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Windows 8 enhances, challenges virtual desktop infrastructures

Windows 8 is an evolution of Windows 7 with a touch-enabled UI and "Metro" style applications. Could delivering this richer OS be a problem for IT pros using server-hosted VDI?

IT pros that use server-hosted VDI to deliver Windows have some concerns about the infrastructure and client hardware requirements of the upcoming Windows 8 "Metro" style OS and applications.

Meanwhile, desktop virtualization vendors say Windows 8 will have a positive impact on the user experience and on virtual desktop adoption.The touch support and Metro style UI and applications make for a richer user experience in Windows 8 desktops -- great news. But it could have a huge impact for IT shops using server-hosted virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) to deliver Windows in both LAN and WAN environments, said Ruben Spruijt, a technology officer for PQR, an IT services firm based in the Netherlands.

"Looking at the potential impact on network, client-side requirements and possible requirements on server side while delivering Windows 8 as guest in VDI, I can imagine some design challenges with Windows 8," Spruijt said.

Dan Bolton, a systems architect for Kingston University in London, uses RemoteFX to deliver virtualized Windows 7 desktops and applications. He'll test Windows 8 later this year and wonders about the amount of bandwidth he will need to deliver virtual desktops with Windows 8.

"We deliver 100 Megs today and will have to review whether that is enough for our requirements," Bolton said.

The Windows 8 Developer Preview became available this month, but virtualization products haven't been updated to work with its high performance graphics, so developers report performance problems running it as a guest OS.

Microsoft reports that about one-third of the early installations are on virtual machines, but recommends running Windows 8 Developer Preview natively on a dedicated computer because Windows 8 relies on hardware acceleration for its user interface.

At Microsoft's BUILD developer conference earlier this month, however, Microsoft demonstrated a virtualized Windows 8 desktop and Metro style applications being delivered via Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), and the new features appeared to perform well.

Microsoft also presented the Hyper-V client that will be built into Windows 8.

Windows 8 server enhancements for virtual desktops
While IT pros wonder how Windows 8 will impact their virtual desktop infrastructures, desktop virtualization vendors such as Quest Software, RES Software and VMware Inc. said Windows 8 shouldn't require big changes to existing VDI environments. In fact, those companies are already testing Windows 8 and say software and protocols updates will only improve the remote Windows user experience.

As it exists today in Windows Server 2008 R2, RemoteFX is designed to run on a LAN. But the remoting protocol comes of age in Windows Server 8 and supports a wider range of deployment scenarios.

The next version supports adaptive networks and delivery of desktops remotely using a WAN, plus full Touch device support, USB device integration and single sign-on usage discovery, according to Microsoft.

It's good news for IT pros that have had to invest in WAN accelerators and limit the types of desktops they virtualize due to erratic performance problems. It's also good for desktop virtualization software vendors that have had to compensate for remote protocol performance issues by developing their own fixes.

For instance, Quest Software's vWorkspace product is built around RDP/RemoteFX and the company had to develop a RemoteFX add-on that provides features its customers require, such as multimedia and WAN support.

"We never got into this business to be a protocol vendor, so it's nice to see that Microsoft is taking the protocol issues off the table," said Jon Rolls, VP of product management for Quest Software's Desktop Virtualization Group.

Rolls said in Quest's testing, the Windows 8 preview runs fine inside a vWorkspace virtual machine (VM). "Windows 8 is richer, but we already deliver rich applications and we already use iPad clients with touch screen," Rolls said. "It won't change the game as much as people think."

Microsoft also added support for the use of cheaper storage, pooled desktops and a User Profile Disk for user personalization. Additionally, Windows 8 server will support "fair share resource allocation" to lower hardware requirements per user, according to information shared at BUILD earlier this month.

The improvements to Windows client and server will only help desktop virtualization adoption, according to Jeff Wettlaufer, RES Software's director of product marketing (who was previously part of Microsoft's Systems Center Group).

"When you combine the advancements in storage and the management of the virtual machines, the network performance and the RemoteFX improvements, [Windows 8] will perform better than Windows 7 does" in VDI environments, Wettlaufer said.

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

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Windows 8 brings a wealth of new user-experience benefits to Windows users. I tried the Metro touch interface and it's cool. But, it will be quite challenging to deliver over VDI. It's a good time to revisit a hybrid desktop virtualization architecture (e.g., Wanova) that centralize images for IT management purposes but keeps the execution locally on the endpoints and synchronizes the two copies in the background (using strong de-dup) -- You get similar benefits to hosted VDI with a fraction of the network requiremetns, and much better user-experience !