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RemoteFX requirements with Windows 7 SP1 drive up costs

Microsoft RemoteFX is an expensive add-on with Windows 7 SP1 -- but it doesn't have to be. Here's how Microsoft could lower the cost of using RemoteFX and broaden the use case.

Windows 7 SP1 and Microsoft RemoteFX have been available for most of this year and, while I hear a lot of people talking about it, it seems like few people actually use RemoteFX on Windows 7 SP1.

Those who do use RemoteFX are Windows 2008 R2 SP1 Remote Desktop Services users -- and they don't need Hyper-V.

Using RemoteFX with Remote Desktop Virtualization Host (virtualized Windows 7) requires an SLAT-enabled processor, GPU, a RemoteFX Encoder and Hyper-V R2 SP1. There are no such requirements to run RemoteFX for Remote Desktop Session Host (Terminal Services). All you need is a processor that supports Streaming SIMD Extensions 2 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1.

So, running RemoteFX on Windows 7 SP1 is a costly add-on because you have to buy a RemoteFX-capable video card(s) to support the virtual desktops on each host. That can add up to some serious money when you consider multiple cards in multiple servers. So, the bulk of RemoteFX use happens with Windows Server 2008 SP1 instead.

Sure, it's not as good as when there is an extra GPU dedicated to the task, but it's better than Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) in many situations.

Now that the issues are on the table, I'd like Microsoft to answer these questions:

1.      We know you can support RemoteFX without a GPU. Why not just let us use the Server 2008 SP1 version of RemoteFX with Windows 7 desktops running on any hypervisor with or without a GPU?

2.      We know that Windows Server 2008 SP1 can run RemoteFX, but it can't use a GPU. Why can't it take advantage of a GPU if we wanted to add one?

Maybe these problems will be solved in Windows 7 SP2 or Windows 8, but these are legitimate questions today. Allowing Windows 7 to use RemoteFX without being tied to a GPU and Hyper-V could go a long way to keeping Windows relevant. It would also mean Microsoft could hold (or even gain back) some ground on VMware by supporting RemoteFX in some capacity on ESX. At the very least, it will keep Microsoft in the minds of the people as they choose platforms and protocols.

As for using a GPU with Windows Server 2008 SP1, the use case might not be as large. Still, I can imagine there are niche use cases where this could be helpful. Being that RemoteFX is already sort of a niche solution, though, maybe it doesn't behoove Microsoft to pursue a niche of a niche.

There is also the possibility that Microsoft doesn't care because it could have a different agenda for RemoteFX. Late last year, before RemoteFX came out, Brian Madden wrote about some alternate uses for RemoteFX. In the article, he mentioned that Benny Tritsch, a friend of and technical director with AppSense, thinks that a future implementation of RemoteFX could be more about delivering desktops and/or applications from Microsoft's cloud platform, Azure, or even Xbox games.

But hopefully, the future will bring the unshackling of RemoteFX so that it can be used in all situations regardless of GPU or hypervisor -- especially since we know it is technically possible. It might perform better under one set of conditions than another, but having it is better than having nothing at all.

Read more from Gabe Knuth

Gabe Knuth is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments.

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