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RemoteFX Named as Microsoft's New VDI 'Umbrella Brand'

Microsoft announced at TechEd this week that it has advanced RemoteFX as a brand that covers a collection of its virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) technologies.

The announcement was made during two Remote Desktop Services sessions at TechEd (now available on demand). RemoteFX is a technology that Microsoft acquired when it bought Callista Technologies in 2008. It was first integrated into Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, mostly as a remoting solution for graphics-intensive applications, such as enabling mobile access to server-based CAD/CAM or three-dimensional applications on thin-client devices.

Things have advanced since that time, according to a presentation by Gaurav Daga, a lead program manager on the remote desktop virtualization team at Microsoft, and Rob Williams, a Microsoft principal program manager. Their session was titled, "RemoteFX and RDP Rocking RDS in Windows Server 2012," which showed the client user experience over RDS.

"If you are familiar with Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, we had introduced RemoteFX, but it was solving a very particular problem," Daga said during the TechEd talk. "It was referencing primarily to the virtual graphics processor available on Windows Server for virtualizing inside your guest VM. There were a couple of other things like the codec and USB redirection that were tied in with that RemoteFX GPU, but now, in [Windows Server] 2012, RemoteFX is our umbrella brand that covers all our rich remoting experiences over both LAN or WAN conditions."

The TechEd talk described some of the differences associated with Remote Desktop Services 8 and the forthcoming Windows Server 2012. Many of the specific infrastructure, management and Remote FX differences enabled by Windows Server 2012 were highlighted last month in a blog post by Klaas Langhout, director of program management on Microsoft's RDS team. However, the TechEd session actually showed Microsoft's VDI progress, with RDS 7 sessions running side by side with RDS 8 sessions in demos.

New in Windows Server 2012 is a DirectX 11-based software graphics processing unit (GPU) that's emulated by the CPU. All of the demos in this TechEd talk used this virtualized GPU. However, Microsoft recommends using hardware-based GPUs in the server for CAD/CAM applications or fine-grained animation. Williams noted during the talk that Nvidia recently announced GPU silicon products that target hosting 100 virtual machines and is specifically designed for VDI, "so you don't have to buy special graphics cards."

Daga explained that Microsoft has improved the wide area network (WAN) performance with RDS 8 and Windows Server 2012. The system delivers progressive rendering, which, when used on a wireless or WAN network, will send text and graphics progressively to the end user. A key differentiator in Microsoft's RemoteFX technology is that the text always remains sharp during the experience, Daga said. The system also uses an "adaptive graphics" feature, which classifies text, graphics and animation content, handing it off to the proper codex.

Local area network (LAN) and WAN video streaming experiences were demonstrated side by side during the talk, comparing RDP 7 with RDP 8 using AMD Opteron-based x86 machines. The choppy Windows 7 WAN video during the demo "looked like a slide show because Windows 7 was designed to have a LAN-only protocol," Daga said. IT pros can control the quality of the VDI experiences through Group Policy settings that allow for switching to optimize between bandwidth and scale, he explained.

Daga showed how IT administrators can provision apps for end users during a demo. It's done using RemoteApp, which is a technology available through Remote Desktop Services.

"We recommend RemoteApp as your resource to get apps on slates," Daga said. He added that RemoteApp is particularly useful for getting line-of-business apps on mobile devices.

Microsoft also offers a Metro-style Remote Desktop app that's available from the Windows Store. Daga explained that to get apps on slates or tablets in the past, users would have to subscribe to a remote app. Now, the user can go to the Windows Store and get the Remote Desktop app. It allows them to get applications published by an organization through "RemoteApp and Desktop Connections" within the Remote Desktop app. Using the Remote Desktop apps just requires that a user remember an e-mail ID and password.

Williams said that Microsoft is currently working with its partners to create a RemoteFX rich ecosystem, citing HP, Dell, IBM, NEC and Fujitsu, among others. Their server products can support RemoteFX with and without a physical GPU. Microsoft has a "RemoteFX enabled" logo program with its partners on thin clients, he said, adding that Eagle, Dell and Wyse "have gone through our tests and met that bar for RemoteFX." HP showed its thin client at TechEd, he noted.

As for RDS support for iPads and other non-Microsoft tablet devices, Williams said that "we have partners that are building apps for Apple and Google" and that Dell-Wyse is a close partner with PocketCloud. Dell announced its plans to buy Wyse Technology back in April.

Microsoft's VDI technologies will come with a cost. For instance, to use RemoteFX technology with Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows Server 2012, organizations need to either have Software Assurance or Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) licensing in place.

The VDA license costs $100 per year per subscription, according to Adam Carter, a Microsoft product marketing manager. Organizations also need RDS Client Access Licenses. If Citrix VDI technology is used, the user pays for Citrix licensing along with a Windows Server CAL, he explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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