Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is a feature of Windows Server, Microsoft’s operating system for servers. RDS is a way to host applications (Microsoft Word, Intuit QuickBooks, etc.), and by “host” we mean install them on a server and have people access them via a network, rather than have people install their applications directly onto their PCs or other devices. These hosted applications will appear and perform the same as applications installed onto devices directly, so you won’t notice any difference between a RDS-based Microsoft Word and the MS Word installed on your PC, except in the way you initially access it.
RDS makes it easier for businesses to manage their applications and can reduce overall IT costs compared to individually installing applications on every employee’s device.
Remote Desktop Services (RDS), formerly called Terminal Services, is a built-in feature of Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Windows Server that provides users with remote access to Windows virtual desktops and applications. Many companies—especially small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs)—use it to host their applications because it’s viewed as simpler, easier-to-use, and more cost-efficient than the alternatives, such as Citrix XenApp. RDS makes managing and securing applications easier, since you only have to deal with one server-based multiuser installation for each application, rather than x number of individual installations on x number of desktop PCs. A business can also reduce its hardware costs and endpoint management requirements by hosting some or all of its applications on RDS servers. This is because you can use thin clients or old, refurbished, or poorly-maintained computers to access RDS-based applications, since the applications are processed and stored on the server.
The downside of RDS is that instead of providing each user with his or her own virtual machine with a steady portion of the server’s resources dedicated to it, it forces everyone on an RDS server to share the same Windows Server operating system. This isn’t a problem if there are only a few users accessing the application at the same time or if the application isn’t very resource-intensive—but if a lot of users are on the server or if the application is something like 3D modeling or video-editing software, the server might not have enough resources for everyone, and the application will probably be slow and frustrating to use. If RDS doesn’t match your requirements, you may want to consider a different application hosting solution, such as hosted applications or hosted desktops.
Another problem with RDS, you could argue, is that they don’t support persistent virtual desktops, which are virtual desktops that are assigned to specific users and that retain the users’ files, applications, and settings even after they log out. Persistent virtual desktops are more similar to the locally-installed desktop operating systems, which most users have a lot of experience with, than non-persistent virtual desktops, so users are quicker to adjust to them. Persistent virtual desktops can also increase users’ efficiency and productivity by giving them the ability to personalize their virtual desktops, since this kind of VDI allows users to organize their files and applications so that they always know where these items are. It might be a little unfair to call the RDS’s lack of personalization a problem, though, since RDS is nothing more than a simple and cost-effective way of hosting applications—so you shouldn’t even be looking at RDS, anyway, if what you want is an advanced VDI solution with support for persistent virtual desktops.
Businesses that want the benefits of RDS but can’t or don’t want to set up or maintain an RDS server themselves, meanwhile, can sign up for a hosted RDS server from an IT hosting company. When they sign up for RDS hosting, businesses just have to pay a monthly fee to the hosting provider, and the hosting provider, in turn, will provide them with a fully-maintained, always-accessible RDS that can be accessed from anywhere via the Internet. Signing up for RDS hosting doesn’t require giving up administrative control of the terminal server to the hosting company, either; you’re still able to install and uninstall applications at will and determine the server’s settings and permissions. Finally, if you decide to go with the hosted RDS route, make sure that the hosting provider has a reliable, high-performance hosting infrastructure, has effective 24x7x365 on-call support, and is staffed with helpful, experienced, and competent personnel, especially if you’re entrusting the provider with business-critical files and applications.