How To Guy

Microsoft Offers Under-the-Covers VDI

How Microsoft can give its VDI solution, Remote Desktop Connection Broker, much-needed credibility.

In the December 2009 Network World VDI Shootout, the editors didn't even regard Microsoft as a VDI option, declaring, "Microsoft doesn't offer a specific purpose-built VDI tool." They also said that Microsoft recommends Citrix XenDesktop for desktop virtualization.

While it's true that Microsoft recommends XenDesktop, it's not true that the company doesn't have a VDI connection broker built for desktop virtualization. In fact, it offers a VDI broker called Remote Desktop Connection Broker (RD Connection Broker), which is part of Windows Server 2008 R2. This capability was quietly released, and in my opinion is being poorly marketed on its virtualization page.

With RD Connection Broker, you can create pools of virtual desktops or do one-to-one mappings of Active Directory users with their own personal virtual desktops. All of these desktops run in Hyper-V, making Windows 2008 R2 both a server and a desktop virtualization solution.

Testing RD Connection Broker
Being a technical guy, I couldn't just take Microsoft's word that it has a working VDI solution, so I had to put it through its paces. In order to do that, I used my existing Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V and added on a variety of remote desktop components, including RD Connection Broker. Moving forward, I created a new Hyper-V Windows 7 virtual machine (VM), joined it to the domain, named it with its FQDN in Hyper-V and made remote desktop, firewall and registry changes. Then, using the Assign Personal Virtual Desktop Wizard in RD Connection Broker, I assigned a personal virtual desktop to an AD user.

From there, I connected my client PC to the personal virtual desktop via RD Web Access and logged in as my test user. I was then assigned the personal virtual desktop I had created for the AD user, and at that point, I was using VDI with one-to-one mapping. Success.

However, keep in mind that RD Connection Broker isn't limited to just a personal virtual desktop. It can also provide pools of virtual desktops, similar to the basic virtual desktop experience provided by VMware View or Citrix XenDesktop.

Marketing Miscues
I said that I believe that the Microsoft VDI solution is poorly marketed. I say this for a variety of reasons:

The name: Most IT pros have never heard of it, and it's hard to remember "Remote Desktop Connection Broker, which is part of Windows Server 2008 R2."

Mixed message: The Microsoft Web site has its desktop virtualization solution buried inside the Microsoft virtualization page with only a couple of paragraphs of explanation. Plus, there are still numerous documents on the Web site recommending that customers use XenDesktop.

Too many pieces: To get VDI working, I installed Remote Desktop Services, RD Virtualization Host, RD Session Host server for redirection, RD Web Access and RD Connection Broker (not to mention the Windows Server 2008 R2 OS and Hyper-V).

Lack of features: The fact that RD Connection Broker is relatively new is quite apparent if you compare it to other competing VDI solutions like Citrix XenDesktop and VMware View.

So, yes, Microsoft does have a VDI connection broker in Windows Server 2008 R2 that you can compare against the other popular alternatives. However, in order for Microsoft to become even the No. 2 player in desktop virtualization, the company needs to simplify install and admin, send a unified message that is easy to understand and choose a much more marketable name.

About the Author

David Davis is a well-known virtualization and cloud computing expert, author, speaker, and analyst. David’s library of popular video training courses can be found at Pluralsight.com. To contact David about his speaking schedule and his latest project, go to VirtualizationSoftware.com.

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