VDI Alternatives: DaaS, Virtualized Applications, and Enterprise Browsers

Best Alternatives to VDI

Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is a technology that hosts virtualized desktop environments on a centralized server and delivers them to end-users over a network. This setup, which has been prominent in the IT industry for more than 20 years, allows for centralized management, improved access controls, and use of virtualized desktops from various devices regardless of geographic location.

However, two forces are pushing IT leaders to look beyond VDI and consider alternative technologies: one is the rise of SaaS and web applications, where virtualization has little or no benefit. The second is a steadily rising cost of operations for VDI, making alternatives more desirable. These modern options offer more scalable, flexible, and cost-effective alternatives to traditional VDI, addressing its limitations in performance and complexity.

Let’s explore the pros and cons of VDI, as well as its major alternatives: DaaS, virtualized applications, and enterprise browsers.

The advantages of a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

VDI's rise to prominence over the last two decades can be largely attributed to its ability to provide a consistent and secure desktop experience across any device, facilitated by centralized infrastructure. VDI enables organizations to streamline IT management, enhance access controls to applications and data, and offer remote flexibility – an especially valuable feature for a distributed workforce.

With centralized application and desktop management, VDI allows IT departments to provision and patch the OS and applications quickly, ensuring all users have the tools they need without the logistical challenges of managing endpoint installations directly. As a secondary advantage, VDI keeps user and application data within the organization’s controlled environment, reducing the risk of data breaches that can occur when data is stored on local devices.

The limitations of VDI

VDI, while beneficial in several use cases, also has numerous shortcomings:

  • Significant upfront investment. Implementing VDI requires a substantial investment in infrastructure, including servers, storage systems, virtualization software, and network infrastructure.
  • Operational Complexity. VDI deployments can be complex and require teams with specialized knowledge and expertise. IT administrators need to have a deep understanding of virtualization technology, networking, and storage. Training and help desk resources increase the overall complexity of IT operations.
  • Less-than-optimal user experience. Users experience login delays, performance differences, and compatibility issues with peripherals like webcams, microphones, or printers. Added to the inherent latency of sending data over the network, these issues can negatively impact user productivity.

While VDI has its advantages in certain situations, today’s alternatives to VDI may offer more flexible and efficient solutions. And because 80–90% of applications are web-based in most organizations today, that means those organizations are posed to cut their reliance on — and the associated costs of — VDI by as much as 80% or more

Let’s consider the alternatives.

Alternative #1 Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS)

Like VDI, Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) enables organizations to deliver virtualized desktops and applications to end users. However, DaaS is different from VDI because it is a cloud offering where hosting and much of the management is handled by a third party.

What DaaS offers

Ease of deployment, scalability and dynamic pricing makes DaaS a viable option for organizations looking to move on from VDI.

The advantages of DaaS compared to VDI include:

  • Ease of deployment. Given that DaaS solutions are managed in the cloud by third-party providers, organizations eliminate the need to invest in and manage complex infrastructure, reducing the time, effort, and cost required to run these resources.
  • Scalability. DaaS enables organizations to easily add or remove virtual desktops without the constraints of physical hardware, especially as businesses have fluctuating user demands and ever-changing workloads that may require scaling, or de-scaling, of resources. 
  • Cost. Organizations can usually expect a usage-based pricing model, so costs will fluctuate up and down depending on the number of users and their workflows. Unlike VDI, there’s no baseline cost to maintain the infrastructure, as this is handled by the DaaS provider. 

These benefits have made DaaS an attractive option in recent years for businesses looking to leverage the flexibility of virtual desktops without the complexities and capital expenditures associated with self-hosted VDI. According to recent research from Forrester, “This growth and interest is most often due to its promise of reducing complexity and offering better availability. Despite the VDI market’s slowing growth, more environments will transition to a DaaS or cloud-hosted VDI environment.”1 

The limitations of DaaS

DaaS also has several limitations that organizations need to consider:

  • Limited customization: While DaaS offers a degree of customization, it may not meet the specific needs of businesses that require highly specialized configurations or software environments, unlike VDI where the control over the desktop environment is more granular.
  • Data sovereignty and compliance issues: Depending on the location of the DaaS provider’s data centers, there may be concerns about data sovereignty and compliance with local data protection regulations, which can be a significant issue for businesses in highly regulated industries.
  • Cost over time: While DaaS can reduce upfront costs, the consumption-based pricing model can lead to higher operational expenses over time. Additionally, cost optimization is a real concern. In the same Forrester research, the author observed that “One customer reported getting nonpersistent instances down to $4 per user per month compared with its previous average of $40 per user per month.”1 

DaaS is a valuable solution for many scenarios. But given the limitations of DaaS, what other alternatives exist? 

Alternative #2: Virtualized applications

Virtualized applications, sometimes called published applications, are a different approach to virtualization that drops the full desktop experience. When a user launches a virtualized application, just that application window is streamed from the virtualization service. This model is ideal for scenarios where users have a mix of locally-installed and virtualized applications. 

Similar to DaaS, virtualized applications give users access to applications on any device. 

What virtualized applications offer

Like DaaS, virtualized applications remove the need for VDI infrastructure, and enable administrators to deploy quickly and seamlessly, with the benefit of centralized administration.

Virtualized applications offer several advantages over traditional VDI, including:

  • Flexibility: Virtualized applications enable organizations to run legacy applications across different platforms and operating systems, thereby reducing compatibility issues and enhancing operational flexibility. This allows businesses to continue using their essential legacy software on modern systems without requiring extensive reengineering.
  • Scalability: Virtualized applications allow for easy scalability since additional instances can be deployed quickly from the centralized administration console. This scalability is crucial for businesses that experience fluctuating demands, as they can quickly adjust their application resources without significant investments or downtime.
  • Management and maintenance: With application virtualization, software updates, and maintenance can be centralized, simplifying the management process. IT departments can deploy patches and updates to one central location rather than individual desktops, ensuring consistency across the organization and reducing the administrative burden.

These advantages make application virtualization an appealing alternative to traditional VDI, offering increased flexibility, cost efficiency, and scalability while maintaining or enhancing security and management capabilities.

The limitations of virtualized applications

Virtualized applications also present several drawbacks:

  • Compatibility issues: Not all applications are suitable for virtualization. Some complex software, particularly those that are heavily dependent on hardware integration (like graphical or CAD software), may not perform well or could be incompatible with virtualization platforms, leading to functionality restrictions or performance degradation.
  • Administrative overhead: Although application virtualization can reduce some aspects of IT management, it can also add complexity. The need to manage virtual application deployments, along with maintaining locally installed OS and applications on the endpoint, can increase the administrative burden on IT staff.
  • Network dependency: Like other forms of virtualization, virtualized applications rely heavily on network connectivity. Poor connectivity or low bandwidth can lead to latency issues, impacting the user experience and productivity, particularly for data-intensive applications. 

Alternative #3: Enterprise browsers

Given the shortcomings that still exist within VDI, DaaS, and virtualized applications, let’s explore one more alternative: the enterprise browser.

An enterprise browser is a specialized web browser designed specifically for use within corporate environments to enhance security, manageability, and productivity across the organization. It operates as a typical browser does, but also integrates directly with enterprise management tools and policies, allowing IT departments to control browser configurations, manage application access, and enforce security policies. 

An enterprise browser supports secure, efficient web access for employees, while providing the necessary tools to monitor usage, block malicious websites, and ensure that corporate data remains protected during online activities.

And Gartner predicts that enterprise browsers will be the core platform for delivering workforce productivity and security by 2030.2

What enterprise browsers offer

An enterprise browser provides several advantages to VDI and its other alternatives listed above. As compared to VDI for SaaS or web application access, enterprise browsers reduce costs by up to 80% or more. It also enhances productivity and user experiences, and contains secure-by-design features.

Let’s explore all the advantages of enterprise browsers, when compared to all of the alternatives:

  • Reduce the cost and complexity of VDI infrastructure: Traditional VDI requires extensive server infrastructure and hosting costs, plus bandwidth, storage, and maintenance. By contrast, an enterprise browser shifts the workload to the endpoint's browser, with efficient cloud-based administration. 
  • Reduced licensing costs: Unlike VDI solutions that incur substantial costs for platform licensing and additional licenses for operating systems and endpoint agents, an enterprise browser can significantly cut down these expenses by reducing the need for VDI by 80-90%.
  • Enhanced security and workflow optimization: Enterprise browsers allow IT and security teams to enforce appropriate controls for application access and data protections, along with security protections for the environment. At the same time, enterprise browsers can optimize and automate common workflows to bring real productivity gains to users. 
  • Auditing: With enterprise browsers, IT and security departments can audit critical web application activity, providing detailed insights combined with user identity to ensure compliance and aid in incident resolution. 
  • Optimized user experience: Enterprise browsers eliminate the need for a virtualization layer to access applications, making performance fast and frictionless. The user experience is similar to other browsers like Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge, making it easy for users to switch.

The future of enterprise browsers: Island

Island, the Enterprise Browser, is designed to enhance corporate security and compliance while improving manageability and user experience. 

Here are key aspects of Island that set it apart from VDI and its alternatives:

  • Enhanced security: Island includes built-in security features that protect browser components by and implement advanced defensive measures against common threats, thereby enhancing the overall security posture of the organization.
  • Compliance and control: The browser enables strict enforcement of compliance policies directly through its interface, ensuring that all browsing activities adhere to corporate standards and regulatory requirements.
  • Seamless integration and management: Island facilitates easy integration into existing IT infrastructures, allowing for centralized management of browser policies, updates, and security protocols, which simplifies IT administration.
  • Reduced infrastructure and cost: By potentially displacing or replacing various tools such as VDI and DaaS, VPN and ZTNA, RBI, and password managers, Island reduces the cost and complexity associated with maintaining multiple security and access solutions.
  • Improved user experience: Island offers a clean, performance-first browsing experience with a familiar user interface. It includes built-in productivity tools such as an AI Assistant, Password Manager, and Clipboard Manager, which enhance efficiency and user satisfaction.
  • Lower licensing fees: The reduction in reliance on traditional VDI and associated platforms means significantly lower costs related to software licensing and operational expenditures.
  • Effective monitoring: IT and security teams benefit from advanced monitoring capabilities that provide detailed insights into web activity, paired with tools to ensure compliance and resolve incidents swiftly.

Island’s Enterprise Browser is ideal for organizations looking to secure and streamline their web and application access without the complexity and high costs typically associated with conventional virtual desktop infrastructure.

Further reading

Consider a modern VDI alternative that is redefining workplace efficiency.

See how to drastically reduce your VDI dependency with an enterprise browser

1: Forrester, The State of VDI, 2023, Will McKeon-White, 20 Oct. 2023
2: Gartner, Emerging Tech: Security — The Future of Enterprise Browsers, Dan Ayoub, Evgeny Mirolyubov, Max Taggett, Dave Messett, 14 April 2023 
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