Evaluating Your Options for Desktop Virtualization (Part 2)

by [Published on 8 Feb. 2012 / Last Updated on 8 Feb. 2012]

This article continues the series on evaluating desktop virtualization options by examining Microsoft’s Multipoint Server.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Introduction

Welcome to the second article in my series on options for desktop virtualization. My goal in this article series is to present various Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions and discuss how each solution works as well as the types of organizations that the solution is best suited for. In this article, I want to turn my attention to Microsoft’s Multipoint Server 2011.

Multipoint server is one of those products that is easy to overlook because most of Microsoft’s marketing efforts around Multipoint Server have focused on academic institutions. Even so, Multipoint server may prove to be a viable VDI solution for small to medium sized organizations.

Windows Multipoint Server is a thin client solution that is based on Windows Server 2008 R2. Although there are similarities between the Remote Desktop Services and Multipoint Server, the two products are also very different in scope. As I explained in the previous article, implementing VDI via the Remote Desktop Services typically requires the use of many servers. In contrast, Multipoint is based on a single server and is simple to set up and manage. However, this simplicity comes at a price. Multipoint server is nowhere near as scalable as the Remote Desktop services, which makes it suitable for use only in small and perhaps medium sized environments.

As is the case with many Microsoft products, Multipoint Server is available in a Standard or a Premium edition. The standard edition supports a maximum of ten connected stations, and those stations cannot be joined to a domain. In contrast, the premium edition supports up to twenty simultaneously connected stations and does support joining a domain.

Although Multipoint was never designed to be an enterprise class VDI solution, there is a way to get around the restrictions on the number of supported stations. The solution is to purchase multiple Multipoint Server 2011 Premium servers. Each Multipoint Premium server can support up to twenty stations, so by using multiple Multipoint servers an organization could theoretically host as many stations as they might need. In fact, Multipoint server is even designed so that all of the user sessions across all of the multipoint servers can be managed through a single interface. Keep in mind however, that this interface is not as full featured as what you might find in a VDI solution that was specifically designed for larger deployments.

Hardware Considerations

When it comes to the physical hardware, there are two main things that organizations will need to pay attention to. One important consideration is the actual server hardware. The other consideration is how clients will connect to Multipoint server.

The Server Hardware

As is the case with any other VDI solution, all of the user’s sessions are actually run on a host server. As such, it is critical that the host server be equipped with sufficient hardware to give the user’s a smooth experience. The hardware that Microsoft recommends for the Multipoint server varies based on the number of stations that will be connected and on the ways in which those stations will be used. For instance, a user who uses their station for word processing or casual Web surfing will consume far fewer resources than a user who uses their station to play YouTube videos.

On the low end of the scale, Microsoft’s minimum hardware recommendation for Multipoint Server is a dual core CPU running at at least 2.0 GHz and 2 GB of RAM. This extremely modest hardware configuration is theoretically enough to support up to four workstations that are running line of business applications such as Microsoft Office.

So what if you plan to really max out your Multipoint server? Microsoft’s minimum hardware requirements for a Multipoint server that is hosting 20 workstations and that supports frequent video use by all users state that the server needs to be equipped with an 8 core CPU running at at least 2.0 GHz. As an alternative, you could also use a multithreaded quad core CPU or twin quad core CPUs. The server also requires at least 8 GB of RAM. Keep in mind that these are Microsoft’s bare minimum requirements, so if you can afford to add some extra memory and a few more CPU cores then you definitely should. You can find Microsoft’s hardware requirements for a variety of different configurations here.

Station Connectivity

In some ways it seems really weird to be talking about workstation connectivity requirements. After all, Multipoint Server is based on the Remote Desktop Services, so any thin client with a compatible version of the Remote Desktop Client software should be sufficient, right?

As strange as it sounds, Microsoft actually downplays this type of connectivity. Microsoft’s promotional video for Multipoint Server actually shows users connecting to Multipoint Server without any real client hardware. The keyboards, mice, and monitors are being plugged directly into the Multipoint server. Microsoft refers to this type of connectivity as Direct Video Connected Stations.

The basic idea behind using direct video connected stations is that you can save money by not purchasing any physical workstations. Instead, the Multipoint server is equipped with multiple multi-head video cards. Each workstation’s monitor is connected directly to one of the video output ports on the Multipoint server, and the keyboards and mice are plugged into the server’s USB ports.

Although this approach can indeed be cost effective, it does have some down sides. For starters, the number of video and USB ports on the Multipoint server limit the number of workstations that you can connect. The other disadvantage to using direct video connected stations is that they must be located in close proximity to the server. Placing workstations on the other side of the room simply isn’t an option.

A second connectivity option involves using USB connected stations. The idea behind this type of connectivity is that a multi-function hub is connected to each USB port, and then a keyboard, monitor, and mouse is connected to the hub. This approach has the advantage of not requiring the server to be equipped with high end, multi-head video cards.

Those considering using USB multifunction hubs must make sure that the hubs and the server’s USB ports support at least USB 2.0. It is also worth noting that using this approach may limit the workstation’s ability to simultaneously play video.

The last option for workstation connectivity is to use standard network connectivity. The primary benefit to using this approach is that the number of workstations are not limited by the number of video or USB ports on the server. You can also place the workstations anywhere you want as opposed to being directly tethered to the server.

The only real downside to using network connectivity (besides the cost of the PCs) is that Multipoint server was designed primarily for direct connectivity. As such, some of the hardware troubleshooting and management options that work with hardware that is directly connected to the server will not work for workstations that are connected via the network. Even so, this approach generally yields a better end user experience because workstations are not limited by USB bandwidth.

Conclusion

As you can see, Microsoft’s Multipoint Server 2011 is a viable low cost VDI option for smaller organizations. In Part 3 of this series, I will discuss another small scale VDI product that uses a radically different approach.

If you would like to read the other parts in this article series please go to:

Advertisement

Featured Links