Remote Desktop Virtualization: Windows R2's most compelling feature

The Remote Desktop Virtualization feature stands out as Windows Server 2008 R2's most compelling new capability.

This is the final entry of a three-part series on the top new features in R2's Remote Desktop Services.

The release of Windows Server 2008 R2 brings many new features to the table; buffing the polish on minor idiosyncrasies in the original RTM version. It is the Remote Desktop Virtualization feature, however, that stands out as the number one new capability in R2's Remote Desktop Services feature suite.

The Remote Desktop Virtualization (RDV) feature augments a Remote Desktop infrastructure with hosted virtual desktops alongside more traditional applications. This addition is important as it illustrates Microsoft's recognition for the need to support legacy applications as well as full-fidelity desktops for remote users.

A hosted desktop infrastructure provides a mechanism for supporting applications that cannot or will not install in RDS's traditional presentation virtualization infrastructure. What's more, it provides a platform that supports full, albeit virtualized, desktops for environments that need remote access.

Microsoft's implementation of hosted virtual desktops arrives as Remote Desktop Services and Hyper-V combine, with one enabling the network transport and the other providing the virtualization platform. Virtual desktops can be created in two different formats depending on your users' needs:

  1. Personal virtual desktops are tagged to a specific user, creating a one-to-one mapping between a user and his identified desktop.

    • The user will always connect to a familiar and customized environment for a workload that contains any required applications and data.

  2. Pooled virtual desktops are created for situations in which remote application access is needed, but high levels of personalization are not.

    • These desktops are configured as general access points for applications, with users accessing whichever desktop is readily available at the time of login.

    • While this configuration doesn't provide the same level of personalization experienced with a personal virtual desktop, it does enable application access when limited state data is required.

Microsoft enables this transfer of user state to either personal or pooled desktops through its existing Remote Desktop Roaming Profile infrastructure. The newly augmented RD Session Broker service orchestrates the acts of locating the right desktop, powering it on, injecting profile information and preparing the desktop for an incoming user. The job of this service is to ensure that the right user connects to the right desktop, and that the desktop is ready to access at the time the user double-clicks on its icon.

Core Remote Desktop Services are critical for this connection, as the RDP protocol is leveraged for connecting users into their virtual desktops. Microsoft's implementation of RDS in Windows Server 2008 R2 extends this access to users through integrations into its RD Web Access and RD Gateway role services.

The net result for users is that they need only double-click an icon on a Web page to start the entire process. Users that connect from outside the LAN will enjoy transport-level security and reverse-proxy functions through RD Gateway's services.

It's also important to recognize that Microsoft's single-source solution for hosted desktops is only one path to implementation. Microsoft recommends a combination of Hyper-V with Citrix's XenDesktop solution as the alternative for environments that require additional management support.

This concludes the top 10 compelling new features in Windows Server R2's Remote Desktop Services. If you're considering upgrading from Windows Server 2003 or embarking on a new implementation, these incremental updates are likely to be compelling enough to suggest a waiting pattern until R2's features arrive.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Greg Shields
, MCSE, is an independent author and consultant based in Denver with many years of IT architecture and enterprise administration experience. He is an IT trainer and speaker on such IT topics as Microsoft administration, systems management and monitoring, and virtualization. His recent book Windows Server 2008: What's New/What's Changed is available from Sapien Press.

This was first published in August 2009

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