Citrix vs RDS 2016: Which is the Best for Hosted Desktop?
By : Synextra

Many businesses looking to the cloud to solve their business IT problems will probably ask the question: which Cloud solution is right for me? There’s plain old cloud storage, VDI, DaaS, Cloud Hosted Desktop and Remote Desktop Services, to name the most common.

Today we’re going to look at (and compare) two desktop virtualisation solutions. The venerable Remote Desktop and the ‘newcomer’: Citrix XenDesktop.

What is Remote Desktop Services (RDS)?

Originally known as Terminal Services when it first debuted, Remote Desktop Services (now known simply as RDS) is a collection of technologies designed to deliver thin client solutions.

Created by Microsoft, RDS allows users to connect to applications or virtual desktops hosted on a server. As we said, this is a thin client solution, so the user’s session is hosted and processed on the server too – rather than on the local device.

What is Citrix XenDesktop?

Citrix XenDesktop is the spiritual successor to RDS. In fact, Citrix actually wrote the original code for RDS and licensed it to Microsoft. They then set out to make something better.

The biggest difference?

Citrix put a lot of time into making sure the experience was as good, if not better, than using a normal desktop computer. However, the real magic lies in the Citrix central management tools, that makes scaling and controlling the infrastructure easier than ever.

Citrix vs RDS – How They’ll Stack Up:

Like all Desktop Virtualisation solutions, there are a lot of similarities between Citrix XenDesktop and RDS. In their simplest forms; a user opens a client, clicks a button, enters their login credentials and ta-dah! A Windows desktop appears in front of them.

However, this desktop is actually running in a data centre – not locally on their device.

Although XenDesktop and RDS are very similar at their core, their individual feature sets – as well as the way in which they are used and delivered – make them completely different beasts. Now, we’ll pit them against each other to find out which beast is the best.

Tonight’s bout will last a total of 5 rounds. During each round, we’ll focus on one key aspect, to find out how each solution stacks up against the other. May the best solution win.

Citrix vs Remote Desktop | Synextra

Round 1 – Citrix vs RDS Performance:

At the heart of every Desktop Virtualisation solution lies a Remote Desktop Protocol. Your solution may use Microsoft’s RDP, Citrix’s HDX protocol, or any of the many other protocols powering modern cloud solutions. Here’s where RDS and Citrix start to part ways.

With RDS, users interact directly with Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) on the server. This is why RDS doesn’t scale well: Every user interacts with a single server (or cluster) at a time, meaning every user also shares a finite amount of resources.

So, the more users online, the slower the experience.

“There are only so many virtual CPUs and memory to go around, you know.” – Chris Piggott, Technical Director, Synextra

However, with Citrix, users interact with the HDX protocol on top of the RDS server instead. The protocol acts as a buffer between the users and servers, compressing the data transferred. This gives every user a fast and seamless experience, on every type of device and Internet connection.

  • Every RDS user fights for server RAM and CPU cycles
  • RDS does not scale as well as Citrix
  • Citrix compresses data transfers


Citrix XenDesktop performs better than RDS and takes the first round.

Round 2 – Citrix vs RDS Scalability:

Another downside to RDS, is that when a server reaches capacity, new users won’t be unable to log in. What’s worse, however, is that existing users may be booted off without warning as well.

When a Citrix solution approaches peak capacity, all you have to do is request more resources. It’s that simple. You don’t have to spool up, configure and patch a new server ala RDS.

This gives you greater flexibility and control over your solution.

  • Reaching server capacity stops users from logging in
  • Reaching server capacity can kick users off their session
  • RDS requires overprovisioning
  • Citrix solutions scale up easier


With better scalability, XenDesktop wins round 2.

Round 3 – Citrix vs RDS Usability:

One of the biggest drawbacks to RDS is the fact you have to use generic 3rd party apps to access it on a lot of devices, such as tablets. This is where you lose performance. And RDS isn’t quick to begin with.

You have to disable a lot of Windows’ features, just to get RDS to work.

This is why RDS is preferred for Application Virtualisation, rather than full desktop virtualisation.

With such low amounts of data being transferred (because the OS has been stripped out), RDS works best as an application virtualiser for remote workers or businesses, with minimal Internet connections. Or even for permanently remote workers using capped mobile data connections.

By stripping away the OS and just delivering the application, however, you lock users into working with one application at the time. They can’t multitask in the same way they do on a full Windows desktop. They’re also limited to which applications can be virtualised individually.

This is where Citrix’s HDX protocol really shines. By sitting between the users and servers, and compressing the data transferred, it can deliver a full, fluid, Hosted Desktop experience to every device, on any connection.

That’s because unlike Microsoft, Citrix is the expert in desktop virtualisation. It’s not just another feather in their cap. For the past 15+ years, Citrix has been perfecting its technology daily.

  • RDS is resource-intense
  • IT teams rely on 3rd party apps to use RDS
  • Citrix has a maintained app
  • Citrix is optimised to deliver full Windows experience


Unfortunately, XenDesktop just put RDS on the mat. Round 3 goes to Citrix.

Citrix vs Remote Desktop | Synextra

Round 4 – Citrix vs RDS Reliability:

RDS requires an always-on connection. If your remote desktop connection is flaky, your session will disconnect. No warning. No chance to save.

Citrix, however, uses a feature called Session Reliability. This keeps users active during patchy connections – meaning any open work isn’t lost due to bad weather, ‘noisy neighbours’ or other common Internet connectivity issues.

Don’t think this is an issue? A study conducted by OnePoll & Daisy found that 7% of businesses admitted their internet connection grinds to a halt more than 10 times in any given seven-day period. And on average, employees lose 44 minutes every week due to poor broadband speeds and connectivity.

Click here to find out more facts about the cost of slow internet connectivity.

  • RDS requires an always-on connection
  • RDS disconnects sessions with unstable connections
  • Citrix keeps users active during patchy connections
  • Citrix stops work from being lost by connectivity issues


This gives XenDesktop the victory in round 4. On to the final round.

Round 5 – Citrix vs RDS Cost:

With Citrix XenDesktop, one of the biggest complaints we hear is: “Why is it more expensive than Remote Desktop? Why shouldn’t I use RDS instead?” Chris Piggott, Technical Director of Synextra has spent years working in the IT industry. He’s worked with local devices, remote devices, RDS setups and now works exclusively with Citrix.

To answer these questions, Chris says: “XenDesktop is a step up from RDS. It’s been designed from the ground up to replace your desktop computer. It has many standout features that just aren’t possible with RDS. XenDesktop also gives you far greater control, with Citrix Director giving you a single pane of glass over your entire estate. So, if you truly want a Hosted Desktop that can replace your PC, not just supplement it, then XenDesktop is the way to go.”

  • RDS has lower upfront costs
  • RDS has hidden business costs caused by increased downtime
  • Citrix saves money by negating downtime


Round 5. It’s a knockout. XenDesktop wins.

Citrix vs Remote Desktop | Synextra

Citrix vs RDS – The Ultimate Winner:

Hosted Desktop is now at a mature enough state, where costs are going down whilst performance levels are going up. You have more power and far more flexibility. And, if videos of HP’s upcoming Project Moonshot are anything to go by, the future of the Hosted Desktop looks really, really bright.

Related posts:

A Beginner’s Guide To Virtual Desktops

5 Things You Need to Know About Switching to a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure

5 Ways to Use Virtual Desktop Within Your Business

5 Ways Business Hosted Desktop Can Improve Operations

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