What’s the difference between a VDI and VPN?

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual private networks (VPNs) are two technologies that your employees can use to remotely, securely access corporate networks and resources. VDI technology creates a virtual desktop on a central server. Your users can remotely access this desktop from any physical machine over the internet. You can use VDI to quickly and efficiently set up many virtual desktops for remote workers. In contrast, a VPN creates a private network connection between remote users and the corporate network over the public internet. VPN connections over the internet are less expensive and offer higher bandwidth than dedicated wide area network (WAN) links or long-distance, remote-dial links.

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How they work: VDI vs. VPN

Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual private networks (VPNs) both provide remote access to confidential data and corporate resources. However, they establish and offer this connection in distinct ways.


VDI uses a software layer, called a hypervisor, to separate operating system functions from desktop functions. The physical server is stored in a remote data center while the user gets access to a virtual machine. The hypervisor creates and manages multiple virtual machines on the server. It decouples the physical desktop from the operating system using virtualization technology. Your users can remotely access the virtual desktops.

The user first connects to the VDI infrastructure directly through their browser. The use of an application is optional. A software component called a connection broker authenticates the user then assigns the requested virtual desktop. The broker also facilitates interactions between the remote user and the virtual desktop. For example, it provides screen updates and sends mouse clicks and keystrokes to the virtual desktop.


VPNs create an encrypted, secure connection over a public network. A VPN connection redirects data packets from the end user’s device to another remote server before sending them to the corporate network. The VPN server acts as an intermediary for all remote communication. It uses various protocols like SSL/TLS and IPsec to encrypt all communication. This essentially creates a secure data tunnel over the user’s internet connection.

To use a VPN, the user must install a VPN client application on their remote device. They access off-site resources only through the application. The application encrypts data before sending it to the VPN server. The VPN server decrypts the information and passes it to the required resources on its private network. It then receives information from the company servers, encrypts it, and sends it to the VPN client on the user’s device.

Key differences: VDI vs. VPN

There are two main categories of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI). A persistent VDI system retains data across settings, so your users can install applications, modify settings, and save files on their desktop. A nonpersistent VDI configuration resets to its original state after a user logs out. It’s more commonly used in task-oriented environments. 

Similarly, there are two main categories of virtual private networks (VPNs). A site-to-site VPN acts as an internal private network for companies with multiple geographically separated locations. A client VPN securely connects remote devices to corporate networks.

For the purpose of this comparison, the term VDI refers to persistent VDI and the term VPN refers to client VPN.


The purpose of a VPN is to centralize the management of secure connections to corporate resources in a cost-effective way. Remote users can access files, services, and applications hosted anywhere on the network through a secure and private connection. Your administrators control what your users access by creating VPN endpoints. 

In contrast, a VDI centralizes the management of desktop environments. Remote users can only access the files and applications on the remote desktop. Your administrators control what your users access by configuring the virtual desktops. 

Data backup

A VPN is just a connection and doesn’t provide automatic data storage or backup capabilities. Your users have to store data on their own devices, or the remote application has to provide data backup functionality on a remote server. 

In contrast, VDIs offer centralized data storage. They also automatically back up user data, files, and applications in the virtual desktop environment. This centralization helps ensure that your administrators can back up, control, and easily manage data from one location.


A VPN requires an administrator to outline user access controls, server configurations, and network settings. They may also have to troubleshoot the VPN client remotely.

In contrast, a VDI only requires administrators to create and manage virtual desktops, allocate resources, and manage user profiles and their permissions. They don’t have to troubleshoot the remote device.


With a VPN, your users can download data to their personal devices. There’s more responsibility on your users to manage and secure any possible confidential data that they may download.

A VDI offers more control, as organizations can restrict data sharing or downloading outside of the desktop environment. Your users must access all sensitive data only within the virtual desktop.

When to use: VDI vs. VPN

You should use virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) if you need a high level of data protection and security or you’re working with confidential materials. It’s useful when you need centralized management and want to provide a consistent experience for all of your users, irrespective of platforms and devices they choose. For example, you can give third-party contractors and vendors access to company files and applications. You could also help remote call center employees who all need similar workspace infrastructure. 

Alternatively, you should use virtual private networks (VPNs) if you need to provide access to specific resources that you hold in a private network. For instance, you could use VPNs to secure a connection between an individual and a remote office or connect multiple branch offices.

It’s important to note that you can use a VDI and VPNs together in businesses. For example, VPNs can provide access to secure internal resources, while the VDI can give all your employees the same virtual environment to work from. 

Summary of differences: VDI vs. VPN





Centralize the management of remote desktop infrastructure.

Centralize the management of secure connections over a public network.

Key technologies

Hypervisor, connection broker.

Encryption, tunneling.

User access

User can connect through browser.

User must install VPN client application.


Persistent and nonpersistent VDI

Client VPN and site-to-site VPN

Data backup

Automatic data backup capability in the virtual desktop.

Responsibility of the user and remote application they access.


Administrators only have to manage the remote desktops.

Administrators have to manage VPN connections and the VPN client on multiple devices.


Full control with the organization.

Control shared between the organization and the remote employees.

How can AWS help with your VDI and VPN requirements?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides fully managed virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) and virtual private network (VPN) services, so your users can securely connect to remote networks.

Amazon WorkSpaces Family is a fully managed desktop virtualization service for Windows and Linux. It provides secure, reliable, and scalable access to persistent desktops from any location. You can centrally manage your persistent cloud desktops and stream them to anyone. Your users can securely access their desktop through any endpoint device or thin client terminals by using an application or browser. 

Amazon Client VPN is a fully managed, secure, remote access VPN solution. Your remote workforce can use it to securely access resources within both AWS and your on-premises network. It’s fully elastic, and it automatically scales up or down based on demand. When migrating applications to AWS, your users access them the same way before, during, and after the move. 

Get started with VPNs and VDI on AWS by creating an account today.