VDI vs. VPN: which is best for remote users?

Anton P. | October 19, 2023

VDI vs. VPN compares two technologies for securing remote access to corporate systems. VDI means that companies set up virtual desktops, facilitating secure remote access.

A VPN also unlocks access to resources by creating a private connection between users and the corporate network. Both technologies enable remote work. 

VDI vs. VPN shows two ways for companies to guarantee secure remote access.

What is VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure)? 

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a solution for creating virtual desktops for remote workers. Each user working from home can access virtual computers launched within corporate networks. 

So, the purpose of VDI is to connect users to on-premises hosted desktops with all necessary permissions. It enables remote users to access data, other resources, and applications. 

How VDI works 

Employees likely have user profiles, letting them access particular virtual desktops. Sometimes, they might need an application for VDI, but credentials could be enough. 

After VDI verifies users, they can access applications and site resources on the requested machine. They do not need these applications and site resources on the physical machine. 

What is a VPN (Virtual Private Network)? 

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) work on a slightly different principle than VDI. It grants remote workers secure remote access by connecting them to corporate networks from remote locations. 

Thus, you do not use a virtual machine but browse as if connected to the office network. Users connect to VPN servers that become intermediaries for their connection. Corporate systems treat you as an approved visitor, thanks to VPNs. All traffic passes through a secure tunnel.

How VPN works 

A VPN creates a secure connection to the company servers and resources. Users need to install a VPN client on their devices. Then, they connect to servers, opening doors to corporate resources. 

It works by encrypting data before it arrives at the VPN server. The VPN server then decrypts the data and moves it to its destination. 

Main differences: VDI vs. VPN

VDI and VPN have distinct processes for granting remote access to users. In addition to their operation, they also differ in how they deal with user access. 

  1. Necessary setup

Users need to download VPN clients to establish a secure connection to the corporate network. For VDI, users need to perform very few changes on their devices. In some cases, they can access virtual desktop environments via browsers. Thus, they do not need to install additional applications.

  1. Data access 

VDI provides access without the user needing to get corporate apps or data to their device. So, an employee accesses sensitive information on the virtual desktop without having data transmitted via the internet. 

A VPN works by granting direct access to resources. Remote workers can view files, apps, and services hosted anywhere on the corporate network. In contracts, VDI users can only access data available on their virtual desktops. 

  1. Downloading corporate data

Some VDI solutions won’t allow users to download resources to the physical device used. Instead, everything happens in a controlled environment. VPNs operate differently, and data can be copied locally. Thus, clients can move confidential data to their user hardware without much restrictions. 

  1. Performance

Modern VPNs optimize their performance for multiple devices as much as possible. Thus, users connecting remotely won’t notice excessive slowdowns. However, VPNs could slightly reduce internet connection speeds because of the data encryption and rerouting.

VDI can be slow because of issues with storage, software, and network bottlenecks. However, it should offer fast performance since each user has dedicated resources for their virtual machines. 

  1. Solving issues 

When remote VPNs don’t work correctly, the issues might relate to the VPN servers or users’ devices. Thus, administrators need to manage servers, network settings, and different access rules. However, they must also pay attention to users’ devices, as they might cause problems. 

Typically, VDI issues relate to issues with remote desktops and allocated resources. Also, administrators must manage user profiles and permissions granted to them. They usually pay much less attention to the physical users’ devices. 

  1. Cost

VDI is usually more costly because of the resources needed for the virtual desktop computers. On the other hand, VPNs are more affordable and easier to manage. 

A brief review of VDI vs. VPN

You can find a clear comparison between these two technologies in the following table:

VDI allows employees to access resources available on their virtual desktops.A VPN establishes a secure connection to the corporate network and resources it has.
Users access VDI through browsers without needing additional software.Users install VPN clients on their physical devices.
Employees do not, and usually cannot, download data to their physical devices.Employees can download data to their local devices.
VDI can be more expensive and difficult to manage. A VPN is more affordable and can require less maintenance.
Speed and performance depend on allocated resources.Speed and performance can depend on software, physical device, and internet connection.

When to use VDI or VPN

Both VDI and VPN have made a tremendous impact on simplifying and securing remote work. While their approaches differ, they contribute to the ever-changing needs of companies and specialists. 

However, choosing VDI vs. VPN depends on companies’ needs and requirements. Some enterprises can efficiently manage resources and build virtual machines for employees. 

In some instances, VDI does offer enhanced security and a more consistent experience. Nevertheless, solutions like site-to-site and remote VPNs provide employees with a way to access all network resources securely. 

Furthermore, VDI and VPN can work together to build a safer system for remote employees. For example, VPNs can bring secure access to corporate resources, while VDI introduces a convenient environment.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.


vpnvdiremote accessremote work

© 2023 Atlas VPN. All rights reserved.