Remote Desktop Services – more than just a terminal

In last week’s post looking some of the new features to expect in Windows Server 2008 R2 I didn’t mention terminal services at all. There’s a reason for that – Terminal Services is being replaced by what Microsoft is calling Remote Desktop Services (RDS) and all the Terminal Services applications will change names accordingly.

Why the change of name? Well, RDS is no longer limited to presentation virtualisation as it includes a new session broker capability to extend its role to support a virtual desktop infrastructure – further strengthening the ties between Microsoft’s virtualisation platform and the Windows Server operating system. By combining RDS with Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V or Microsoft Hyper-V Server, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, App-V within MDOP, and VECD licensing, Microsoft now provides an end-to-end VDI solution.

With Remote Desktop Services, centralised desktop environments can be created and managed, allowing remote connections from managed and unmanaged clients whilst keeping critical intellectual property secure and to radically simplifying regulatory compliance by removing applications and data from the desktop. Furthermore, unlike existing presentation virtualisation methods, RDS includes multiple application delivery methods.

Windows Server 2008 R2 provides the platform – with RemoteApp, Remote Desktop Web Access, Remote Desktop Gateway and the new Remote Desktop Connection Broker, which extends the session broker capabilities in Windows Server 2008 to create a unified administrative experience for session-based remote desktops and for virtual machine-based desktops, supporting bother persistent (permanent) and pooled virtual machines. As with VMware’s VDI offering, persistent VMs have a 1:1 mapping between users and the VM with any changes preserved, whereas the pooled VMs use a single, replicated, image with user state stores via profiles and folder redirection rather than in the VM. In either case, the images are stored on a Hyper-V host.

Meanwhile, the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is also enhanced to offer more of the functionality that is typically associated with a local desktop, including: multimedia redirection; multiple monitor support; audio input and recording; Aero glass support; DirectX redirection; improved audio/video synchronisation; and language redirection.

RDS also includes improved application publishing and streaming through a Remote Desktop and Application feed with full Windows 7 support whereby RemoteApp programs and desktops appear on the Start Menu with a system tray icon indicating connectivity status, but also with connectivity options for Windows XP and Vista.

There are also improvements around management, with a new Windows PowerShell provider for RDS, as well as features to: help improve application compatibility (MSI compatibility); profile improvements; group policy caching; IP address virtualisation; and to ensure system stability by protecting against runaway applications (kernel scheduling).

As has always been the case with Terminal Services, Windows Server’s Remote Desktop Services capability is targeted at low-complexity deployments and as a platform for partner solutions, which can extend scalability and manageability to address the needs of more demanding enterprise deployments, for example with policy, load-balancing, orchestration and placement extensions for the connection broker. Regardless of this, RDS represents a signifcant step forward – and the inclusion of a connection broker for virtual desktops is a long overdue addition to Microsoft’s virtualisation portfolio.

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