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Remote display protocol advances will usher in a new era of VDI

Picking the right remote display protocol is an important part of every remote-hosted project, be it VDI or terminal server. Fortunately, there are many options.

Gartner is predicting that there will be 49 million VDI users in five years. Since VDI is a "single user" form of server-based computing, it uses the same remote display protocols and techniques that have been in place for years.

When people think of remote display protocols, the first things that pop into their minds are Microsoft RDP or Citrix ICA. Unfortunately, most people think of these with negative thoughts. I'm happy to report that if you haven't looked at these remote protocols for a while, there have been a lot of changes, and there are a lot of new players in the market too.

Most people consider Microsoft's RDP protocol to be "just" the low-end free option. "Sure, RDP is fine for occasional remote server access," they think, "but I'd never use it for daily computing tasks like VDI." The reality is that RDP has been slowly improving over the years.

Want to see RDP 7 in action? We featured it on the March 5, 2009 edition of Brian Madden TV.

Not only does today's version of RDP offer audio, high-resolution sessions, fall-back printer drivers, drive mapping and a whole host of other capabilities, the next version of RDP that will be built-in to Windows 7 looks like it will be an absolute killer. RDP 7 will offer multimedia stream remoting, "true" multi-monitor support and several other features that put it right up there with any remote display protocol on the market. And the best part of RDP 7 -- It will be free, built-in to Windows!

The other protocol that immediately pops into peoples' heads is Citrix's ICA protocol. Long-known as the "better performing version of RDP," ICA is still going strong in 2009. Recent improvements include the ability to perform dynamic variable compression, which lets administrators configure a trade-off between performance and quality. So a user grabs and spins a 3-D object on the screen. As it's spinning, the object loses visual quality so that it can spin in real-time with the user's commands, but as soon as the spinning stops the object "pops" back to full quality.

Citrix and Microsoft aren't the only newsmakers in the remote display protocol space anymore, however. Perhaps the most interesting, and novel, approach comes in the form of the "PC-over-IP" protocol from Canadian startup Teradici. PC-over-IP leverages special hardware -- in this case, a card you plug-in to your remote host and a chip which thin client makers built-in to their devices.

I recorded a 20-minute video demo of the unboxing, setup and testing of the Teradici PC-over-IP solution.

Then the two PC-over-IP chips communicate over the network to produce a remote computing experience that is indistinguishable from a local experience. PC-over-IP works at the "DVI level" of the graphics stack, so it supports everything, including video, 3-D and Windows Aero glass.

There are a whole host of lesser-known, yet equally impressive solutions on the market today, including the following:


  • Wyse has a set of extensions to RDP known as "TCX," which add capabilities like multi-monitor support, USB device support and multimedia remoting to RDP today.

  • Quest Software's "Experience Optimization Pack" enhances the today's version of RDP to make it very usable for day-in, day-out VDI users.

  • HP has opened up their "RGS" remote display protocol so that it can be used on non-HP devices.

Choosing the proper remote display protocol will always be a big part of any remote-hosted project, whether that's VDI or Terminal Server. Fortunately, the landscape today provides more choices than ever, and the popularity of VDI means that more vendors are entering this space or improving their options every day.

Brian Madden, Independent Industry Analyst and Blogger
Brian Madden is known throughout the world as an opinionated, super technical, fiercely independent desktop virtualization expert. He's written several books and over 1,000 articles about desktop and application virtualization. Brian's blog,, receives millions of visitors per year and is a leading source for conversation, debate and discourse about the application and desktop virtualization industry. Brian is also the creator of BriForum, the premier independent application delivery technical conference.

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