops are becoming an outdated way to provide students with the technology they need to complete their courses.

But what are the alternatives? There are a number of options to consider when looking for remote learning and working solutions. Two of these virtualization solutions are VDI and VPN. However, you should compare these two solutions for virtual desktops carefully to decide which works best for your needs before any system is implemented.

This webpage will serve as an introduction to the VDI vs VPN debate.

What is virtual machine vs VDI?

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) grants end-users access to a virtual desktop, which can recreate the interface and information found on a physical desktop. Each user will have their own Windows-based system and access to a remote desktop which can be configured and adapted to meet their own needs, making the solution adaptable and suitable for a range of different users to enable remote work.  

With a VDI solution, virtual machines are hosted on a server with dedicated resources available for each machine. This improves performance and means security is also tightened across all virtual desktops.

The differences between VPN and VDI as solutions

Benefits of VDI vs VPN

The key benefits of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solutions for higher education organizations apply to students, staff, and IT. Students and faculty may be able to use their own personal device or mobile device to access university software/resources, whereas IT will notice software may become easier to deliver and support to the various virtual machines and virtual desktops.


When it comes to ongoing management of solutions in the VDI vs VPN debate - VDI makes it easier for IT departments than the management of physical desktops. VDI allows students to access a virtual desktop, software, and resources on PCs, Macs, smartphones, and other smart devices. Everything is stored on a centralized server so can be updated for all users at the same time. VDI also works alongside Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies which lightens the load on IT admins needing to update and maintain machines on a regular basis.

Flexible working for students

VDI provides huge benefits for students by giving them access to the same resources from any device at any time. This is perfect when they’re working off-campus or splitting their time between on and off-campus working. The information is stored in the cloud rather than the individual device for ease of remote access. As well as being a great solution for students, it also improves security.

High performance

VDI offers a high-performance solution with quick and easy remote access. It makes it easy for students to log in and access resources, keeping them engaged, and reducing unnecessary downtime.

What is VPN?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) works slightly differently to VDI, providing a different range of benefits.

With a VPN solution, users can securely connect to a university or corporate network remotely as long as they have an internet connection and a remote device. This allows students and staff to access network resources such as printers and shared folders.

Virtual Private Networks create a private connection from a device to the internet, hiding vital data via encryption. This makes it a popular choice for organizations with students and staff working both on and off-campus. It is often used to support VDI and make user-to-organization network connections more secure.

Benefits of VPN

Virtual Private Networks offer a range of benefits including:

  • Lowest cost solution
  • Requires minimal hardware
  • Quick to implement
  • Easy to use
  • Software components built into most operating systems

Limitations of VPN

While VPN offers a number of benefits for many organizations, it does have a few limitations too.

Relies on end-user hardware & connection speed

VPN relies on end-users having a good level of hardware and connection speed. Without these, it’s hard for users to connect effectively and access the share information.

IT department resources

Considering IT department resources within the VDI vs VPN debate - VPN can also put extra strain on IT departments, as it requires completely up-to-date hardware. This may be expensive and difficult to maintain in a higher education setting.


While it does have security systems in place, it is still much easier for data to be leaked through a VPN connection than with other options. This could lead to serious issues with information and data breaches. When it comes to remote desktop services, VDI offers a more secure remote access solution that will provide students with everything they need to work remotely effectively.

Outdated solution

One of the biggest drawbacks of VPN solutions is that they are becoming outdated, with more modern and diverse options being more widely used.

How do VDI and VPN compare?

Traditional desktops hosted on physical machines can take up a large amount of an IT department’s time, whether this is setting up new students and staff on the system, maintaining and replacing the machines, or fixing errors.

In addition, for students to be able to access a physical desktop, whether physically or through a remote desktop services connection (RDP), the computer must be turned on. The practicalities of leaving on-campus machines on even when students are not on campus can be problematic. It also causes problems when a huge number of students are looking to access a limited number of physical devices. Multiple users cannot access the same computer so, once all computers in the lab are accessed, other students will have to wait.

A virtual environment is available anywhere and anytime and on many devices. This enables and supports Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies so that students are provided with better continuity of education.

What to consider when deciding between VDI and physical desktops

There are many key differences when it comes to virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and VPN solutions that you need to consider before making your decision.


With VDI, all users will have their own dedicated station, which is highly customizable. This means that it can suit a range of different users whereas, with VPN, the experience is somewhat set and less flexible.

When it comes to VPN, a secure connection is created and the user device behaves as if it were on-campus, making it less adaptable.


A VPN option offers a lower-cost solution overall, providing a system that is quicker to master and easier to use. However, it is less modern when it comes to technology, a VDI desktop is a more modern solution that will develop along with technology and the needs of universities better.


VDI technology provides a faster way to share information and still remains a secure solution.


Some level of maintenance is required for both systems. While it may be easier to find IT admins who are familiar with VPN solutions, the overall maintenance required can be harder work. Since VDI works on a range of devices and supports BYOD policies, IT departments may initially need to work hard to get the software up and running, but the maintenance of both the VDI system and the physical devices associated with it will be easier in the long run.

Most importantly, virtual desktop infrastructure is a modern and flexible solution that can more successfully recreate the physical desktop environment that students and staff may be missing out on when working from home.

How can we help?

Please contact our team today to find out more about using AppsAnywhere to solve a wide variety of Higher Education use cases. You can jump straight in with a free trial, arrange a one-to-one demo, or otherwise just get in touch to discuss your software delivery needs.

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