VPN vs Remote Desktop – What is the difference? | HDUK

Deciding on the best software for accessing your files and system remotely can be tricky – whether you want full access to your computer remotely, or just to a specific network, there are many important considerations such as cost, security and flexibility.

The most popular virtual desktop tools are VPN and remote desktops – but what is the difference between the two?

The most important thing to know about the difference between VPN vs remote desktop solutions is that they are functionally different things. There are other differences, like cost, security vulnerabilities, maintenance requirements and levels of flexibility and control, but understanding what each one does will help you decide which solution will be best for you.

What is a VPN?

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network. Essentially, a VPN creates a smaller, private network on top of a larger public network – most commonly the internet. The VPN can have specific settings and allow for more shared access among the devices connected to it.

For example – with a VPN, you’d be able to virtually login to your office’s local network and use the printer as if you were there. One thing to keep in mind as you consider VPN vs remote desktop solutions is that VPNs only offer access to resources that are already shared on the network. There isn’t a great deal of flexibility.

Once you set up shared resources on the VPN – like printers, servers, or shared folders – you would have remote access to them. But if you forget to share a folder, you need remote access to it before you leave the office – you won’t be able to retroactively share the folder remotely with your VPN. Once it’s set up, that’s the way it stays.

What is a remote desktop?

Sometimes referred to as “screen sharing,” remote desktop can give you full access to your desktop computer from anywhere with an internet connection. When thinking about VPN vs remote desktop, this can come in handy if you don’t foresee needing access to certain files stored locally.

Remote desktop even allows you to launch applications, change administrator settings, and perform other tasks as if you were using your computer from your desk. Remote desktop gives you access to shared network resources in addition to the resources on the computer or device that is being controlled.

When comparing VPN vs remote desktop there are three main concerns: cost, flexibility and security.


A VPN is generally the lower cost solution. Minimal hardware is required and users can usually keep their existing devices. A remote desktop setup generally has a few machines to patch and maintain.

VPN setups can leverage existing hardware, however maintaining off-site resources can be difficult as they need to connect to be visible.


While having some similarities, VPN and remote desktop are functionally different things. A VPN will give you access to a network while remote desktop will give you control of an entire computer.

When you think about VPN vs remote desktop and what will be the right solution for your company, you have to consider what you ultimately need. If you want to have full control over a local computer from a remote location, VPN won’t let you achieve that. If you don’t want to have to pre-plan and pre-emptively share all the folders and files you might need access to in the field, then a remote desktop is the option for you.

Since remote desktop gives you the ability to fully access your device from wherever you are, it’s a far better option than a VPN in terms of flexibility.


As you consider the best way to provide remote access to a network or device, security needs to be a top priority. Any time you open up personal or sensitive data to an outside resource, you have to take into account the security vulnerabilities of your options.

When it comes to VPN vs remote desktop, some security experts recommend using a VPN over a remote desktop connection because of the level of access that remote desktop connections provide. But HDUK’s award winning hosted desktop solution has been developed and tried and tested over ten years, and is highly secure.

HDUK’s “office anywhere” ​remote desktop solution enables you to access your business anywhere with an Internet enabled device and an Internet connection. Would you like to find out more about how a hosted desktop can supercharge your business? Call our friendly team today on 01883 582357 or email contact@hduk.co.uk.

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