Microsoft Windows MultiPoint Server 2011

MultiPoint Server is the Cinderella of the Windows world, locked away in the cellar education sector, kept away from the bright lights of publicity and severely limited in what it could offer. But that could well be changing given Microsoft’s recent efforts to revamp the product. Although not yet quite ready for shipping, Microsoft has been working hard to add value to MultiPoint Server and when it ships in March it looks like Microsoft might have a winner on its hands.

Microsoft is bringing MultiPoint Server right up-to-date by offering virtualization support for the first time. Something that should provide significantly lower administrative overhead, server consolidation, increased mobility, and especially important in education easier backup and rapid recovery. Side by side with this is the introduction of a new management console that allows multiple MultiPoint Server instances to be managed from a single location. Then to extend the reach of MultiPoint Server and improve user experience, Microsoft is providing support for both RDP thin clients and will also offer support for Remote FX. Support for RDP will enable old PCs to be re-purposed as Multipoint stations. These three new features combined will significantly increase the scalability of MultiPoint Server environment allowing a single high-performance server to deliver hundreds of desktops for a fraction of the cost of other desktop virtualization solutions. Microsoft will also be offering Active directory integration in the Premium Edition of the product.

One of the more intriguing features in MultiPoint Server 2011, is its new split screen capability.  Microsoft has recognized that with education budgets are being cut back to the bone anything that can be done to make education budgets go further will be seized upon. So to make MultiPoint Server deliver more value for money Microsoft allows two users to share one monitor, each working independently (through split screens) using separate keyboards and mice. This might not be an ideal solution, but given the choice between that and taking turns, this certainly has the makings of an attractive compromise.

Microsoft has added new features to enable teachers to view thumbnails of each workstation connected to the MultiPoint Server to see what each student is working on and zoom in to individual stations to make sure a student is on track.  The teacher can also take action to remotely manage students access to the system to keep them on track (in my day the teacher just used to throw the blackboard duster at us, but I guess times change), or prevent access to certain web sites etc. Other new features include USB flash drive support to allow students to save copies of  their work.

The release candidate for Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 is available for evaluation by joining the Connect Windows MultiPoint Server 2011 Beta Program here. All being well  it will be available for purchase through Microsoft’s volume licensing program in March, and through OEM partners sometime in Q2. Although MultiPoint Server 2011 represents a significant step up from its previous release it is unlikely that it will present a significant threat to other Windows based desktop virtualization vendors. Its functionality is still very much tailored towards training and education environments rather than the small or mid market deployments that vendors like NComputing and Pano Logic are targeting. More at risk is Canadian company Userful which with systems deployed in over 50,000 schools leads the multi-seat education market with its Linux desktop solution. However in many respects MultiPoint Server 2011 is still playing catchup with Userful and it must be noted the Userful will still hold a significant price advantage over Microsoft and this may well be enough to stifle any opportunity for significant growth on Microsoft’s part for some time to come.

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