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Last updated: Apr 22, 2024

VMware VDI vs. VMware Horizon

Virtual machines are simply a “virtual” version of a computer system hosting a server, guest OS, or other applications. To launch and host a virtual machine, you need to deploy it in a virtualized environment. Companies like Microsoft and VMware offer some of the best virtualization environments for hosting various virtual machines.

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), on the other hand, is equally a technology that allows you to host virtual desktops on a server in a data center. VDI and VM differ in some ways, even though both may appear as if they allow for the same activities. This article explains the differences between VDI and VMware Horizon – Horizon is VMware’s product for hosting virtual machines.

What Is VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure)?

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a computer software technology that allows the system user to create a virtual desktop on a central server. The virtual desktop will be accessible to users over the Internet. VDI technology allows for creating multiple virtual desktops needed for your services.

VDI quickly and efficiently sets up many virtual desktops to provide secure remote access to internal business applications and services. However, VDI needs a virtual machine to run, which means VDI deployments are created inside a virtual machine. Virtual desktop infrastructure can be used in different environments, including call centers and production sites.

When to Use Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

VDI is more cost-friendly and can be scaled to any extent, literally. Some common use cases of VDI are outlined below:

  • Call Centers: VDI deployments can be used in call centers for employees to access specific call tools remotely.
  • Remote Work: Companies that employ remote workers can deploy virtual desktop applications for their remote employees to be able to carry out their tasks and assignments from anywhere they are located.
  • To Save Confidential Information: Confidential information can be saved on VDI environments instead of the physical computer hard drive.
  • Third-Party Access: VDI applications can be used to grant third-party access to associates, clients, or customers to view, access, or interact with a project or app.

Why VDI?

There are several benefits to enjoy by choosing VDI deployments over typical VMware virtual machine provisions.

  • Centralized Management: VDI applications can all be managed from a centralized console. This means you can update, patch, and change multiple virtual desktops simultaneously.
  • Scalability: Virtual desktops can be scaled as needed; you can even host them in the cloud.
  • Easy Access: Apparently, users can access virtual desktops from anywhere they are located.
  • Increases Security: VDI environments are typically very secure since the infrastructure is hosted in an enterprise-controlled system or server.
  • Affordability: Instead of buying additional desktops for employees in a workspace, employers can deploy virtual desktops instead; this saves the cost of additional hardware and overhead.

What Is VMware Horizon?

VMware Horizon is a VDI solution for hosting virtual desktops over the cloud, so you can scale, monitor, and manage your VDI deployments, regardless of how many they are. It replaces Windows Terminal Services (also called Remote Desktop Services) to offer more features and flexibility.

The VMware Horizon allows for multi-cloud infrastructure management using a cloud-based console and SaaS management services. With Horizon, users’ data can be stored on virtualized servers and managed from a centralized interface.

Also, deploying virtual desktops on VMware Horizon allows users to connect to the virtual desktops using any tech device that allows internet connectivity such as computers, tablets, smartphones, thin clients, or zero clients. This solution from VMware is a modern platform for the secure delivery of virtual desktops and apps across the hybrid cloud.

When to Use VMware Horizon?

VMware Horizon is designed to serve as an enterprise VDI solution, so, it can be used in all VDI use cases mentioned earlier; however, it can be deployed for higher-level VDI deployments in dynamic environments, especially for people using VMware vSphere. Additional use cases where VMware Horizon is applied include:

  • High-Performance Computing: If you need to launch virtual desktops that will offer high-performance graphics and run premium applications (like video editing programs) that require heavy resources.
  • Cloud Deployment: Horizon is used where cloud infrastructural deployments are required for managing virtual desktop applications.

Preferred by IT Professionals: System admins and IT professionals prefer using VMware Horizon over native Windows Remote Desktop Services.

Components of VMware Horizon

Just as a VDI deployment typically includes a virtual machine and connection broker, VMware Horizon features the following components:

  • vCenter Server: Horizon features a vCenter Server, which serves as the centralized management console for vSphere. A vCenter Server can be launched on a VM as a vCenter Server Appliance using an OVA template.
  • Horizon Client: The desktop client app that allows you to access the View Connection Server to connect endpoint user devices to the Horizon virtual desktops. Works on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
  • ESXi Hypervisor: This is the physical server for hosting your VMs; it is inside the VMs on your ESXi hosts that you can deploy VDIs, guest OSes, and other applications.
  • View Agent: A software component for VMware Horizon View – allows for connection monitoring, virtual printing, USB support, and single sign-on.
  • View Composer: Comes in handy for managing the virtual desktops you have on a vCenter Server. It uses “linked cones” to provide rational storage consumption. Each vCenter Server needs its own View Composer.
  • ThinApp (Optional): Even without a ThinApp, you can run VMware Horizon and access your virtual desktops seamlessly. However, this optional agentless component helps for “virtualizing” VMware applications.

Horizon Administrator: This is the web interface where you view and manage Horizon VDI applications and VMs. While you can use one Horizon Administrator instance to manage multiple Horizon Connection Servers, it is best and advisable to use a dedicated Horizon Administrator instance for each Horizon Connection Server.

VMware Horizon Architectures

The VMware Horizon comprises many layers designed to provide unique benefits for VDI deployments.

  • Client Apps: Horizon client apps facilitate the connection between end users' physical devices and the cloud-hosted virtual desktops.
  • Access Infrastructure Layer: This layer ensures seamless networking and connectivity for the client apps.
  • Session Layer: This layer is responsible for creating and managing user profiles and sessions.

Application Layer: As you may guess, this processes the applications installed or running on the virtual desktops deployed in a VMware Horizon environment.

Connecting to Virtual Desktop and Applications with the Client

VMware Horizon Client app fosters remote communication between the users and the deployed VDI apps on VMware Horizon, and this app is installable on Linux, Windows, or macOS computers. It also has an Android OS version, which makes it much more flexible.

To access the client app, users are required to enter their registered credentials, which are validated on the View Connection Server to log them in and grant access to particular virtual desktops available for the authenticated user.

Also, special remote display protocols may be used to allow interaction between an end user and the virtual desktop. The Horizon Client app supports connections via Microsoft RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol), VMware Blast, and PCoIP (PC over IP) protocols. However, without the Client app, VMware Horizon only supports Blast, which is a special TCP-based protocol by VMware.

If you decide to use a zero-client device, it is advisable to launch the PCoIP protocol if your device does not support VMware Blast. While thin client users need VMware View clients for their VDI deployments.

VMware Instant Clone Technology and Master Desktop Templates

Horizon by VMware supports a View Composer feature that allows for the creation of linked clones. However, before creating a linked clone, you need to create a “Master Desktop Template.”

Apparently, to clone something means to replicate the exact copy of that thing – in this case, a virtual machine. There are two types of clones used in virtualized environments: full clone and linked clone.

Full clones replicate everything in the parent VM and are not dependent on the parent VM while in use. However, the cloned VM will offer the same performance as the parent VM because it contains its data.

On the other hand, a linked clone copies only the important aspects of a parent VM to save space and time. Apparently, a linked clone depends on the parent VM for some certain functions; so, if the parent VM is down, the link-cloned VM won’t run. However, changes to a linked cloned VM won’t be effected on the parent VM and vice versa.

Now, talking of “VMware Instant Clone” on VMware Horizon 7, this is a link-clone feature that provides fast in-memory cloning of a running parent VM using the copy-on-write technique. Instant clones share memory and disk allocation with their parent VMs.

Also, a master desktop template, which is needed for instant cloning, is a preconfigured virtual machine serving as a base for cloning and creating VMs for VDI applications. Using this template saves you more time and makes creating new virtual desktops easier. To create a master desktop template, follow these steps:

  • Disconnect unnecessary external devices from the PC, for example, floppy drives.
  • Install a guest OS and set up a default user profile, then install any important application.
  • Install VMware View, which includes the Instant Clone feature.
  • Optionally, you can install VMware User Environment Manager Agent with the Flex Engine component for setting admin-level policies for profile management and user settings.
  • Run the VMware OS Optimization Tool to disable unnecessary running services and improve performance.
  • Clean up the virtual disk and zero out free disk space.
  • Now, clone the new VM with VMware vSphere client, and use it as a base image for creating other virtual desktops.

Why Use Horizon as a VDI Solution

The main benefit of using VMware Horizon as your preferred VDI solution is the low cost and multiple features offered by VMware. You can connect Horizon to VMware vSphere and access the plethora of VM management services and features in vSphere. Also, using Horizon means your VMs will be hosted in a VMware environment. VMware is literally the top-choice virtualization service provider globally – offering unique features like vMotion, High Availability, Distributed Resource Scheduler, Fault Tolerance, and more.

VDI vs. VMware Horizon - Comparison Table



VMware Horizon


Virtual desktop management 

Virtual desktop management

Build Infrastructure

Microsoft Remote Desktop Services

Cloud-based servers – vCenter 


Can be scaled within Windows OS environment

Supports popular OSes like macOS, Linux, and Windows




Ease of Replication


Very easy with Instant Clone




How to Recover Data from VMware Disk?

Tampering with VM files is an advanced stuff, and any mistake might lead to critical data loss. Hence, it is advised to always make a full backup before making any advanced changes or implementing new settings on a VM. However, if you didn’t make a backup before proceeding and discover that some of your VM files or a VMDK file is missing, you can recover everything back using DiskInternals VMFS Recovery.

DiskInternals VMFS Recovery is a premium software tool for recovering VM files; it is natively compatible with VMware’s VMFS file system format, which means it can access and read VMDK files. The software is available for Windows systems and can run on any Windows OS version, including Windows Server editions. It features a Recovery Wizard to guide the users through the recovery process.


  • Install and launch DiskInternals VMFS Recovery
  • Select the hard drive that contains the VMFS partitions where your VMs’ VMDK files are saved.
  • Choose a recovery method, preferably, Full Recovery.
  • Wait for the scan to run completely and the lost VMware files will be shown with a red asterisk. You can preview them to confirm.
  • To recover the files, you need the DiskInternals VMFS Recovery Pro version.
Tip: Learn more about VMware recovery and vSphere data recovery!


VDI and VMware Horizon serve the same purpose, but how they do it is what differs. VMware Horizon offers many more features and add-on tools for virtual desktop management than native Microsoft’s VDI. Choosing between VDI and VMware Horizon is a personal decision to take based on your needs and business demands, but overall, Horizon is a better choice.


  • What Is VMware Horizon and How Does It Work?

    VMware Horizon serves as a comprehensive platform for overseeing and providing access to both virtualized and physical desktops, as well as virtual application distribution to users. It facilitates the creation and management of connections to Windows and Linux virtual desktops, in addition to Remote Desktop Services (RDS) applications and desktops.

  • What is VMware Horizon used for?

    VMware Horizon is a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solution that allows IT departments to run virtual desktops and applications in the data center and deliver them to employees as a managed service. Horizon enables users to access their personal virtual desktop environments from any device, at any time, and from any location, providing flexibility and enhancing productivity. It is used for:

    • Centralized Desktop Management: Simplifies the management and deployment of desktops and applications, reducing IT complexity and costs.
    • Remote Access and Mobility: Enables secure access to corporate resources from remote locations, enhancing workforce mobility.
    • Security and Compliance: Centralizes desktops and applications in the datacenter, improving data security and compliance with regulations.
    • Customization and Personalization: Offers personalized virtual desktops to meet the diverse needs of users, improving their overall experience.
    • Scalability: Easily scales to accommodate growing numbers of users and applications without compromising performance.

    By leveraging VMware Horizon, organizations can deliver a more flexible, secure, and manageable computing environment to their users.

  • Is vSphere included in Horizon?

    The Horizon suite encompasses VMware vSphere Desktop, offering identical features and capabilities found in the VMware vSphere Enterprise Plus Edition. vSphere Desktop enables the deployment of an unlimited number of hosts to accommodate the volume of named or concurrent connection users covered by your license.

  • What is VMware Horizon vs vSphere?

    VMware Horizon operates on the VMware vSphere platform, utilizing the vSphere infrastructure to host virtual desktops. These user desktops function as virtual machines (VMs) on ESXi hosts, allowing access to vSphere's features like snapshots, vMotion, High Availability, Distributed Resource Scheduler, and more.

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