Windows Server 2012 tutorial: RDS and RemoteFX updates

Remote Desktop Services has a lot to offer in Windows Server 2012. Learn about new and improved features in this Windows Server 2012 tutorial.

In Windows Server 2012, Microsoft ironed out virtualization implementation problems and did a lot to improve Remote Desktop Services and RemoteFX.

Remote Desktop Services (RDS) has new features to ease virtual desktop management, plus more high availability options. Its remote display protocol technology, RemoteFX, comes with some additional hardware requirements and improves graphics rendering and remote desktop access over the WAN. Plus, user profiles and the Remote Desktop Protocol have evolved.

That's a lot of new stuff to keep up with, but this Windows Server 2012 tutorial has you covered.

What's new in Windows Server 2012 RDS?

The RDS components are the same in Windows Server 2012, but there are new features for managing virtual desktops. For instance, you can use a virtual machine (VM) to build a collection of virtual desktops without System Center Virtual Machine Manager, and a stateless pooling mechanism makes sure that pooled desktops stay intact. Plus, the Connection Broker component is aware of both Remote Desktop Session Host sessions and virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) sessions. Finally, Windows Server 2012 provides the new Server Manager component for virtual desktop management.

How can I store user profiles?

The stateless pooling mechanism in Windows Server 2012 RDS automatically rolls back changes when users log off the virtual desktop, but that brings the user profile into question. You'll be able to store user profiles on a disk, which is advantageous because disks are centrally stored and easy to access from any VM. The downside is that users have to be members of the local admin's group, which could pose security problems. It might be a good idea to redirect profiles to a file share instead.

What's new for RemoteFX in Windows 8?

In Windows 8, RemoteFX includes multitouch so users can access RDS sessions from touch devices. Another new feature, Adaptive Graphics, changes the way RDS renders visuals. Instead of relying on rendering on the client side, it does all the rendering on the host. Windows 8 RemoteFX also improves virtual desktop performance over the WAN by detecting users' connection speeds automatically.

What are the changes to the Remote Desktop Protocol?

In Windows Server 2008 R2, admins could use RemoteFX to deliver remote desktops via VDI, but you needed a separate graphics processing unit (GPU) for encoding. For RDS workloads, RemoteFX in Windows Server 2008 R2 doesn't require a GPU because it uses software encoding; Windows Server 2012 makes that software encoding available for VDI.

Also exciting for desktop admins is that RDS now supports the User Datagram Protocol in addition to the Transmission Control Protocol. That makes RemoteFX more efficient because it can choose which protocol to use depending on what's being delivered (movie, keyboard strokes and so on).

Are there any new requirements for enabling RemoteFX?

Yes, you don't need a supported GPU anymore, but Windows Server 2012 RemoteFX will perform better if you have one. In addition, your servers need a video card with two additional requirements: The card must be DirectX 11-capable and have a driver with Windows 8 64-bit SDDM version 1.2. Your server's processors also need to support Second Level Address Translation extensions and Data Execution Prevention. Oh, and you have to enable virtualization in the server's firmware.

How can I achieve high availability with RDS in Windows Server 2012?

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Essential Windows Server 2012 storage features

In the past, the Connection Broker only had Active/Passive clustering, and though that offered basic redundancy, it didn't let you scale out as load increased. In Windows Server 2012 RDS, the Connection Broker has Active/Active brokers, which aid in high availability and load balancing. Remote Desktop Connection Brokers share a content database and a DNS name, which helps spread the load over servers, increasing the brokers' high availability.

What can I use if I don't like RDS?

If you don't need to deliver full desktops to your users, check out RemoteApps -- a lighter-weight alternative to RDS. RemoteApp Programs in Windows Server 2012 deliver apps seamlessly, no matter where they're installed. It makes applications look like they're running locally even when they're actually running on a Windows Server in the data center. This functionality was available in Windows Server 2008, but Windows Server 2012 augments it and brings it to virtual desktops.

Think you know everything there is to know about the changes to Remote Desktop Services? Take this quiz on Windows Server 2012 RDS and find out!

This was first published in January 2013

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