Q: I want to deploy a Windows 8- or Windows 8.1-based virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) solution on Hyper-V with Remote Desktop Services. Which version of Windows 8 should I use?

A: When deploying a VDI solution that's using Windows 8 as the client OS running within the virtual machines (VMs), there are two possible choices, Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise.

Windows 8 Enterprise is a superset of Windows 8 Pro, offering all the same capabilities as Windows 8 Pro, plus additional management capabilities, as well as functionality specific to VDI scenarios. This makes Windows 8 Enterprise the preferred edition where possible.

However, what exactly do you lose specific to VDI if you use Windows 8 Pro instead of Windows 8 Enterprise? Here are features you won't get if you use Windows 8 Pro:

  • RemoteApp - The Windows 8 Pro edition doesn't enable Remote App, which is application publishing. It enables specific applications running on the OS to be published and used instead of a complete desktop, bringing a far more seamless experience in addition to being more accessible and usable on smaller form factor devices.
  • RemoteFX Device Redirection - RemoteFX has several such technologies, one of which enables the redirection of almost any USB device at a port level. Only Windows 8 Enterprise has this feature.
  • RemoteFX vGPU - The feature of RemoteFX most people think of is the virtual GPU capability. This capability enables a physical GPU in a server to be virtualized and made available to VMs. Even if a server doesn't have a GPU, a certain level of graphical capability can still be exposed to the VM through a software rastorizer. This enables the VM to see a vGPU and perform local graphics rendering such as DirectX, enabling advanced graphics applications to be executed in the VDI environment. This is only enabled on Windows 8 Enterprise edition.
  • User Profile Disk - This enables a virtual hard disk (VHD) to be attached to the VM and used for profile and data storage for a user, enabling the user experience to be consistent even when connecting to different VDI VM instances. This is only available on Enterprise edition.

Note that many features are available on the Windows 8 Pro edition, such as RemoteFX multi touch, multi-monitor use, WAN optimization and adaptive graphics, bi-directional audio, and more.

The decision to use Pro or Enterprise really comes down to if the additional RDS VDI specific features are important. Obviously, if you have access to Enterprise already, then use it!

For the 32-bit versus 64-bit situation, I generally recommend using whatever version you use on your physical desktops in your organization, to avoid a large amount of additional software testing. Obviously if you have 64-bit desktop applications, you will need to use the 64-bit version of Windows 8 and also if you need more than 4GB of memory. The one down side of 64-bit Windows 8 is it uses around 2GB of additional disk space per VM.