Device-Led Vs Server-Led

It’s all about where you decide to store data: desktops, files and applications.

The Server-Led approach has become more popular thanks to the development of cloud technologies. Many see it as a natural progression but, in truth, there’s no right or wrong answer.

What’s the difference between
Device-Led and Server-Led IT?

Device-Led IT

A model for IT where an end user’s computing is local to their device, meaning everything is physically stored and processed on the device.

If you’ve ever used a standalone computer running Microsoft Windows or macOS, you’ve experienced Device-Led IT.

Where it differs to Server-Led IT lies in where the user ‘things’ are stored (e.g. desktop, files, applications and even the operating system).

Server-Led IT

An alternative model using cloud technology that shifts an end user’s computing to a centralised, hosted location – meaning their desktop, files and/or applications can be accessed from any device using the internet. The OS is independent of the devices OS.

If you’ve ever accessed a Microsoft Office 365 application from multiple devices, or used an iPad to view a picture that auto-synced from an iPhone, you’ve experienced a form of Server-Led IT.

Desktop 365 is the complete Server-Led solution for the workplace. 

The difference in pictures

At its simplest, IT today is a combination of three things: Devices, Servers and the Internet.

Use the toggle to see how Server-Led IT differs from the traditional approach that most are familiar with today.

Windows desktop, files and apps stored locally.

User Device

Two-way data transfer creates risk.
Additional files and apps on company servers.


Public Internet

Desktop, files and apps stored on device.

Files and apps often also stored on servers.

Curious how it differs from the user’s perspective? Follow this step-by-step guide.

Side-by-side comparison

See the how the Device-Led and Server-Led operating models stack up against each other.

User Experience

Boot Up & Shut Down Times

Increasingly slow

Dictated by the device and its processing power.

Consistently fast

Super-fast, scaled-back machines can be used with a single, simple login process.

Computer Performance

High liklihood of crashes

Recent research shows that almost 1 in 4 Device-Led users experience computer crashes at least once per day.

Consistent and stable

The same research showed Server-Led systems were 37.5% less likely to experience a crash.

Internet Performance

Variable, location-dependent

The connection is only ever as fast as the connection to the end user’s device at that time.

Consistently super-fast broadband

Connecting to a Server-Led Desktop means you’re actually using a data centre’s internet connection. That means, assuming a minimum connection requirement is met, an end user’s connection could be relatively poor yet suffer no loss of performance, which is great when working remotely and working over cellular network.
Tapping into a hosted environment essentially upgrades your connection – no matter where you are.
​Remote Working


Inconsistent experience, often unable to access key applications and/or files.


With Server-Led IT, users can access their work desktop, all files and all applications from any device and from any location.
A consistent computing experience, no matter where a user is.
Personal Device Usage

No ability

Posing an unnecessary compliance risk, Personal Devices in the Device-Led model aren’t allowed.

Risk-free usage

Little or no data is downloaded to end user-devices; where there is, it’s easy to remote wipe.

Passwords Used

Numerous (usually increasing)

Logging in to numerous systems not only wastes time but is far less secure as users reuse passwords or use easily guessable passwords.


One simple and secure sign in process to all work and applications saves time but is also far less risk.

Connection Requirements

No minimum requirements

Able to work without a connection.

Minimum connection requirement

Stream lag-free over 3G cellular network or greater.

Security & Compliance

Access Control


Difficult to control data on devices and SaaS applications.

All encompassing

Shut off any user from absolutely everything with a simple and immediate switch.
Shut off any user from absolutely everything with a simple and immediate switch.
User Monitoring


Difficult to monitor some device-based work and any work from a SaaS application.

All encompassing (with AI)

High compliance procedure for user access control, which proactively flags or automatically shuts off users bases on unusual activity.
Monitoring for any task within any application or environment, AI proactively monitors.

Patch Management

Long Lead Times

Time between patch availability and installation across network is lengthy due to testing requirements and user initiation.

Short Lead Times

Demonstrating high compliance procedure for updating and monitoring software.

Installation controlled remotely, not by the user. Testing is much shorter as environments are the same or similar.

Application Authentication

Disparate and uncontrolled

Dependent upon a variety of factors, including user ability to recall multiple passwords. Often difficult to manage.

Strong and all encompassing

With Server-Led IT, administrators regain control of SaaS applications in the same way they can control On-Premise applications. Ensuring 2FA is only the beginning!
A centralised, secure multi-factor process blocking unauthorised access to every application (whether Cloud or On-Premise).

Data Duplication

Frequent, necessary

Option to store files on device and on shared servers creates duplications. More duplications created when working remotely from other devices. 


When always logged in to the same environment, users aren’t able and have no need to save files elsewhere.

Operating Model

End User Devices


Dictated by end user hardware/software requirements. Often have short lifespans.


With Server-Led IT, all computer processing happens in the hosted environment (not the end user’s device), meaning they don’t need high-spec machines for any task.

Some Desktop 365 clients use much cheaper thin or zero client devices, Chromebooks and, in some cases, even Raspberry Pi’s.

Can be any spec, without the end user experience suffering; easily replaced or possible to implement Bring-Your-Own-Device model.

Pricing Model

Capital Expenditure

High initial outlay means long timelines before ROI is realised – risky when scaling up or down.

Operating Expenditure

With Server-Led IT, administrators regain control of SaaS applications in the same way they can control On-Premise applications. Ensuring 2FA is only the beginning!
Low initial outlay gives ROI is gained faster, meaning less risk is carried.

Maintenance Model


Unexpected callout and hardware costs are assumed as unavoidable.

Inclusive, Managed

What you see is what you pay, making budgeting far easier.

What about the user?

If you’re curious how Server-Led IT differs from a user’s perspective, follow this simple step-by-step guide.

Get started

Adopting the new standard of desktop computing is quicker and easier than you think.

Schedule a free, no-obligation exploratory call with a Desktop 365 expert.

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