If you’ve had chance to watch the Quest vWorkspace 7.0 videos that myself and Matt Evans recorded a couple of months back, showcasing the installation and configuration of Quest vWorkspace with a Microsoft infrastructure, you’ll know that it’s a pretty compelling combination of technologies, that’s easy to configure, with powerful results. For those who haven’t seen them, Part 1 focused on enhancing the RDS Session Host environment, whilst Part 2, focused more specifically on Virtual Desktops. It was within the virtual desktop video, that you may have heard Matt mention improvements in future releases of vWorkspace that may help streamline the backend image provisioning on Hyper-V R2, by better utilising things like differencing disks. If you’re not familiar with differencing disks, more on this later…
To cut a long story short, Quest vWorkspace 7.1 not only delivers a superb addition around image provisioning, integration with Remote Desktop Services (RDS) but also enhances the end user experience capabilities. Let’s look at the user experience bits and the RDS integration first, before focusing on, for me, the killer feature of the release.
From the vWorkspace website, “With the patent-pending EOP Xtream, vWorkspace delivers faster screen updates and smoother interaction across WAN and Internet/VPN connections by dramatically reducing the effects of network latency. These improvements drive user acceptance and will accelerate adoption of desktop virtualization in enterprises and Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) from the cloud.”
What does this mean?
Well, anyone who’s used RDP, even with it’s most recent iteration, will know that whilst its effective and rich over a LAN, when used over the WAN performance can start to suffer as latency is increased and thus, gives the user a less than optimal experience. With the introduction of EOP Xtream, Quest has enhanced the user experience considerably, for WAN based environments. If you watch the video here, you’ll see that compared with RDP, with 100ms latency, the experience is significantly improved. Now, for this particular demo, I wouldn’t class the user experience as ‘local’, as there’s still some element of jerkiness here and there, but it’s clear to see there is a considerable improvement. Skip to 2 minutes 30 seconds, and you’ll see Windows 7 come into play, this time, with 200ms latency. Again, there is a clear difference between RDP, and EOP Xtream, so all good from that perspective. Skip to around 3 minutes 50 seconds, and you’ll see a 2008 Terminal Server, with 300ms latency, and again, you’ll see the experience is altogether smoother, and snappier, with EOP Xtream enabled.
That’s the user experience covered, but what about the integration with RDS? Well, again from the vWorkspace website, “vWorkspace eases setup and accelerates use of the services provided in the Windows Server 2008 R2 operating system, including the Remote Desktop Connection Broker (RDCB). vWorkspace uses the integration with RDCB to publish applications and desktops from different host platforms, including Hyper-V and Remote Desktop Session Host, through RemoteApp and Remote Desktop Web Access services.”
If you’ve used RDS, to it’s full capacity, you’ll know there are a couple of places you need to go to configure the different bits. If you want to manage applications, you head on over to the RD Session Host, into RemoteApp Manager, and off you go. If you want to manage the Connection Broker, you have to go over to the RDCB, and off you go. vWorkspace 7.1 introduces Advanced Integration with RDS, giving you a unified management console for RDS. If you check out this video, you’ll see exactly what I mean. In the video, the administrator chooses to provide a number of applications out to users, yet the speed of which the apps are verified, added, firstly to AppPortal, then behind the scenes, added to RDWeb, and RemoteApp and Desktop Connections is very quick indeed, and yet all this was configured from one place.
That’s 2 key areas down, however I mentioned above, the killer feature for me, was the image provisioning, utilising differencing disks. For those of you not familiar, from here, “A differencing virtual hard disk stores the differences from the virtual hard disk on the management operating system. This allows you to isolate changes to a virtual machine and keep a virtual hard disk in an unchanged state. The differencing disk on the management operating system can be shared with virtual machines and, as a best practice, must remain read-only. If it is not read-only, the virtual machine’s virtual hard disk will be invalidated”
If you think about this in the vDesktop world, I could create a sparkly new VM, make it as perfect as I want it to be, then I could (more than likely), Sysprep it, shut it down, and use this as my read-only master disk, from which I would hang the ‘differences’ from. This, conceptually, sounds all fine and dandy. We spin up 100 vDesktops, create differencing VHD’s off the parent, boot them, and away we go. This would continue, fine for a while, until you need to update the OS. Bearing in mind here, the reason for using the differencing disks is to be more dynamic, and to save storage, if I push out 100 x Update-X, it’s getting stored in each of the vDesktop’s differencing disks. The easiest thing to do, again conceptually, would be to update the master disk, and thus all the differencing OS’s would have the patch, without it taking 100 x the storage required. The reason I use the word conceptually is, because in reality, if I change or modify the master, the differencing disks would be invalidated. Thus, I’d need to recreate 100 new differencing disks, and attach them to the already existing vDesktops, and then sort out AD, DNS records, Computer objects in AD, the OOBE process when you start Windows after sysprepping, and more! Sure, I could do some of this with PowerShell, or alternatively, vWorkspace 7.1 does it for me.
If you check out this video, you’ll see, from about 1 minute in, you’ll see the new rapid provisioning process, using a golden image, yet at the same time, incorporating sysprep customisation information into the image. Nice! Once completed, you’ll see how bulk updates, like those discussed briefly above, can be managed through vWorkspace. This is very cool stuff, and on the surface, rivals Provisioning Server as a dynamic platform for deploying vDesktop images. Both will have their pro’s and con’s I’m sure, but to my knowledge, Quest are the first to develop a solution like this that integrates with differencing disks, and manages them in a rich, simple and streamlined way. Definitely worth a look if you’re evaluating VDI options!
Brian Madden, or more specifically, Gabe Knuth, has also picked up on the release, showing a short video, live from MMS 2010, in which he discusses the new capabilities with Quest’s Rob Mallicoat. Again, useful viewing, particularly if you want a bit more depth about EOP Xtream.
How powerful with the RDP enhancements be when RemoteFX gets launched?
Good question Charles, and with the most recent announcement around RemoteFX, namely, USB improvements (http://blogs.technet.com/virtualization/archive/2010/04/25/Microsoft-RemoteFX_3A00_-Closing-the-User-Experience-Gap.aspx) you may think there's going to be no value in Partner-add solutions, but, RemoteFX is specific to the graphical side, so the benefits that something like vWorkspace offers around RDS integration, and also the very cool image provisioning will still be out and out value-adds. Also, think about what EOP Xtream is setting out to do - improve user experience over WAN type connections, which suffer from higher latencies. I don't believe RemoteFX is being designed with this in mind, and hence why our Partners, like Quest have announced (http://www.quest.com/newsroom/news-releases-show.aspx?contentid=11210) support for RemoteFX, so I'm guessing they'll take it, and run with it, extending it in all sorts of cool ways. I'm yet to get my hands on RemoteFX, but I'm sure when I do, it'll be very cool indeed!
Hope that helps!
Excellent article. I just want to add that we are very excited about RemoteFX (http://blogs.inside.quest.com/provision/2010/03/18/why-quest-is-so-excited-about-todays-desktop-virtualization-announcements-from-microsoft/) and that we have every intention to embrace and extend it. The details will probably emerge later (as per the PR). I would just like to add that Quest EOP will continue to add value to RDP in the RemoteFX timeframe even with todays feature set. Our EOP Universal USB or Quest Flash Redirection are some examples. Of course as you stated we'll still offer the enhancement to the Microsoft RDS stack.
Michel - thanks for the comment! I'm guessing you're the same Michel recording the demo videos? It's great to see some of the stuff that Quest are bringing to market to integrate with Hyper-V, SCVMM & RDS. I'm a big advocate for both Citrix and Quest technologies, and it's great to see, that even at this early stage post-RemoteFX-announcement, Partners like Quest announcing support and enhancements going forward.
I'm looking forward to future announcements around SP1 timeframe!