Hardware

Nailing down the moving target that is VDI; Microsoft makes a major play

The VDI market is certainly undergoing a lot of revolution. Between major licensing changes, new graohics protocols and new partnerships, Microsoft has made waves in this space.

For quite a while, I've been considering various desktop replacement options for Westminster College. Admittedly, this is a project on which I've moved forward in a pretty slow way, but that's been intentional. The VDI marketplace seems to be changing faster than a chameleon running across a rainbow (yep... made that one up myself). There also continue to be questions surrounding the ability for server-based desktop solutions to adequately handle burgeoning video needs in the form of both high-definition video and Flash-based video. And now, Microsoft, in partnership with Citrix, has thrown down the gauntlet in an effort to expand their share of the server-based desktop market and to make it easier for customers to deploy VDI-based services for lower costs.

The licensing change

VECD (Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop) is dead, and it's about darn time! VECD was nothing more than a money play and held back organizations from being able to move forward with virtualized desktops. It's not all perfect, of course. The need to pay what many considered a virtualization tax is going away only for those that have active Software Assurance agreements with Microsoft. For those organizations that do have Software Assurance, you're now able to freely access centralized, virtualized Windows desktop instances without paying an additional fee. For organizations like Westminster College that have campus agreements that include Software Assurance, this removes a huge barrier to entry. Very importantly, as a part of this change, Microsoft is also cutting the cord and allowing users to access their centralized desktop image from endpoints other than their corporate device, such as their office desktop or terminal.

For organizations without Software Assurance or for devices that are not covered by SA, such as thin clients and Macs, Microsoft has replaced the name VECD to Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) and lowered the licensing cost from $110 to $100. Not much of a drop, but anything is good. The better deal is the fact that users aren't limited to a single endpoint anymore.

Prior to this change, as we explored VDI at Westminster College, the horribly restrictive VECD program appeared to be an active attempt by Microsoft to discourage implementation of VDI-based desktop solutions. What made the least sense to me was the fact that we couldn't even repurpose an older PC already running Windows as a VDI endpoint without paying the VECD tax!

The steps Microsoft has taken with regard to licensing are definitely heading in the right direction. While the new VDA license still adds additional cost to a VDI rollout, Microsoft does deserve to be paid for that client access license in some way, shape, or form, and the loosening of restrictions on remote access devices are certainly a welcome change.

Virtualized desktop technology enhancements

At the same time that Microsoft announced the aforementioned licensing changes, they also announced a major enhancement coming to Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and a partnership intended to aim right at the heart of VMware's entrenched VDI customer base.

RemoteFX

As I have written about previously, graphics display is a challenge over your typical RDP connection. Quite frankly, RDP was not designed in any way to provide great graphics support. Microsoft's newly announced RemoteFX is intended to address the serious shortcoming by providing enhancements to RDP that Microsoft acquired when they assimilated Calista Technologies. According to Microsoft, with RemoteFX, "users will be able to work remotely in a Windows Aero desktop environment, watch full-motion video, enjoy Silverlight animations, and run 3D applications — all with the fidelity of a local-like performance when connecting over the LAN." If RemoteFX can deliver on that promise, it will be an incredible achievement. Many others have tried before — Wyse with TCX, Quest, Teradici — and have succeeded to varying degrees. There are downsides to excellent graphics support, though. In most cases, graphics support is improved via software that requires additional processing power. As a result, organizations that need to provide desktop-like video are likely to see server-based desktop density levels that are quite a bit lower than those with simpler needs.

Since this will be a Windows Server 2008 R2-based technology, it will be interesting to see how RemoteFX carries over to centralized client operating systems, if at all. For server-based computing solutions that depend on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1's terminal services/remote desktop functionality, RemoteFX will be a boon, but for those using other virtualization platforms, such as VMware View, RemoteFX's reliance on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will make RemoteFX of no value.

The great licensing swap

It looks like Microsoft and Citrix are taking direct aim at VMware with their new VDI partnership. Dubbed as a way to "rescue" customers from VMware's View-based VDI platform, the new program provides a joint Microsoft/Citrix VDI product stack on a one-for-one basis. That is, under the new program, customers can receive Microsoft/Citrix (Xen) product for each owned VMware View license. There is a 500-license limit under the plan. If you've purchased 2,000 VMware View licenses and you're unhappy with the product, you're out of luck for 1,500 of those licenses.

Frankly, I was surprised to hear that VMware View customers needed rescuing. I haven't read enough VMware View horror stories lately, I guess. A quick search of Google didn't provide any great horror fodder either. Sure, there were message forum requests from people asking for help correcting your typical, everyday View problems, but I didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

It did get me to thinking, though... have any of the astute TechRepublic readers either experienced enough VMware View-based horrors to need rescuing or know of someone who did?

Summary

Licensing changes and a product suite aimed at the heart of its fiercest desktop virtualization competitor were both announced on the same day. No coincidence there. Kidding aside, the licensing changes that Microsoft announced are a Big Deal (intentional capitalized) for those organizations that want to jump with both feet into the desktop virtualization waters. Likewise, I look forward to seeing what RemoteFX brings to the table in the real world.

About Scott Lowe

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

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