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Microsoft enters the VDI market with Windows Server 2008 R2

Microsoft is entering the VDI market with Windows Server 2008 R2. How will competitors like Citrix and VMware react?

Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2, previously known by its codename "Windows 7 Server," has recently entered the "release candidate" phase of development. This is an important milestone because the release candidate signifies that the technology is "feature complete;" containing all the features that will be included in the final release version of the product.

One of the most-anticipated new features of Windows Server 2008 R2 is Microsoft's new VDI software or "Remote Desktop Virtualization Host," as Microsoft is calling it. This solution is like any complete VDI software, giving users the opportunity to establish RDP connections to remote Windows 7-based desktops running as virtual machines in the datacenter. Like most VDI options, Microsoft gives users the option of "owning" their own personal disk image, or "sharing" a common disk image where VMs are checked in and out of a shared pool.

Microsoft's VDI software is made up of the following several components:

  1. A virtualization host server

    • Runs Microsoft Hyper-V, which will actually run the Windows 7 desktop VMs

  2. A connection broker

    • Based on the TS connection broker, which will route users to their proper desktop images or desktop pool

  3. A Web portal

    • Based on TS Web Access, which will authenticate users and present the remote resources to them

  4. An SSL-VPN

    • Based on TS Gateway, which will allow remote users to connect to their desktop sessions via a single SSL gateway server

  5. The RDP protocol

    • This has been greatly enhanced to fully support multimedia, bi-directional audio and aero glass remoting

The VDI features in Windows Server 2008 R2 represent Microsoft's first "hard core" assault on the VDI market. Microsoft will face competition from companies like Citrix, VMware and Quest Software; although Microsoft will have one distinct advantage: Their VDI product will be free.

I should clarify "free." Of course customers will have to license their Windows servers and purchase the proper VECD licenses to allow the users to connect to Windows instances remotely. But those are "baseline" licenses that are required by Microsoft regardless if a customer goes with a pure Microsoft solution or adds-on an additional third-party product. ALL VDI customers must buy Windows Server and VECD licenses. But once those are bought, Microsoft has the advantage as those licenses will let customers start playing with VDI today, while the third-party products will require additional purchases.

Some employees at Citrix and VMware think that Microsoft entering the VDI market with a free solution is a good thing. They believe that the low cost will encourage people to try VDI, and once they realize they like it, they'll then decide to buy additional software from Citrix or VMware to help them manage their environment.

And certainly there's a precedent for that. Citrix has been selling MetaFrame, Presentation Server and XenApp for years, even though the "baseline" server-based computing capabilities have been included for free in Windows since 1998.

Microsoft's entree into the VDI space will probably be good for everyone as it will validate the technology and the concept. For those of us who can't afford additional third-party software, it will be nice that we'll now be able to use VDI too.

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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