Microsoft RemoteFX improvements require Windows upgrades

The next version of RemoteFX offers the improvements that Microsoft remote desktop customers requested, but don't get too excited: It won't work with Windows 7.

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Microsoft admitted RemoteFX has problems and addressed the issues with a version for Windows Server 2012 this year, but customers aren't happy that they have to upgrade to Windows 8 to get the enhancements.

RemoteFX's underlying Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) doesn't provide a great user experience over wide area networks (WANs), and virtual machine (VM) infrastructures are complicated and costly. Plus, the administration experience isn't exactly simple, Microsoft said in its blog recently.

The next version addresses these limitations and more.

However, IT pros will only get the new and improved version of Remote FX if they upgrade to Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, because the improvements rely on changes to RDP that were not present in previous versions, Microsoft said in an email.

One RemoteFX customer who has beta tested the improvements said RemoteFX works much better in Windows 8, but he's disappointed Microsoft won't offer Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 support.

More on Microsoft RemoteFX:

Fast guide to Microsoft RemoteFX

RDSH and RemoteFX in Windows Server 8 to improve VDI user experience

"RemoteFX so far, in preview, is much better with some nice feature enhancements, but to force an upgrade of the entire OS is wrong," said Dan Bolton, a systems architect for Kingston University in the U.K.

Many enterprise IT shops have only moved to Windows 7 this year and a Windows 8 upgrade is years away.

If Microsoft wants to be a player in the server-hosted virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) market, "it is absolutely imperative that the company supports RDP/RemoteFX improvements in Windows 7," said Gunnar Berger, an analyst with Gartner, Inc., a technology research firm based in Stamford, Conn.

"What good is a new version of a protocol that doesn't apply to the client OS businesses are running today and will be running for the foreseeable future?" he asked.

Berger doesn't see much of a problem with Microsoft's Windows Server 2012 upgrade requirement, though.

"Citrix commonly required their users to get to the next version to get all the latest features, so I don't see this as being much different," Berger said. "I understand that changing server versions is not without issue, but it's far less cumbersome than a client OS migration."

RemoteFX enhancements just OK

While the lack of Windows 7 support is sure to disappoint many Microsoft customers, the improvements to RemoteFX in Windows Server 2012 are significant.

"The improvements to RDP [and RemoteFX] are vast and, as a protocol guy, I loved seeing Microsoft really take RDP to the next level," Berger said.

Although Server 2012 may "send some waves throughout the industry," said he added, "they are carefully calculated waves."

Microsoft's relationship with Citrix Systems Inc. has been mutually beneficial and neither company wants to hurt that relationship.

After all, every Citrix XenApp sale is a Terminal Services Client Access License sale, and every Citrix XenDesktop sale is a Microsoft Virtual Desktop Access license sale, Berger said.

"If Microsoft wanted to get into this market and own it, they could have done so a long time ago," Berger said. "They don't because it is not in their best interest; keeping their customers happy by creating a 'good enough' alternative is in their interest.

"So, while Server 2012 is a good product, it's not too good," he said.

Kingston University's Bolton agreed the next version of RemoteFX isn't "the panacea that it's being made out to be," he said.

In his experience with the RemoteFX beta in a closed lab environment, it still delivers a "remote experience" feel and "in many cases, traditional RDP still out-performs it for some applications, such as scrolling a Web page.

"People need to keep in mind what they and Microsoft think of a 'full fidelity' desktop experience are two very different things," Bolton said. "Don't expect to be able to deliver AutoCAD or Adobe Premier with it -- but then again Microsoft have never sold it for this purpose."

RemoteFX performance improvements

The new RemoteFX improves remote desktop performance over a WAN, reduces host side cost and reduces bandwidth with a new codec, according to Microsoft.

Other improvements include adaptive graphics, where RemoteFX determines and uses the right codec for the right content, whether multimedia, images or text. Microsoft also improved caching and added progressive rendering, which allows RemoteFX to provide a "responsive experience" over a highly constrained network, the company said.

RemoteFX supports both TCP and UDP now, the latter of which offers a better experience over a "lossy" WAN network. RDP will automatically use TCP when UDP cannot be used.

In Windows Server 2012, the virtual GPU (vGPU) feature is expanded, and all Windows 8 VMs can use a DirectX 11 capable GPU.

With the Metro touch interface in Windows 8, RemoteFX supports full remoting of gestures between the client and host. Microsoft also added USB redirection support for remote desktop sessions and physical hosts for a consistent experience.

Infrastructure, management improvements

Microsoft also simplified the overall RemoteFX infrastructure and made some improvements that should reduce costs.

RemoteFX now supports a "pooled virtual desktop collection" model that includes the ability to deliver personalized virtual desktops. A large number of VMs can be managed as a single entity through one virtual desktop template and a new User Profile Desk feature supports personalized VM-based or session-based desktops. That means IT admins can provide virtual desktops and all the end users' settings to multiple employees without maintaining a full Windows OS for each user.

For management, Microsoft has also added PowerShell support.In addition, Remote Desktop Services (RDS) includes a single management interface within the new Server Manager to deploy remote desktops, monitor the deployment, configure options and manage all the RDS components and servers.

The new interface replaces Remote Desktop Services Manager, RemoteApp Manager, and RD Session Host Configuration. The management tools for RD Gateway and RD Licensing are still provided separately.

In this release, Microsoft has eliminated the need for clustering and switched to an active/active model where two or more RD Connection Brokers can be combined to provide fault tolerance and load balancing. This prevents the broker from being a single point of failure and allows IT to "scale out" as demands increase, the company said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho or follow @BridgetBotelho on Twitter.

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