Deploy a Virtualized Session-Based Remote Desktop Services Solution

Microsoft has released guidance on how to deploy a virtualised Remote Desktop Services (aka Terminal Services) Session Host (aka Terminal Server) on a machine/hardware virtualisation platform.

“This document provides guidance on deploying Remote Desktop Session Host (RD Session Host) and other Remote Desktop Services role services in a virtualized environment with minimal hardware resources. The document also provides scalability information for a virtualized Remote Desktop Services role configuration by using the Knowledge Worker scenario to help size hardware for similar workloads”.

If this subject interests you then you should check out an independent white paper by The Virtual Reality Check that compares the performance of Terminal Services on VMware vSphere 4.0, Citrix XenServer 5.5 and Microsoft’s Hyper-V 2.0 (Windows Server 2008 R2 Hyper-V).

I’ve deployed fairly small solutions on Hyper-V and they worked fine.  One of the nice things about virtualising them is that you can control your resources nicely: start out small and grow as required in a very rapid manner.

Remote Desktop Session Hosting Sizing

Microsoft has published a guide on Windows Server 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Session Hosting capacity planning. Remote Desktop Session Hosting, what the hell is that?  That’s the new name for Terminal Services.  Yes, the naming department struck again and now IT Pro terminology has a bigger carbon footprint than cows or airplanes.

“The Remote Desktop Session Host (RD Session Host) role service lets multiple concurrent users run Windows-based applications on a remote computer running Windows Server 2008 R2. This white paper is intended as a guide for capacity planning of RD Session Host in Windows Server 2008 R2. It describes the most relevant factors that influence the capacity of a given deployment, methodologies to evaluate capacity for specific deployments, and a set of experimental results for different combinations of usage scenarios and hardware configurations”.

It Seems The Big Buzz Right Now Is …

I was talking to a few consultants last week and lots of the CIO’s they are meeting are talking about one thing right now: Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI.  They’ve been hearing this term from many sources.  VMware has made a bit of a push on it, Citrix have made a huge push on it seeing their Presentation Server (or whatever the hell it’s called this week) getting squeezed out by MS, and MS has released Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008 R2.  It seems these CIO’s want to talk about nothing else right now.

I can understand the thinking about VDI.  It can solve branch office issue by placing the desktop beside the data and server applications in the data centre.  Unlike Terminal Services a helpdesk engineer can mage changes to a VDI machine without change control.  Instead of PC’s you can use terminals that should be cheaper and should have no OS to manage.  It all sounds like costs should be cheaper and all that “nasty” PC management should disappear.  Right?

*Ahem* Not quite.

  • Branch Offices: Yes this is true.  By placing the VM, the user’s execution environment, in the data centre you speeds up access to data and services for remote users.  Let me ask a question here.  How much does sit cost to buy a PC?  Around €400 or thereabouts will do for a decent office PC.  It even comes with an OEM license for Windows.  How much does it cost for 2GB RAM in a server?  Around €200, not to mention the cost of the server chassis, the rack space, the power and the cooling.  How about storage?  A PC comes with a SATA disk.  A €250 GB SATA drive for a server is around €250.  It seems to me that we’ve already exceeded the up fronts.  I have done detailed breakdowns on this stuff at work to compare VDI with Terminal Services.  With VDI there is no memory or storage usage optimisation.  You get this with Terminal Services.  My opinion has changed over time.  Now I say if you want to do end user computing in the data centre then Terminal Services is probably the way to go.
  • Change Control: On a very basic VDI system, yes a helpdesk engineer an fix a problem for a end user without change control.  Terminal Services does absolutely require change control because a change to software on the server affects everyone.  However, if you are using pooled VDI or trash’n’burn VDI (VM invoked when a user logs in and destroyed when the log out) then there’s a good chance the problem returns when the user logs in again, thus requiring second or third level engineering.
  • Terminal Cheaper than PC’s: Hah!  I went out of my way at a recent Citrix VDI event here in Dublin to talk to one of the sponsors about terminals and their costs.  Their terminals were about the same cost as a PC or laptop depending on the form factor.
  • Terminals have less management than PC’s: Uh, wrong again.  There is still an operating system to manage on these machines and it’s one that has less elegant management solutions.  It still needs to be populated and controlled.  I’ve also been unable to get an answer from anyone on whether EasyPrint support is added into any of the terminals out there.  Without EasyPrint you either have awful cross-WAN printing experience or pay up for expensive 3rd party printing solutions.
  • Terminals cheaper part 2: The user still needs a copy of Vista or Windows 7 for their virtual machine where does that come from? You need to know that you cannot go out and use just any old Windows license in a VDI environment.  It has to be a special one called Virtual Enterprise Centralised Desktop (VECD).  This can only be purchased if you have software assurance on your desktop … uh … but we’re running terminals without a Windows Vista/7 license.  Yeah, ask your LAR about that one!  And we know SA adds around 33% to your costs every 2 to 3 years.  That PC with an OEM install of Windows 7 Professional or Ultimate is sounding pretty sweet right about now.
  • VDI is easier to manage: How do you manage a PC?  You have to put AV on it, you have to patch it, you have to deploy software to it, you have to report on license usage, you have to use group policy, etc.  That’s everything you also have to do with VDI using the exact same techniques and systems.  I see nothing so far about hardware management.  Let’s look at that.  You have to have 2 power sockets, a network socket and cabling, and every now and then one breaks and has to be replaced/repaired.  That sounds like everything you have to do with a terminal.  OK; the operating system on the machine?  I grant you that one.  A terminal has a built in OS.  A PC has to be installed but you can easily use MDT (network or media) to build PC’s with almost no effort and it’s free.  You also have ConfigMgr and WDS as alternative approaches.  WDS even allows people to build their own PC’s from an access controlled image.

For me, VDI is just too expensive to be an option right now.  Why do you think Microsoft hasn’t been singing from the heavens about Remote Desktop Services.  Sure, it’s a messy looking architecture but they know that the PC is here to stay for a long time yet.  The PC is relatively cheap to buy an own.  TCO?  Citrix have screamed about that one since the days of WinFrame and they haven’t managed to convert the world.  Sure, Citrix/Terminal Services is in most organisations but it’s more of an application deployment solution for remote users than a PC replacement solution.

And let’s not forget that the PC paradigm is changing.  It’s expected that the ownership of the business PC will change from the business to the end user.  In fact it’s already happening.  The business can still retain some sort of control and protect itself using things like NAP and port access control.

Feel free to post a comment on what you think about what’s going to happen.

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What Is New in Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008 R2

If you haven’t been following the developments in Windows Server 2008 R2 then this will be a surprisingly long read for you.  RDS encapsulates the further developed Terminal Services and Microsoft’s initial offering in the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) space.  VDI will leverage a new Broker service, Hyper-V and Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP).

“This document describes changes in Remote Desktop Services (formerly Terminal Services) functionality that are available in this release of Windows Server 2008 R2, including changes to the names of role services and management tools. Remote Desktop Services provides technologies that enable users to access session-based desktops, virtual machine-based desktops, or applications in the data centre from both within a corporate network and from the Internet”.

Remote Desktop IP Virtualization

This is a feature I’d heard of once or twice in passing but never really looked into.  The idea is that you can assign unique IP address to either a user session or to an application on a Terminal Server.  Why?  Mainly it’s to do with compatibility with applications or compliance with regulations where sessions are identified by an IP address.  Normally everyone on a Terminal Server is using the single IP of that server.  That might cause a problem with some situations.  Microsoft details some of those here

They continue to talk briefly about how to configure it in that post.  A follow up post talks about how to configure Remote Desktop IP Virtualisation using Group Policy.

Finally, there is a document you can download from Microsoft that covers the subject.

“Remote Desktop IP Virtualization provides administrators the ability to assign a unique IP address to a program that is available by using RemoteApp and Desktop Connection. In this guide, we will configure Remote Desktop IP Virtualization and access it as a standard user by using RemoteApp and Desktop Connection”.

TS Web on XP Error: ActiveX Not Installed Or Enabled

I’ve just set up TS Web (Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services web interface) on 2 XP machines.  Both were running IE7, the latest RDP client and XP Service Pack 3.  When I fired up the URL I got the following: “ActiveX not installed or enabled”.  The ActiveX plug-in for RDP wouldn’t work.

I did a quick Bing – OK I Googled.  Binging still sounds wrong – and found a fix.  I needed to delete a couple of registry keys from HKCU:

  • HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExtSettings{7390f3d8-0439-4c05-91e3-cf5cb290c3d0}
  • HKCUSoftwareMicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionExtSettings{4eb89ff4-7f78-4a0f-8b8d-2bf02e94e4b2}

I refreshed the page and all was well.  I was now asked (using the yellow bar) if I wanted to enable the ActiveX plug-in, which I did.

Windows Server 2008 User Group Event: Alex Yushchenko on Windows Server 2008 Terminal Services

I’m delighted to announce that Alex Yushchenko will be giving another Windows 2008 Terminal Services Class in association with Windows Server 2008 Users Group Ireland.  Like the previous one in May this one will be completely free.  However, Alex can cover a lot more and get into much more detail this time around because he’s doing the event for an entire day! 


Alex will be including the following subjects during the day:

  • Windows 2008 Terminal Services what’s new
  • RDP Client
  • TS Gateway
  • TS Session Broker
  • TS Easy Print
  • TS Remote App’s
  • TS WebAccess
  • TS & Windows System Resource Manager
  • Terminal Services Licensing
  • Troubleshooting Terminal Services
  • Terminal Services with 64 Bit – benefits & design
  • Profile and User management
  • TS & Softgrid 4.5 Virtualization
  • Get the best out of it with Free Tools
  • And More!


This is a "Level 200" event so some knowledge of Terminal Services on Windows 2000/2003 is required.

Where and When

The event will take place in Guinness Storehouse on October 3, 2008 from 9.30 to 16.30 with lunch.  We’re restricting this to 50 people so book your place as early as possible.  There will also be free admission to the Guinness Store House as well a free pint of Guinness in the upstairs Gravity bar 🙂

Attending The Event

The class is free to attend for members of the Windows Server 2008 Users Group.  Membership and joining the group are free.  Once you are joined, we will send an invite out to you – assuming there are places still free. 

This event is a "must attend" if you run or are planning to run Terminal Services on Windows Server 2008.  Alex is a world recognised expert on the subject.  I’d also recommend that you check out the next PubForum event (Nice, 7-9 Novemeber 2008) that Alex is organising.


Better known as "Dr. Conti" to his peers, Alex is one of the top posters to the official Citrix support forum.  He’s also the organiser and host of the server-based computing technology experts conference called "PubForum" held annually in different locations throughout Europe – London, Dublin, Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Lisbon, Nice.  Alex has over 9 years of Citrix and Microsoft Terminal Services experience and is a true Microsoft Technologies evangelist.  Alex holds a Citrix Technology Professional designation and was awarded the Microsoft Terminal Services MVP designation in 2006 and 2007.


We’d ask that you please let us know if you cannot attend so that we can free up spaces for others.


A big thank you must go out to Alex for arranging this event!

Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac 2

Here’s one for the folks who have "handbag computers" 😉

Anyone who attended the Windows Server 2008 User Group Ireland event on Terminal Services by Alex Yushchenko will have heard about Remote Desktop on the Mac and where it was going.  MS has released Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac 2.  There lots more details on the new release on the Microsoft Mac site.  The requirements are as follows:

  • Supported Operating Systems: Apple Mac OS X
  • Operating System Versions: Mac OS X version 10.4.9 (Tiger) or a later version of Mac OS