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How Microsoft RDS in Windows Server 2012 simplifies VDI deployment

VDI deployment gets a little easier with updates to Microsoft RDS in Windows Server 2012, but is it enough to inch past Citrix and other vendors?

As we near the release of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, it's worth taking a look at how a few things have...

changed with Microsoft RDS in the new version. Most of the changes aren't earth-shattering or revolutionary, but there are a few surprises.

Of course, there will also be some features that will have you saying "It's about time!" Microsoft has come a long way from the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) capabilities of Windows Server 2008, making VDI deployment simpler in this latest release.

What's happening to RDP?

Perhaps you've already heard that Microsoft has all but abandoned the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) name in favor of RemoteFX. That doesn't mean RDP is gone, though. Remember, RemoteFX was an option on top of RDP in Server 2008 R2, but with a virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) workload, it required a separate, compatible GPU to handle encoding. This made RemoteFX more of a niche solution and prevented widespread adoption.

At the same time, though, RemoteFX on Remote Desktop Services (RDS) did not require a GPU. Instead, it used software encoding that, while not as efficient as handling encoding with a separate GPU, was still a step or two up in terms of the remote desktop experience. Companies loved that they could just start using RemoteFX on Remote Desktop Session Hosts (RDSH) without any additional cost or hardware.

More on Microsoft RDS

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RemoteFX requirements in Windows Server 2012

With Windows Server 2012, Microsoft has made the software encoding version of RemoteFX available for VDI as well and has all but renamed RDP to RemoteFX. The underlying technology will still be RDP, but this latest evolution will be called RemoteFX (sort of like how Citrix HDX is the new name for its ICA protocol).

Where the encoding happens isn't the only thing changing. There are other new features that probably deserve their own articles. For instance, RemoteFX traditionally used the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP), but in Server 2012 it will be updated to also work via the User Datagram Protocol (UDP). This means that RemoteFX will use each protocol depending on what's being asked of it.

For instance, if a movie is playing, it may be more efficient to use UDP, which blasts packets from one place to another without waiting for handshakes or acknowledgements. Conversely, for things like keyboard strokes or mouse-button pushes, it would use TCP to verify that all the data is going where it needs to go, when it needs to go there. The end result is a nimble, efficient protocol that is also more effective over the WAN.

No more trickery to make VDI work

As we learned during's Geek Week way back in 2009, Microsoft has had what we call an "in-box" VDI offering as part of Windows Server 2008. If you think of it, all the parts were there. They had a broker, license server, hypervisor, secure gateway and Web interface, but there was nothing formalized pulling it all together. In fact, installing and deploying the built-in VDI offering from Server 2008 was one of the most convoluted things I've ever done.

The problem was that even though you had all the required components, the Remote Desktop Connection Broker wasn't aware of VDI or that virtual machines running Windows 7 could have remote desktop sessions on them. Instead, it only knew about terminal servers (RDSH servers).

Rather than update the broker, Microsoft's solution was to trick the broker into thinking it was guiding the users to an RDSH server by putting an RDSH server in "redirection mode," which is essentially an RDSH server without sessions. The users are then redirected to a virtual instance of Windows XP or Windows 7 running on Hyper-V.

As complex as that is, it was exacerbated by the fact that nothing was intuitive to set up. You'd need to install a simple role, and then change it to do something it wasn't meant to do. There were scripts to run, registry entries to change and a host of things that should never have to happen to deploy a remote desktop offering. In the end, the in-box VDI tool was complex and impractical, and it had to change.

In Windows Server 2012, the connection broker is now aware of both RDSH sessions and VDI sessions (that come via the Remote Desktop Virtualization Host role). What you get is a relatively easy solution where everything works the way it should (Figure 1).

Microsoft Remote Desktop Services

In addition to an easy-to-follow workflow, Microsoft has also fixed the implementation and management problem of VDI based on Remote Desktop Services and Hyper-V. In Windows Server 2012, the setup is wizard-based via Server Manager. All the components and roles are installed in a controlled, automated fashion on the appropriate servers (all from a single location).

Likewise, ongoing management is done from Server Manager. Remote Desktop Configuration and Remote Desktop Manager are utilities of the past. Plus, if wizards aren't your thing, you can do all the installations and configurations using Windows PowerShell.

With Server 2012, Microsoft seems to putting all the technology they've been creating or acquiring over the years into a usable package. Will the new solution that works with terminal servers and VDI -- plus the changes to RemoteFX -- be enough to make a dent in the reign of Citrix, VMware and Dell/Quest, or will it still leave us wanting more? We'll have to wait and see.

This was last published in August 2012



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Will RDS in Windows Server 2012 take business away from Citrix, VMware and Dell/Quest?
I don't think so!
No I don't think
Just the fact that the business community has a solution available at no addtional cost that is proven and tech support is part of the server package.
It will have a small impact but does not provide the best solution suite.
It looks like RDS is the thing to use. And make Citrix VMware.
Are you sure that the RDG is in the proper position in that image?
In short, the Microsoft VDI solution has a scale problem. Microsoft relies on partners like Citrix to answer enterprise challenges that they can't do on thier own. Over time I think we'll see Windows Server do better with VDI scale, but it won't be at RTM of 2012. However, at lower scale (<500 desktops) the Windows Server solution will probably be best value and for limited enterprise deployments, it will be a simple and cost effective solution.
Now that RemoteFX doesn't need a separate GPU and uses UDP, lookout!
People have been predicting the demise of Citrix since the beta release of Windows 2000. Hasn't happened yet, because they continue to innovate and add value on top of the Microsoft platform. If they ever stop doing that, then they'll deserve to lose market share...but it seems to me that they've got a pretty good track record there.
With Installation automation and management tools from DeskTopSites it makes the Microsoft solution a cost effective tidy option.
Still no support for any OS other than Windows. Plus a lot of the new features aren't supported for less than Windows 8 and Server 2012
Windows Server 2012 do have theor own Customers, but we will have to wait & watch if they can really take the market Share from other..
Been testing it since beta and it's slick.
It really depends on licensing. RDS may be the poor man's VDI if the all the componants are native to the Windows Server 2012. There will still be VDA cost, but if the backend cost is low, it may make a dent in the market.
It is bound to make a dent even if small in the beginning. Especially if the VDI license cost tilts in their favor.
possibly... (because Citrix are trying to do too much and consequently now lack focus, VMWare is becoming a very expensive alternative and Dell/Quest - who knows).
Microsoft has tried this in the past. The "new" RemoteFX (RDP enhanced) protocol needs to be proven out. Server 2012 adoption will take quite a while.
this is definitely a game changer, together with hyper-v, which is also way ahead now with XenServer and on par with VMware!
desktopsites single pane manager is a great tool that can have you rolling out apps and desktops in 20 minutes, I have seen it with my own eyes, pretty cool.
While VDI is bundled and has an easier deployment with WS2012, why pay extra for a VDI software?
RDS in Windows server 2012 will take some part of business away from Citrix ,VMware, but it is only all of their business. There are lots of issues needing to solve during VDI deployment, while Microsoft can not do it on its own.
Yes but I don't see this taking over in large scale deployments.
Sure, only when it will shows its quality egual as the others.
Microsoft is building a total platform for virtualization. No need for add ons. All third party vendors will be reduced to niche providers except for their "cult followers".
I think Hyper-V VDI is wonderful
Not all businesses/gov't entities/nonprofits need the robust capabilities and equally additional high cost added by Citrix now that Microsoft has hit the basics for VDI, RDSH & the Remote protocol with strong offerings.
All MS; all the time.
cool stuff
ICA is still much more efficient protocol
It will be a competitor and may not take away the business of others