Microsoft Releases SP1 Beta for Windows Server 2008 R2

Microsoft today announced the beta release of Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.

The announcement was part of the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference event, currently happening this week in Washington, D.C. Tami Reller, corporate vice president of marketing and CFO of the Windows & Windows Live Division, delivered the keynote address on Windows 7, including the SP1 beta, which can be downloaded here, and Windows Intune.

This beta release isn't intended for home users of Windows 7 and it doesn't add any new features, according to a Microsoft blog. It's mostly of note for IT pros, who now can begin testing two virtualization features announced in March: "dynamic memory" and "RemoteFX."

The dynamic memory function allows users to pool the memory available on hardware and allocate it dynamically to virtual machines as needed. It helps get more bang for the buck with server virtualization.

The RemoteFX capability will enable a better graphics experience on thin-client devices when users connect remotely with servers to enable desktop virtualization. The RemoteFX capability, which works with Microsoft's Remote Desktop Services (RDS) core virtualization technology in Windows Server 2008 R2, promises the ability of users to tap into three-dimensional graphics (such as AutoCAD) and streaming video on thin-client devices.

Microsoft pointed to a number of hardware partners integrating and testing the RemoteFX technology in a blog post. AMD worked with Microsoft to test graphics processing unit compatibility with RemoteFX, including AMD's ATI FirePro professional graphics cards. NVidia collaborated with Microsoft on RemoteFX using NVidia's Quadro professional graphics products. Dell has been testing graphics card support on Dell PowerEdge servers.

Microsoft has also worked with HP to test RemoteFX on HP's innovativet5740 Flexible Series thin clients and ProLiant servers. HP ran the beta test on a DL370 server unit, according to Julia Crain, director of marketing, enterprise business, for HP infrastructure software and blades. However, in the future, users can expect to see the RemoteFX capability run via HP's workstation blade server (WS460), she said in a phone interview.

Users can use just about any ProLiant rack or blade server from HP to run RemoteFX software. However, for high-end desktop virtualization infrastructure (or VDI), HP is experimenting with rolling out its blade workstation, explained Allen Tiffany, manager of HP's thin client ISV alliances and field enablement team.

Microsoft is mostly working its software magic on the high-end VDI side with RemoteFX technology, Tiffany added.

"For those end users who are not happy with the performance they get today with a VDI implementation -- that are struggling with the fairly limited or degraded experience that you might see with older versions of Microsoft's RDP protocol -- RemoteFX provides a much richer and engaging experience than they've been able to get previously," Tiffany said.

He noted that in some past remote implementations, there have been issues with Flash and high-definition video. Audio and video can get out of sync and seem choppy. However, he said that with RemoteFX, HP has seen "very impressive video performance…with fully synchronized audio."

HP offers advice on what sort of infrastructure is needed to support high-end VDI, according to Nigel Church, director of client virtualization marketing for HP infrastructure software and blades. In addition to providing white papers, HP tests the technology and puts together the reference architecture to help customers determine server and storage needs.

Microsoft describes the hardware requirements to run RemoteFX in a white paper, "Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Reviewers Guide, Beta Release," which can be downloaded here (Word doc). According to the white paper, the server requires:

  • "Video display adapter that supports 3D hardware acceleration.
  • "Two or more processor cores running at 1.6 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • "4 gigabytes (GBs) or more of physical memory
  • "One disk partition that has 250 GB or more of available disk"

For thin-client devices running Windows 7 (Ultimate or Enterprise editions only), the hardware requirements are as follows:

  • "One or more virtual processors running at 1.6 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
  • "1 GB or more of memory
  • "One virtual hard disk that is 120 GB or larger."

Those who want to connect to remote virtual machines will need Microsoft's Software Assurance (SA) licensing option, noted Paul DeGroot, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft specializing in licensing and support issues.

"Technically, what the SA lets you do is populate the remote virtual machines with a copy of Windows for which you don't pay extra; that's not terribly obvious to a lot of people," DeGroot explained by e-mail. "VECD [Virtual Enterprise Centralized Desktop license], now dead, was the answer to the question where do I get a copy of the OS to put on my virtual machines? And to connect to TS/RDS you need a TS/RDS CAL [Client Access License]."

In March, Microsoft announced that customers no longer have to buy a separate license to access Windows in a virtual desktop infrastructure environment as VDI rights will be part of the Software Assurance agreement. Microsoft also announced a new "Windows Virtual Desktop Access subscription" for customers who use devices that don't qualify for Software Assurance, such as thin-client devices. That license is priced at $100 per year per device.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.


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