Four frustrating changes to Remote Desktop Services 2012

Remote Desktop Services 2012 is missing the old Remote Control feature from 2008 R2, and there are some added requirements to the platform.

Many desktop virtualization administrators will find that Windows Server 2012 Remote Desktop Services is the best release to date, but there are a few frustrating things about the new version.

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services (RDS) in Windows Server 2012 includes several improvements to the core platform and its management capabilities, including better virtual desktop provisioning and a stateless pooling mechanism. Plus, RemoteFX comes with much-needed improvements to desktop performance over the WAN and graphics delivery.

But as with any other platform, it comes with its own set of obstacles that you must be aware of before deploying RDS 2012 or upgrading your existing stable Windows Server 2008 R2 environment.

Remote Control feature reworked

One of the most used features of RDS since its release has been Remote Control (or if you're more familiar with Citrix, it's also called "shadowing"). This feature allows you to easily remote-control a user session for troubleshooting purposes.

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Until RDS 2008, it followed a very simple procedure. Admins would locate the server the user was connected to, establish a Remote Desktop Protocol session to the same server and then, on the list of connected users, simply right-click the user session and select Remote Control. Organizations rely on this to troubleshoot user sessions, and even independent software vendors tap into the same mechanism to provide remote support when users are connected to their tools (e.g., 2X ApplicationServer, Citrix XenApp, etc).

With Remote Desktop Services 2012, Microsoft removed this capability from the platform, and the official replacement is Remote Assistance (RA). Even though RA does work, it has a very different workflow regarding how administrators get to remotely control a user session. With RA, the users themselves have to initiate the remote control session, which will entail some training on how to create the connection.

Connection Broker HA has a new requirement

Another point to be aware of with RDS 2012 is the new Connection Broker and its high-availability (HA) mode. While the Connection Broker comes with some new benefits such as active-active clustering for greater high availability, there are some new requirements you should know about.

The Remote Desktop Connection Broker in Windows Server 2012 now requires a SQL database to be available, in addition to the proper certificates and load-balancing mechanisms in place for high availability to work.

User interface has changed

You probably know by now that Windows 8 includes the tile user interface, without the famous Start button that users got comfortable with since the Windows 95 days.

Windows Server 2012 uses the same interface, which may be challenging for users and even IT personnel. Plus, certain features were dropped from the new interface, such as Aero Glass. If this is a must-have for your remote desktops, Windows Server 2012 may pose extra issues for its deployment and adoption.

Add-ons may be incompatible

If you are running any add-ons for RDS such as 2X Application Server, Citrix XenApp, Ericom WebConnect or other similar ones, make sure you check for compatibility with Remote Desktop Services 2012 before going down that path. As of April 2013, several of these products are still not compatible with the latest RDS release.

Even with all these potential issues, RDS 2012 is Microsoft's best release to date. Consider an upgrade in the near-term future for any existing RDS 2008 R2 environments out there.

This was first published in May 2013

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