RDS and VDI News from Microsoft Ignite 2015

I’m at BriForum in London this week, meeting with many of my community fellows. One of the topics we keep discussing is the lessons learned at Microsoft Ignite two weeks ago. What a show that was! 23,000 people attended Ignite and most of them wanted to hear about the upcoming products and see how this Microsoft 2.0 looks like. Combining multiple events, such as TechEd and MMS, seemed to be a good idea for many IT professionals, despite the fact that Microsoft decided to miss out Europe – Ignite is a US-only event. Microsoft must have been surprised by the number of registrations as logistics were far from being perfect. Sometimes transportation, catering and room capacity for popular sessions clearly showed some room for improvement for next year. But I cannot complain, together with co-speaker Ruben Spruijt I was invited as a featured speaker and the Ignite organizers gave us a great room for our session about virtual desktops. According to Microsoft, remoting into Windows workloads is an important aspect of their mobility strategy now. This means that RDS and VDI were presented from different angles and were even covered in sessions where you wouldn’t expect it.

In the opening keynote, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella positioned the upcoming Windows 10 in the mobility space, introducing new ways of natural interaction. The same was true for some Windows Server 2016 announcements, also highlighting enterprise mobility. Applications adapting to multiple form factors and allowing users to switch from one device to another was a central theme. Very obviously, Remote Desktop Services play an integral role in this story. Group Vice President Joe Belfiori presented selected Windows 10 user interface highlights, like multiple desktops, Cortana and Continuum which will also improve the remote user experience. Corporate Vice President Brad Anderson even demonstrated Azure RemoteApp. He also introduced Azure Remote Access Services to track access to resources.

Two more topics Brad highlighted during the keynote were containers (= Docker for Windows) and Nano Server, a Windows server variant with minimal footprint. It is important to state that it will be possible to remote into containers, something that I didn’t expect. A particularly interesting point was the announcement of Azure Stack which brings the concepts of an Azure-based software-defined infrastructure to on-premises data centers. Unfortunately, this will not cover the back and forth migration of RDSH/RDVH environments between Azure and on-prem data centers at this early stage, but I truly believe that this is only a matter of time.

But the keynote was not all. There was an entire session about the fundamentals of Azure RemoteApp management and administration where Thomas Willingham and Eric Orman walked their audience through all important steps to deliver Windows applications from the cloud. This Azure offering starts resonating within ISV, allowing them to offer their legacy Windows applications in a modern cloud model. An adequate billing module is still missing, but I do not expect it to take too long until the Azure team closes this gap.

A special highlight was Derrick Isoka’s session about RDS improvements in the upcoming Windows Server 2016. Here is the summary, clearly indicating that Microsoft brings remoting to the next level.

  • RDP 10 with full support of the OpenGL (up to 4.4) and OpenCL (up to 1.1) APIs
  • Up to 1GB dedicated GPU VRAM, per remote session configurable and decoupled from screen resolution
  • Support of 4k resolution
  • H.264/AVC codec hardware offload support on clients
  • Full RDS support for server VM as a VDI guest (pooled and personal). This allows GPU-accelerated RDSH VMs, a feature many ISPs were waiting for
  • Full RDS support for Gen2 VMs on Hyper-V
  • Improved performance, higher render FPS and lower jitter
  • A new RDSH desktop experience pack, making remote desktops on servers look like Windows 10 desktops
  • RDGW web sockets which simplifies load balancing
  • Pen remoting for tablets, such as Surface Pro 3

In another breakout session Clark Nicholson talked about hosting RDSH workloads in the cloud. During his session he ran a video where Ron Oglesby from Unidesk shows the integration of their layering product with remote desktops. It became clear that Microsoft is trying to move into the right direction to make conventional Windows applications first class citizens in Azure.

In several other sessions speakers referred to desktop and application remoting features. This included security aspects, biometric authentication with Windows Hello or remoting into Windows containers. So finally RDS is not a separate product anymore, it’s a commonly accepted core feature of the Windows operating system. The reason for this move is Microsoft’s focus on cloud and mobility. In such a new Microsoft 2.0 world, remoting is the only way to move legacy Windows application to Azure and deliver them to any mobile endpoint.

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