Mary Jo Foley reported earlier this year that Microsoft was working on a version of Windows 10 which might host multiple remote desktop sessions.
This resulted in speculation about the future of RDS deployments and the role Windows Server would play in it. Now, Microsoft released a new Windows 10 Insider Build (Build 17713) of Windows 10 Redstone 5 to the Fast Ring which contains an edition called Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions. It was first discovered and tested by Tero Alhonen who shared his findings on Twitter.
It is capable of running 10 remote desktop sessions concurrently. Windows desktop operating systems were historically able to host only a single remote desktop session.
While it is still unclear when and if this feature will make it into an official Windows release, let me share a few thoughts on how this feature might change the future of virtual desktops.
Replacement for terminal servers
While most companies still deploy physical machines to their employees, many have a small RDSH or Citrix XenApp farm somewhere as a way to enable remote access to remote workers or suppliers. This installations often try to mimic the user experience of their physical desktop counterparts to make the user “feel at home”, usually with varying degrees of success. Windows Server 2016 for example is based on Windows 10 LTSR which means that it will not receive feature updates as often as the Windows desktop OS and that some features (e.g. the Edge browser or the Store app) are absent. A Windows desktop OS which is able to host multiple users might be an ideal solution for those use cases as it merges the benefits of a multi user OS with the user experience of Windows 10 Enterprise.
Enterprises with larger infrastructures might struggle harder to move away from Windows server OS. Single server scalability (SSS) is one of the key factors when designing and sizing RDS or XenApp infrastructures. SSS defines how many users a single server can host while maintaining a good enough user experience. Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions imposes a strict limit of 10 users on a single machine therefore setting the SSS to 10. Environments which currently have higher SSS will have to deploy more virtual machines to be able to host the same amount of users. This, in turn, will result in different hardware requirements for these environments.
Lastly, environments that provide Citrix Published Applications or Microsoft Windows Remote App to their users might not benefit from switching to Windows 10. This is largely because these environments hide much of the operating system, such as the desktop, from the user. Most users will not see any difference between an Published Application hosted on Windows Server 2016/2019 or Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions.
Smaller VDI pools
Having multiple users sharing the same virtual machine can result in smaller VDI pools, depending on the use case of these environments. VDI environments which provide access to high performance virtual machines (e.g. for multi media, CAD or software development) might not benefit from sharing these virtual machines between users as it would degrade the performance user experience for these users. However, in environments where remote access for remote workers is the primary use case, a Windows desktop OS which can host multiple user sessions can help to reduce the number of virtual machines in a pool and, as a result, help keep operating effort low by limiting the time required to patch and update these virtual machines.
Easier management for desktop environments
Many enterprises have different teams managing desktop and server environments and RDSH or XenApp can sometimes be a gray area for desktop management as it is hosted on Windows server OS and therefore managed by the server team but the look and feel should mimic that of the desktop counterpart which is managed by the desktop team. And even if a single team manages both desktop OS and RDSH/XenApp, the user experience between both platform is seldom identical. Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions can help to unify desktop management and result in workplace environments that maintain a common look and feel in their physical and virtual variants.
Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions looks like a very interesting addition to the toolbox for desktop virtualization architects and admins. But of course, a few questions remain…
When will it be available?
Rumors about a new way to provide Windows desktops appeared in May 2018 and resulted in a feature preview in Insider Build 17713 of Redstone 5 in August. It is currently believed that Redstone 5 will be released to the public in October. The big question of course is, will this feature ship in October as part of the Fall 2018 update or will it be removed and postponed to a later release? Given that this feature found its way into an Insider Build as late as August makes a Fall 2018 release seem unlikely. This feature is also not part of the current Windows 10 Bug Bash which might be the last one before release.
On the other hand, why would Microsoft release this feature as part of a Redstone 5 Insider Build when Windows Insiders can already test Redstone 6 builds as part of the Skip Ahead ring?
Is Citrix onboard?
You can’t discuss virtual desktops without mentioning Citrix. If Microsoft is changing the game about providing virtual desktops then, sooner or later, Citrix needs to be onboard as well. Citrix and Microsoft historically have had a great partnership when it came to XenApp and XenDesktop with Citrix usually offering Day 1 Support for new OS releases. So, should Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions be ready in October 2018, will Citrix have a suitable Virtual Delivery Agent (VDA) ready?
What about licensing?
I must admit that I am not an expert in the dangerous minefield that is Microsoft and Citrix licensing. But letting a single Windows 10 machine host multiple users will surely have an impact for these companies or their customers. For the reasons mentioned above, SMBs and larger enterprises might reduce their installed server base in favor of Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions. Will this result in changes to current licensing offerings?
These are my thoughts on the future of virtual desktops and the impact that Windows 10 Enterprise for Remote Sessions will have. What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!