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The combination of Hyper-V, Terminal Server and Remote Desktop Protocol technologies gives Microsoft the foundation to build a viable virtual desktop infrastructure suite. By improving the latter in Windows Server 8, the company may finally deliver.
The key technology that binds Microsoft's desktop virtualization products together is the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) -- the display protocol responsible for bringing the I/O of virtual PCs to an end point. By improving the protocol, Microsoft can make a significant difference in server-hosted virtual desktop performance.
High-definition remote desktops
The display protocol happens to be one of the most important aspects of a server-hosted VDI solution. If a display protocol can't deal with latency, network traffic congestion, limited bandwidth and numerous other problems that go along with delivering desktops over a network, the end user will have an unproductive experience.
The key here is for the display protocol (and the underlying technology) to deliver a high-definition (HD) experience, where the operation of a virtual PC and a physical desktop PC become almost indistinguishable. That means everything from USB device access to screen update speeds to application performance must be on par with a physical PC in a VDI environment.
While there are many other aspects that affect how HD a VDI session is, the display protocol plays an important role, and most virtualization vendors have developed their own display protocols that attempt to deliver a HD experience -- such as Citrix HDX.
RemoteFX in Windows Server 8
In Windows Server 8, Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) will come with out-of-the-box support for RemoteFX. It is the combination of RDSH and RemoteFX that redefines the VDI experience for Windows Server 8. It gives IT pros a way to deliver an HD experience without the need for third-party display protocols and/or connection brokers.
RemoteFX-enabled RDP clients support server side GPU cards for VDI, so that media-rich desktops and applications can run on virtualized desktops with no appreciable performance degradation, even on terminals, tablets and other pseudo dumb/thin clients.
That translates into native-PC capabilities such as completely smooth video playback and hardware-accelerated Windows 7 Aero and Windows 8 Metro UIs with full DirectX10 and OpenGL 1.1 support on virtualized desktops. The new capabilities work with full remote desktop user interfaces, as well as published applications (similar to Citrix's XenApp's ability to publish applications to remote desktops).
What's more, the RemoteFX and RDSH combo supports the creation of virtual desktop templates from a single gold master image stored on disk and then instantiated into memory as a single VM that supports customized, individual sessions. That means IT can use system policies to deliver customized desktops, applications and personal storage to remote desktop users.
The RDP performance and capability improvements, as well as traffic management improvements that optimize WAN and LAN traffic, allows all that functionality to be delivered to the endpoint. On the back end, these improvements also reduce memory and storage requirements.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Frank Ohlhorst is an IT journalist who has also served as a network administrator and applications programmer before forming his own computer consulting firm.