Three-dimensional graphics, USB redirection, reduced network bandwidth when working with graphics-rich applications, and more flexible memory usage are all included in the first service pack for Microsoft Windows Server 2008 R2.
The muscular Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 is of special interest to IT desktop managers with strategic, high-performance desktop-virtualization projects on the drawing board, as well as system managers looking to improve existing virtual-server density in the data center.
RemoteFX and Dynamic Memory, both new features in the Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1, take advantage of the changing data center and desktop terrain that places a primacy on 64-bit architecture. RemoteFX goes even further by using workstation-grade high-end graphics hardware to expand the envelop for desktop workloads that can be virtualized and run from the data center.
Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 was released in late February, and is available as a no-charge download from Microsoft.
I tested SP1 on a professional-grade workstation because a sufficiently powerful graphics card is not yet part of our standard test bed. I used a Hewlett-Packard Z800 equipped with two Intel Xeon X5680 3.33GHz quad-core processors and 18GB of RAM. I also installed a top-of-the-line Nvidia Quadro 5000 graphics card to support the rich graphics capabilities RemoteFX provides. Users also need to be running the latest and greatest version of Windows 7 on the desktop. I used an older HP dc7700p desktop system, which had an Intel Core 2 CPU and 2GB of RAM and ran Windows 7 SP1. SP1 is needed for those who wish to take full advantage of RemoteFX.
RemoteFX is a set of features in RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol, formerly Terminal Services) that I used in my tests of the beta to look at rich graphics applications and USB redirection. With the Nvidia Quadro 5000 hardware, I was able to configure Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 to provide a 3D virtual adapter to my users who accessed a Remote Desktop Connection. Flash videos and other graphics-intensive photo-editing tools worked almost the same when compared side-by-side with a physical system running the same workloads.
Achieving this effect requires dramatic changes in the server hardware. Because the graphics processing for the virtual desktop takes place on the server-not the client hardware-IT managers will need to beef up servers with professional-class graphics hardware. Even the newest systems coming into eWEEK Labs for performance tests would have a hard time squeezing in the needed graphics card.
With lots of RAM, CPU cores, hopped-up graphics cards and the power supplies needed to juice these super-systems, the thermal and power gains that server consolidation can achieve must now be thought of as the cushion that will be used to implement workloads that RemoteFX capabilities make possible.
Besides the hardware requirements, there is also a fair amount of server and virtual-machine setup needed to support the visually impressive results offered by RemoteFX. First, all participating systems, including client devices, need to be running SP1, whether on Windows Server 2008 R2 or Windows 7. Only Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate SKUs are licensed to take advantage of the RemoteFX capabilities. I created Windows 7 virtual-machine pools capable of supporting the Aero interface. These virtual-desktop systems needed to have the RemoteFX display driver added to them on the Hyper-V management server.
I employed RemoteFX USB redirection to use a USB flash drive and a USB headset on my test system. For IT managers who are evaluating virtual-desktop-infrastructure technologies, this is an important change and should be explored as an important advance in the Windows Hyper-V environment.
As with rich graphics, the client system and the virtual machine host must be running SP1 to support USB redirection. First, I had to make a change to Group Policy in my test domain to enable RDP redirection of supported USB devices. On the desktop, I then forced the Group Policy update and then restarted the system with a Logitech telephone headset and a USB flash drive connected. During the Remote Desktop Connection process, I was presented with a configuration screen that allowed me to specify which USB devices should be available in the remote session. The devices worked as expected in my virtual desktop.
To increase virtual-machine density and stay on par with industry advances, Microsoft added Dynamic Memory to SP1. The Dynamic Memory feature enabled me to pool the memory resources on my HP Z800 physical host and then create rules for that memory to be dynamically added and removed from my virtual machines.
I first created a group of Windows Server 2003 R2 virtual systems. I then installed integration services on each of these VMs to enable the Dynamic Memory feature. For each system, I specified how much RAM each VM should be given at start-up-along with a maximum amount that could be used, given no other system constraints. I also specified a priority value for memory allocation when contention developed involving other VMs running on this physical server.
When Dynamic Memory is enabled on a VM, new performance monitors are also available. IT managers will quickly become accustomed to checking these performance monitors, as Dynamic Configuration is still as much art as it is science. I made changes that affected the amount of memory assigned to my various VMs in accordance with the memory demand that was reported to me from the console and the memory status, which showed the amount of memory buffer available to my systems. IT managers should expect that it will take at least a week or more of careful monitoring to get initial levels correctly set.