What Is Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD)?

April 5, 2024

A Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD), also known as Desktop as a Service (DaaS), is a cloud computing service that provides users with a virtual desktop environment hosted on a remote server. This technology allows users to access their desktops, applications, and data from anywhere, at any time, using any device with internet connectivity.

Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) vs. Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)

A Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) both provide virtualized desktop environments, but they differ in their deployment models and management responsibilities.

HVD, often referred to as Desktop as a Service (DaaS), is hosted, managed, and maintained by a third-party service provider in the cloud. This model offers businesses the advantage of outsourcing the complexity of managing the virtual desktop infrastructure, including hardware, software, security, and maintenance. Users access their desktops over the internet, enabling flexibility and scalability without the need for significant upfront investments or in-depth technical expertise in-house.

A Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) is typically hosted on-premises or in a private cloud. As it is managed by the organization's IT department, this model gives businesses full control over their desktop virtualization environment, including the customization of desktops, applications, and security policies. VDI requires a considerable investment in server and network infrastructure, as well as ongoing maintenance and IT expertise to manage the environment effectively. However, it offers benefits in terms of performance, security, and compliance, especially for organizations with specific requirements that cannot be met by standard HVD offerings.

HVD Architecture

The architecture of a Hosted Virtual Desktop (HVD) environment is designed to deliver desktop computing services over the cloud. At its core, the architecture comprises data centers managed by cloud service providers, where the servers host virtual desktop instances. These servers are equipped with virtualization software that allows multiple virtual desktops to run simultaneously on a single physical server.

The infrastructure also includes a network that securely connects users to their virtual desktops over the internet or a private network. Users can access their virtual desktops through thin clients, PCs, laptops, tablets, or smartphones, regardless of their geographic location.

The central management of the HVD infrastructure allows for the streamlined deployment of applications, security policies, and updates, ensuring that all users have a consistent and secure desktop experience. This architecture supports scalability, flexibility, and cost-efficiency, providing businesses with the ability to quickly adjust to changing workloads and user needs.

How Does Hosted Virtual Desktop Work?

Here's a step-by-step breakdown of how HVD works.

1. Virtualization

The process starts with the setup of servers in a data center. These servers are equipped with virtualization software, which allows them to create and run multiple virtual machines (VMs) simultaneously. Multiple instances of virtual desktops are created on the servers. Each instance acts as a separate, fully functional desktop environment, which can be customized according to individual user needs or roles.

2. Storage and Management

User data, applications, and settings are stored centrally on the servers. This centralization facilitates easy management, backup, and security. A management layer oversees the allocation of resources, distribution of software updates, and enforcement of security policies across all virtual desktops. This includes managing user access, provisioning new desktops, and scaling resources up or down as needed.

3. Connectivity

Users connect to their virtual desktop through a client application or web browser on their device, which could be a PC, laptop, tablet, or smartphone. The connection to the virtual desktop is made over the internet or a private network, establishing a secure session between the user's device and their virtual desktop hosted in the cloud.

4. Desktop Delivery

Once connected, the virtual desktop environment (including the operating system, applications, and user data) is streamed to the user's device. The user interacts with the desktop interface as if it were running locally, but all processing happens on the server. Users work with applications, access files, and perform tasks as they would on a physical desktop. Any changes made or data created are saved back to the central server in real time.

5. Security and Maintenance

The entire system is protected with security measures such as encryption, authentication, and data loss prevention. These measures ensure that data transmission is secure and that only authorized users can access their desktops. The service provider handles maintenance tasks such as applying software updates and patches and managing infrastructure, ensuring that the virtual desktop environment remains secure, up-to-date, and performs efficiently.

HVD Benefits and Challenges

Hosted Virtual Desktops (HVDs), while offering numerous advantages in terms of flexibility, scalability, and cost efficiency, also come with a set of challenges and downsides. Understanding these benefits and drawbacks is crucial for organizations considering HVD for their IT infrastructure.


Here are the benefits of HVD:

  • Lower capital expenditure. Since the desktop environments are hosted in the cloud, organizations can save on the upfront costs of purchasing and maintaining physical hardware and infrastructure. HVD typically operates on a subscription model, allowing businesses to plan their budgets with predictable monthly or yearly expenses.
  • Flexibility and scalability. Businesses can quickly add or remove desktops to match their current requirements without significant investments or changes in infrastructure. Users can access their desktops from any device, including PCs, laptops, tablets, or smartphones, from any location with internet access, supporting remote work and mobile workforces.
  • Enhanced security. With data stored in secure data centers rather than on local devices, the risk of data theft or loss from device theft or damage is greatly reduced. Cloud providers implement robust security measures, including encryption, firewalls, and intrusion detection, to protect data and applications.
  • Data backup and recovery. Regular backups and redundancy measures in cloud data centers ensure that data can be quickly restored in the event of a disaster or failure, minimizing downtime and data loss.
  • Business continuity. The ability to access desktops from anywhere enables organizations to continue operations even in the face of local disruptions, such as natural disasters or office outages.
  • Reduced IT workload. Outsourcing the management of the desktop environment to a cloud provider frees up IT resources to focus on strategic initiatives rather than routine maintenance and troubleshooting. Software updates, patches, and security measures are handled by the provider, ensuring that all desktops are up to date without individual user intervention.
  • Enhanced user experience. Each virtual desktop can be customized to meet the specific needs and preferences of individual users, enhancing productivity. Providers often use high-performance servers to host virtual desktops, offering users a smooth and responsive experience even with resource-intensive applications.
  • Reduced energy consumption. Centralizing desktop environments in data centers reduces the energy consumption associated with running and cooling physical desktops and servers on-premises.


Leveraging HVDs comes with a set of drawbacks requiring consideration:

  • Dependency on internet connectivity. HVDs rely heavily on a stable and fast internet connection. Poor connectivity leads to latency, sluggish performance, and even disconnection from the virtual desktop. This dependency can be a significant drawback in regions with unreliable internet access or for mobile users in areas with poor coverage.
  • Performance concerns. While HVD can deliver robust performance, the user experience can be impacted by factors such as the distance from the data center, the quality of the internet connection, and the resource intensity of applications being used. High-end graphical applications or those requiring high-performance computing resources may not perform as well on HVD as they do on high-specification local machines.
  • Security and privacy issues. Although HVD providers implement stringent security measures, the very nature of remote desktops and central data storage introduces vulnerabilities. Data transmission over the internet, even if encrypted, poses potential security risks. Additionally, entrusting sensitive data to a third-party service provider raises privacy concerns for some organizations.
  • Limited customization and control. With HVD, the service provider manages and maintains the infrastructure, which can limit the organization's control over its virtual desktop environment. Customization options for the desktops and the underlying infrastructure might be restricted compared to an in-house VDI solution.
  • Cost predictability and scalability concerns. Although HVD can be cost-effective, particularly for small to medium-sized businesses, the subscription-based pricing model can become costly at scale or when additional features and resources are required.
  • Compatibility issues. Some applications, especially legacy or custom-built software, may not be compatible with virtual desktop environments. This can lead to challenges in fully transitioning to an HVD setup without significant modifications or updates to the software.
  • Data compliance and sovereignty. Storing data in cloud data centers can complicate compliance with data protection regulations, such as GDPR in Europe or CCPA in California. Organizations need to ensure that their HVD provider complies with relevant laws and regulations, particularly regarding data storage locations and data access.

HVD Providers

Here's a list of some common HVD providers:

  • VMware Horizon Cloud. VMware Horizon Cloud enables the delivery of cloud-hosted or on-premises virtual desktops and applications, providing flexibility to deploy across various cloud environments. It's known for its scalability and integration with VMware's extensive virtualization ecosystem.
  • Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops. Citrix offers a comprehensive solution for application and desktop virtualization, supporting both cloud and on-premises deployments. It's recognized for its strong security features and seamless user experience across devices.
  • Microsoft Azure Virtual Desktop. Formerly known as Windows Virtual Desktop, Azure Virtual Desktop is a comprehensive desktop and app virtualization service running in the cloud. It's deeply integrated with Microsoft 365 and offers a multi-session Windows 10 and Windows 11 experience.
  • Amazon WorkSpaces. Amazon WorkSpaces is a managed, secure Desktop as a Service (DaaS) solution known for its straightforward pricing model. Run on AWS, it allows users to access their desktops from anywhere, using any supported device.
  • Nutanix Frame. Nutanix Frame is a cloud-based service that delivers virtual apps and desktops to users worldwide. It's designed for simplicity and scalability, offering a solution that requires no specialized IT skills to deploy and manage.
  • Google Cloud Desktop Virtualization. Google offers virtual desktop solutions through its cloud platform, leveraging partnerships with leading virtual desktop providers like Citrix and VMware, in addition to providing infrastructure for building custom VDI solutions.
  • IBM Cloud Virtual Desktop. IBM's offering includes virtual desktop services with options for customization and management. It's designed for enterprises looking for secure and scalable remote desktop solutions.

Anastazija is an experienced content writer with knowledge and passion for cloud computing, information technology, and online security. At phoenixNAP, she focuses on answering burning questions about ensuring data robustness and security for all participants in the digital landscape.