What to Make of Microsoft’s Protocol Announcements

Mar 19, 2010

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Introduction
As most of you probably heard Microsoft and Citrix made some pretty big announcements yesterday. There was news related to some great changes (finally) to VECD as well as more information on the former Calista technology – now being dubbed “RemoteFX” (RFX).

I’m not a licensing guy, I leave those sort of discussions to others – however, I am a technologist, and wanted to offer up my take on RFX.

Microsoft implicitly acknowledges that VMware has the right strategy with PCoIP
As almost anyone knows a high performance, adaptive display protocol is critical for a compelling user experience.  With the “build to lossless” capability of PCoIP, users can access their remote desktop over LAN or WAN connections from a variety of devices, including “zero” clients.

  • With the release of RemoteFX, Microsoft has acknowledged that the best way to deliver a rich user experience is via a protocol, like PCoIP, designed for effective host side rendering. 
  • Citrix joins in the acknowledgment by agreeing to support RemoteFX alongside their own “HDX” and in turn points to some of the deficiencies of ICA.
  • With optimized host-side rendering IT administrators don’t need to worry about having to update to the latest software on both end-node devices and VMs (as you do with solutions such as Citrix’s Flash Redirection).  Host side rendering greatly reduces the complexity of server-hosted desktop administration. 

The Platform is Critical to Success for Desktop Virtualization
VMware understands the importance of having a high-performing display protocol…that’s what PCoIP is about.  However, this is just one of the components needed to provide a robust, enterprise-class desktop virtualization solution. Customers also need a production proven virtualization platform and a set of management tools that reduce the effort associated with administering virtual desktops.

  • VMware vSphere is the undisputed platform of choice for desktop virtualization with over 90% of desktop virtualization customers choosing VMware vSphere/ESX to host their virtual desktop environments.
  • On the management side, only VMware View offers a single centralized management solution. Other vendor solutions, such as Citrix XenDesktop and Microsoft RDS, use a myriad of non-integrated tools, consoles, and wizards to perform even the most basic tasks.

In the end the combination of the industry’s leading virtualization platform, simplified management, and the PCoIP display protocol make VMware View the clear choice for desktop virtualization.

What about RFX?
Ok – I’m sure some of you are thinking enough of the marketing flag waving, what about the RFX? The reality is that VMware definitely sees the value in host-side rendering (as I said above),  and the direction Microsoft outlined is nearly exactly the same of the vision we’ve been talking about for quite awhile.  However, there are some key areas where we think RFX falls down:

  • RemoteFX will be a LAN-only solution (much as RDP is today). This is more limited than the PCoIP protocol which was designed to provide a great user experience on both local and wide area networks.
  • While Microsoft spoke of vendors providing both RFX enabled thin clients and server offload cards, so far all that has been provided is a reference design – no vendors have publicly committed to delivering these components. By contrast, there are already a number of vendors delivering PCoIP zero clients and PCoIP monitors including Dell, IBM, Samsung, and Wyse (a complete list is available at www.teradici.com). Furthermore, Teradici has had hardware-enabled solutions on the host side for more than 2 years.
  • RemoteFX does not treat the desktop as a composition of multiple types of content. Instead it treats each element of the desktop exactly the same. An advantage of the PCoIP protocol is that it has different CODECs to handle different image content such as text, graphics, and video. Since RemoteFX cannot recognize and transmit the desktop by content type, end-users need to settle for a lowest common denominator experience versus the high-definition environment the PCoIP protocol can deliver.
  • One of the key features of VMware View with PCoIP is the ability for the display protocol to dynamically adjust to changing network conditions. PCoIP can “build to lossless” , which means that the user will receive the best experience possible as network conditions change. Both ICA/HDX and RDP/RemoteFX “dial in” the user experience when a user first connects and have limited ability to dynamically adapt to changing network conditions or user interactions.
  • The idea of virtualizing physical GPUs is quite compelling, but unfortunately it’s a “chicken and the egg” type of problem. Most of today’s enterprise class servers are not designed to accept high-end graphics cards. Additionally, the cost of the GPUs can be quite high (upwards of $4,000 each) while only supporting a small number of users per card.

Conclusion
With PCoIP, VMware has delivered the first protocol ideally suited for virtual desktops delivery over both the LAN or the WAN.   Additionally, VMware is committed to a roadmap that optimizes the balance between end-user experience, ease of administration, and cost of implementation.

As I mentioned above, Microsoft’s strategy they outlined To get a better understanding of how VMware sees the future of remote desktop experience, check out Warren Ponder’s  Remote Desktop Experience session from VMworld 2009.

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