There is a pervasive question for Presentation Virtualisation using Remote Desktop Session Host services (RDSH) and that is  :-

if I’m already paying for RDS CALs and running the base OS, why do I need other stuff?

Where stuff is, typically, Citrix XenApp. With the release of Windows 2012 and the updates to RDSH do you still need Citrix XenApp?

I was introduced to many new sports over the summer and one sport that stuck in the mind, not only for it sheer fury and skill, was wheelchair rugby (or Quad rugby). Or as the Canadian inventors, named it – Murderball.

A key elements of the sport – it is a fast and very competitive exchange.

Your ball you say? I think not.

Picture from independent.co.uk

Sneaking into August, like an American multi-gold medallist back from a celebratory night out on the champagne, Microsoft’s Windows 2012 boasts a wide array of new features. Hyper-V’s improvement are worthy of a post in themselves: live migration, teaming of 32 NICs, thin provisioning, dynamic memory. For now, we’ll focus on the updates to Remote Desktop Service’s Session Host updates.

With new and improved functions in Remote Desktop Services in Windows 2012, how competitive is the exchange? Is it worth murdering a ball for?


Failures of Microsoft RDSH?

If you have Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Session Host services – why do you need something else? What has been so wrong with the core Microsoft Presentation Virtualisation (PV) offering in the past?

Up until 2008 the answer was “a fair bit”. While Microsoft had wrestled ownership of a multi-user OS back in Windows Terminal Server Edition third parties (like Citrix) offered a host of  tools such as load balancing, application publishing, multi-server management and web services that made delivering PV services beyond 1-2 servers a viable option.

Even up to Windows 2008R2, Microsoft identified a number of users concerns:

  • While RemoteFX was popular its underlying protocol (RDP) didn’t provide a great experience over the WAN
  • Session and virtual machine infrastructures were complicated and costly
  • The administration experience was painful.

So, what are the new features of Microsoft Windows 2012 RDSH? Specific client side improvements include:

  • Adaptive Graphics.   Rather than their previous “one size fits all” approach Microsoft  have been more flexible determining and using the right codec for the right content   Codecs have been optimized for multimedia, images, and text as well as improvements for caching and the addition of  progressive rendering.  Progressive rendering allows RemoteFX to provide a responsive experience over a highly constrained network, something that third parties such as Citrix (ICA/HDX), Ericom (Blaze) and Quest (EoP) have long sought to resolve.
  • Intelligent Transports.  Microsoft’s RDP now supports UDP as well as TCP.  UDP provides a better experience over a lossy WAN network but, is not always possible dependent on the routers, and firewalls involved.  RDP will automatically use TCP when UDP cannot be used to ensure connectivity and the best possible experience. This should be interesting, given Teradici’s desire to enter this market
  • Email and web discovery of Remote Applications and desktops.  Users now can find the correct remote workspace to connect to by just providing their email address rather than a long website URL. In addition, Remote Desktop Web Access now supports other browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. While the alternative web browser support is overdue, connection by email address is unique… although perhaps a Twitter request might have been more useful as email is increasingly seen as “old fashioned” .. but still – onwards and upwards.
  • USB Redirection.  In Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Microsoft supported USB isochronous remoting only for vGPU enabled virtual machines: which was useless to many.  In Windows 2012, Microsoft have added support when using both physical hosts and sessions bringing the default RDSH options in-line with many third party tools and perhaps lowering the bar for Teradici.
  • Single Sign-On.  In Windows Server 2012 this has been simplified by eliminating the need to use multiple certificates. In Windows 2012 Microsoft caught up with the competition: it is possible to allow your local authentication to be passed though the web interface. Far less messy – and user experience is key when delivering a virtual application/desktop service.

Still, client side improvements are nice but in order to win a medal you need to fundamentally improve your game.  Cost and complexity is a major roadblock for both Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and hosted desktop deployments. Microsoft looked to address this in Windows Server 2012 by making such changes as:

  • Fairshare of resources in RD Session Host.  In Windows Server 2012, RD Session Host server allocates CPU, Disk I/O, and Network I/O such that a single user cannot consume resources that would negatively impact other users on the same host.  Each user will get a “fair share”.  This is done with minimum overhead so the CPU, disk, and network resources are used to maximum capacity. This
  • Scenario-Focused Deployment. The new Server Manager provides “a scenario-focused wizard that dramatically simplifies the task of bringing up a complete RDS deployment” – and quite frankly it is lovely. The wizard sets up all the roles needed for an RDS deployment, configures each server role correctly to communicate with the other roles, and walks you through creating your first virtual desktop or session collection as well. The wizard comes in two flavours:
    • Quick Start is optimized for deploying Remote Desktop Services on one server, and creates a collection and publishes RemoteApp programs. I was impressed with the simplicity of it all to get you to a point where you had 3 published applications.
    • Standard Deployment allows you to deploy Remote Desktop Services across multiple servers, allowing for a more customized deployment.
  • RDS Management Interface integrated into Server Manager.  RDS now includes a single management interface through which you can deploy RDS end to end, monitor the deployment, configure options, and manage all your RDS components and servers. This management interface is built into the new Server Manager, which quite frankly is odd and cumbersome for about 3-5 days. Then everything else is rubbish – and then you find…
  • PowerShell support.  All platform functions and capabilities can be controlled through a comprehensive and rich PowerShell layer.  IT administrators can use this layer to build sophisticated automation that helps fit RDS into their IT infrastructure and work-flows. Finally, we’re back to administrating services from a command prompt and being steered towards a regime of reproducible scripts.  If you want to improve management – don’t surrender the process to mouse clicks.

In all it is a slick experience to deploy RDSH in Windows 2012 (all be it I’ve only yet done it in dev environments). This may well be an evolution from 2008R2, but given there may well be a lot of customers moving from 2003 or 2008 given XenApp’s end of life dates   Windows 2012 will likely be a revelation.

What Does Citrix XenApp do Better?

As any Olympian on a strict diet will tell you – oranges aren’t the only fruit. Microsoft have made great enhancements to their core RDP offering but the client support remains firmly in the Windows Arena. And the sporting park that encompasses enterprise deployments is far richer and wider. iOS, Andriod, Blackberry, Linux, HTML5 – clients in this space need third party tools.

Automated deployment and multi-server configuration is very neat. Citrix’s XenApp Platinum edition allows Provisioning services, and both Enterprise and Platinum there are options for power and capacity management, automated health monitoring and load testing. The latest XenApp editions also have options to improve the user experience such as Session Prelaunch, Session Linger, and Fast Reconnect to allow applications to accessed with a more “locally installed” feel. There is a mobility pack to allow remote applications to interact with mobile devices better. The long awaited Universal Print Server and features for better printing in a remoted environment – which often gets over looked. And of course, all of this is supported in 2008R2 so you don’t have to move your enterprise OS yet.. if you’re on 2008R2.

There are also wider functions; Edgesite for  session monitor, Password Management allowing for Single-Sign-On, Session auditing. Ultimately, the emphasis is increasingly less on the added features within PV and more on the management of the environment, the user experience and delivery mechanism. Citrix are indeed positioning themselves to rely less on their XenApp revenue stream because there is increasingly less room to add value on the core Microsoft product.

Citrix do “extending the PV services out beyond a win32 environment” better. Citrix do “complicated enterprise environments” better. There are a range of additional services but within the higher offerings (Enterprise/Platinum). The question will be will that means a further loss of partners as the small/medium size businesses find their needs met by core Microsoft services.

A Very Competitive Exchange

Like Oscar Pistorius, Microsoft might not always finish first – but you can bet on them to be a gold medallist and the inspiration for a lot of the competition.

But still, Murderball?

I’m in agreement with the opinion that Microsoft has “embraced and extended” the functionality of tech competitors and nominal partners in the past. From Microsoft’s “coopetition” with Novell in networking, to its “cutting off” of Netscape’s air supply in the Web software market. Back in the day, Citrix licensed from Microsoft: those days are gone. Citrix are in the same starting block as every other added value competitor, all be it with a more extensive training facility,  PR department  and fan/user base.

I see Windows 2012 RDSH as a very competitive exchange.  Third parties filled a variety of gaps and shortfalls in previous Windows releases. Management, remote protocol over WAN, testing, monitoring: those gaps are forever getting smaller. Where the partner advantage remains is in wider cloud integration and remote client device support: will Microsoft look to recognise alternative clients and OSes? The impossible is nothing.

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Andrew Wood (144 Posts)

Andrew is a Director of Gilwood CS Ltd, based in the North East of England, which specialises in delivering and optimising server and application virtualisation solutions. With 12 years of experience in developing architectures that deliver server based computing implementations from small-medium size business to global enterprise solutions, his role involves examining emerging technology trends, vendor strategies, development and integration issues, and management best practices.

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22 comments for “Microsoft Windows 2012 RDSH vs Citrix XenApp – PV to get its own Murderball?

  1. Matthijs
    September 14, 2012 at 9:08 AM

    Hi! Working for Citrix ;-), but Citrix can configure receiver / Storefront via email address as well.

  2. September 14, 2012 at 6:35 PM

    Matthijs,

    Thanks for reading – and thanks for an insight into something I’d overlooked.

    I’d counter that to get the same functionality there is a lot of extra “stuff” that needs to be done wrt Storefront & configuration in order to achieve that. Citrix is slowly moving away from a set of services that can are focused in that MS windows arena. There are reasons and pros and cons for that for sure. But that value (from tools from the likes of citrix) is moving, enterprise wise, to the right of the scale

    Still hopefully we’ve all learned something together and thanks again for the heads up :)

  3. September 15, 2012 at 2:06 PM

    Hello Andrew,

    Speaking of small businesses that just want to have one or two applications available (through a session) is rdsh ready to do this? Or do users get a full desktop when connecting to a remoteapp on Windows Server 2012? Being in Latin America any cost reducement is welcome so I was wondering how RemoteApp works.

    Thank you!

  4. September 17, 2012 at 10:07 AM

    Yes, RDSH is ready to that.

  5. Wes
    October 12, 2012 at 12:41 PM

    I am debating whether or not to renew our xenapp licenses. Took all of 15 minutes to stand up a complete 2012 RDSH infrastructure with web interface and gateway (RTM) and it runs nicely on hyper-v guests. The only thing we do like about xenapp is the ability to publish desktops at a percentage of screen resolution instead of full screen.

    Any idea what Citrix’s plans are for Xenapp in the 2012 world? Would it be worth us renewing for one more year?

  6. October 15, 2012 at 5:53 AM

    Hi Andrew,

    What about the printing services and quality in RDSH. Because we are using apps in our
    environment that involve a lot of printing.

  7. October 15, 2012 at 8:48 AM

    @Wes – yes, the new wizard driven components in RDS help take a lot of the hassle out of the equation. And I think (although yet to test) that they’ve solved some issues with wildcard certs – so pushing out into the internet is less cumbersome.

    That said, MS still concentrate on delivery via RDP to windows devices. (although RDPv8 is improved over v7). Supporting non-MS devices and older (pre win7) OSes is still going to be a function of third party solutions like Citrix, Quest/Dell, Ericom et all.

    What are Citrix’s plans? Stay tuned this week – I’m at Synergy in Barcelona.

    @Muhammad Printing services in RDSH in 2012 haven’t really moved on since 2008R2 and the introduction of EasyPrint – but if you’d been used to Windows 2008 it was improved.

    Easyprint delivers an Microsoft print formet (XPS); it requires .net 3.5 installed on the end device.

    In all – EasyPrint as a print solution is a much improved native Microsoft offering. There are still advantages in using third party tools; Citrix have a universal network print server for example, companies such as tricerat add scanning functions; there will be redirected printing support for java and linux clients..

    But, EasyPrint can do a job especially in an environment where your end devices are already running a windows OS. Likely worthy of a separate article I’d say.

    And just as an update – our PV comparison whitepaper has been updated – should be released sometime this week.

  8. Brett
    November 21, 2012 at 1:30 PM

    Andrew thanks for your insights, great post. We too are in the place of the above poster. We only have a few servers and need to renew, or not, our XenApp. What are the reasons we should do so, or perhaps move to RSH instead? You must be back from Barcelona by now. Would appreciate your input. Thanks.

  9. November 21, 2012 at 5:12 PM

    Brett, I have indeed come back from Barcelona. As ever, a beautiful city if you’ve not been – visit. Apparently Synergy Europe is London in 2013 and given its in Excel I hope to see some of you in Stratford’s King Eddies which is a lovely pub.

    I did expand on what I learned while in Barcelona:

    Thoughts on Citrix’s Project Avalon and the converged XD/XA Excalibur component:
    http://www.virtualizationpractice.com/project-avalon-will-citrix-put-vmware-horizon-to-the-sword-18817/

    Thoughts on the very interesting alternative-to-VDI in Remote PC – which in itself has led to some interesting chats on twitter about remote power on of devices, but that’s another story

    http://www.virtualizationpractice.com/citrix-remote-pc-vdi-complexity-solved-or-a-kick-start-to-a-vdi-project-18821/

    And an updated PV whitepaper which was introduced in possibly the most useful title – Is Windows 2012 Remote Desktop Session Host better than Citrix XenApp?

    http://www.virtualizationpractice.com/is-windows-2012-remote-desktop-session-host-better-than-citrix-xenapp-18819/

    Hopefully theres some info in there thats useful.

    Thanks for reading

  10. andrew
    December 18, 2012 at 7:50 AM

    This is a good article and i think many businesses are now asking these questions Citrix / RDP with the new 2012, what are the real life experience over a WAN with Latency and perfomance comparisions between the 2 ?

  11. December 18, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Andrew,

    The best experiences are your own. However, setting up that test environment can be tricky to do. As I mentioned previously, the difficulty MS has is that while 2012 offers RDP performance improvements, it needs an up-to-date windows client to get the best out of it.

    If I was to recommend reviewing tests that had been done, I’d recommend watching/listening to Benny Tritsch & Shawn Bass’s presentation on protocol comparison. The most recent video I can find is here: http://www.brianmadden.com/blogs/videos/archive/2012/03/05/rdp-remotefx-ica-hdx-pcoip-eop-blaze-and-rgs-remoting-protocols-turned-inside-out-v2-0_2C00_-a-video-from-BriForum-2011.aspx which takes an in-depth look at how graphics and media remoting really works, comparing the different remoting protocols head-to-head.

    Still, what the gifted guys are looking at in their presentation is graphics and media remoting: if you’re pushing out a more text based applications you may find the user experience is very similar between RDP/ICA.

    What may make the difference is around supporting the types of devices the users want to experience connection from. Here, while Citrix have the advantage in far wider client support, you’ve the likes of Ericom and Quest to consider too.

  12. Ramzi NAOUALI
    March 10, 2013 at 8:24 AM

    Hi,

    i juste start the deployement of RDS environnment in w2012 server.

    this platform is dedicated for Hopital system.
    Il have a “small” problem that RDS session thant not regonize a scanner print ( panasonic scanner ..)
    when i ask panasonic support the drivers for W2012 Sever they told me that not exist !!

    My question : i can find a universel scanner driver like easyprint, so i can use my scanner in the Clinic reception to scanning patient documents.

    thank you in advance for help

    ramzi

  13. Hamid Reza Danehchin
    April 21, 2013 at 1:08 AM

    Dear Andrew,
    Hi,
    this comparing is very helpful for me
    Thanks a lot.
    Best regards for you

  14. April 21, 2013 at 6:30 PM

    Hamid,

    Thanks for taking the time to say thanks :)

  15. April 21, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    Ramzi, apologies – seem to have overlooked the your question. 2012 does support USB scan redirection – but a universal scanner? Maybe start with a look at Tricrat’s Scanect: possibly there are others but that is the one that springs to mind that might be useful

  16. Ramzi naouali
    May 4, 2013 at 9:01 AM

    Thanks à lot Andrew

  17. G
    July 23, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Andrew,

    Thank you for this article.

    I read this a while back and just returning through my links.

    Installed RDS 2012 for a small project, the initial setup is easy, really like the changes.

    The problem is the configuration.

    With 2003/2008/2008R2 you can customise the menu/user experience to only allow the user to see, what you want them to.

    With 2012, I cannot see that, it’s proving to be really hard.

    Having looked at many threads, it appears that they are pushing you away from the full desktop, but we want that, where users have a nice clean experience and all the data is held centrally.

    To summarise, we want “normal users” to login to RDS and be provided a full desktop, where they can launch their own apps, without having server manager tools/powershell and all of that showing up. Group policy doesn’t seem to give you the ability to successfully turn these kind of settings off.

    Thanks again for your help and writing this up.

    Regards,

    G

  18. July 28, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    G,

    You are obviously not alone in this dilemma. Microsoft deemed post 2008R2/Windows7 that a tiled, touch driven interface would be The Future. I have read naive articles that suggest to stand in the way of this decision is akin to King Canute holding back the waves and that holding back on progress is irresponsible. Still, I’ve been impressed when shown a number of customer sites who have moved away from start menus to actively use the tile interface: using the tiles to summarise and collate information and use it as a chance to reconsider what a desktop is for.

    That said, I think it is more a common software house problem of a desire to drive forward and failing to acknowledge that people who do not – for a host of training, compliance, development and compatibility issues. I know interface changes have been made in the latest release: I have yet to investigate these.

    Ultimately this issue is beyond Citrix/Microsoft, Citrix has fundamentally tied their application and desktop delivery environment (rightly or wrongly) to Microsoft.

    In the context of this article, if you want to maintain that “windows xp/7″ feel – Windows 8 is not the answer, and neither is Windows 2012… today. In which case, Citrix adds value, because 2008/2008R2 benefits from Citrix XenApp’s scalability and publishing options.

    Yet, while XenDesktop 7 has the option to utilise XenApp 6.5, XenDesktop is the primary force now; the delivery of RDS for Azure is here- for application compliance and longevity it is the desktop OS rather than the server OS that you’ll look to.

    But, modern applications will run on x64 Oses, they will need to be delivered on a variety of platforms, and the scalability and manageability of a server OS can prove beneficial.

    Ultimately, where do you want to go to today?

  19. Chris
    September 30, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    I would like to start replacing Citrix but I am finding some glaring shortcomings. You create application collections and there is PoSH to retrieve sessions but there is not way way(that I can figure out) to identify the actual application the session is running.

    I cannot get a collection of sessions per application (only per collection) and even in the GUI, I cannot tell what application a user is running. Short of creating a collection of one application for every application published, there is not a way around this.

    MS needs to publish a workaround or update some code.

    Any ideas?

  20. October 7, 2013 at 8:36 PM

    Microsoft server 2012 is great product and one shop stop for most of the enterprise service.

    I dont understand why any company should pay for Citrix, VMware license seperately while Microsoft offers all products with 4 times lowering the cost.

    server 2012 RDS is best to offer and big step against VDI compitition. Rather than that System Centre 2012 (private Cloud) is awesome to use Mix of privately and publicly hosted service…..

    I just say Microsoft is Best of the Best and competetive options if you thing cost wise as well….

  21. October 8, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Hello Zaheer,

    We have done several cost analysis in the past and Microsoft does not always come out on top. I will suggest a revised analysis for Desktop and Application virtualization. It has been a while however. Good points to delve into more.

    -Edward Haletky

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