This article is Part 13 in a series of articles on the “Top 31 Favorite Features in Windows Server 2012” with my fellow IT Pro Technical Evangelists. Be sure to follow them on Twitter and check out their blogs this month for the other parts of this series:

The full list of 31 things can be found here:


vdiIt is very exciting to see that in Windows Server 2012 Microsoft has greatly improved the ease of management of Remote Desktop Services (RDS) including Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).

Have you read about our new tool, Server Manager? Server Manager is our new tool which makes it substantially easier to manage Windows Servers.

Server Manager enables administrators to deploy, configure, and manage personal and pooled virtual desktops. The 2012 release includes enhancements that make it easier to create pooled environments, which are less costly to deploy and maintain than personal desktops. These tools provide automated deployment and management of pooled desktops with virtual desktop templates, preserve user personalization for pooled virtual desktop deployments by using User Profile Disks, and support multiple storage options; including local disk and file shares for virtual machine storage.

Server Manager in Windows Server 2012 takes ease of management a big step forward and introduces Scenario Based Deployment. Using Scenario Based Deployment, you’re able to perform a full VDI/RDS deployment from the single Server Manager console. Prior to Server 2012, you had to install all the RDS roles separately, but more importantly after installing those roles, a huge amount of manual configuration had to be done.

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One of the very cool aspect of the wizard based deployment is that you literally can run through this wizard in less than 10 mouse clicks! Once the wizard finishes you’ll have a fully working environment up and running. With the “Quick Start” selection all roles are installed and configured on a single server, which of course makes it less appropriate for (large) production environments. Choose a Standard Deployment if you need to setup a more complex deployment. Either way, Server Manager makes it easier to manage your deployment.

In general, a good portion of the improvement areas in Windows Server 2012 focus on infrastructure simplification and cost reduction. Cost and complexity is a major roadblock for Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) and hosted desktop deployments of all sizes.

Below is a more granular level of specific improvements.  I’m sure you’ll see, as did I, that the best improvements to Windows Server 2012 are well thought out and very impactful. 

  • Robust Pooled Virtual Desktop Collection model. “Pooled virtual desktop collection” model refers to the idea that a large number of virtual machines can be managed as a single entity by using a single virtual desktop template. This model is very attractive in VDI because it allows IT admins to provide a work desktop to multiple users without having to maintain a full OS for each user. In Windows Server 2012 we fully support this deployment model. Virtual machines can be created in batch from a virtual desktop template, patched by only modifying that virtual desktop template, and recreated/refreshed automatically by the RD Connection Broker. This dramatically reduces the cost and complexity of supporting a large number of users.
  • User Profile Disk. A major blocker for the “pooled virtual desktop collection” model has been lack of personalization: Since the pooled virtual desktop collection is based on a common virtual desktop template, the user’s personal documents, settings, and configurations would normally not be present. User Profile Desk was added to solve this problem for either virtual machine-based or session based desktop deployments. As the user logs on to different virtual machines within the pool or different RD Session Hosts within the session collection, his/her User Profile Disk gets mounted, providing access to the user’s complete profile. Since User Profile Disk operates at a lower layer, it works seamlessly with existing user state technologies such as Roaming User Profiles and Folder Redirection.
  • RDS Management Interface integrated into Server Manager. RDS now includes a single management interface through which you can deploy RDS end to end, monitor the deployment, configure options, and manage all your RDS components and servers. This management interface is built into the new Server Manager, taking advantage of many new Windows Server 2012 management capabilities such as multi-server deployments, remote configuration, and orchestrated configuration workflows. This interface replaces older tools such as Remote Desktop Services Manager, RemoteApp Manager, and RD Session Host Configuration. The management tools for RD Gateway and RD Licensing are still provided separately since these roles are often deployed independently.
  • Scenario-Focused Deployment. The new Server Manager provides a scenario-focused wizard that dramatically simplifies the task of bringing up a complete RDS deployment. This wizard sets up all the roles needed for an RDS deployment, configures each server role correctly to communicate with the other roles, and walks you through creating your first virtual desktop or session collection as well. The wizard comes in two flavors:
    • Quick Start is optimized for deploying Remote Desktop Services on one server, and creates a collection and publishes RemoteApp programs.
    • Standard Deployment allows you to deploy Remote Desktop Services across multiple servers, allowing for a more customized deployment.
  • Active/Active RD Connection Broker. In previous releases the RD Connection Broker role service has supported an active/passive clustering model. This provided high availability in the case of component failure, but it did not address high scale requirements. In this release, we have eliminated the need for clustering and switched to an active/active model. With this model, two or more RD Connection Brokers can be combined as a farm to provide both fault tolerance and load balancing. This prevents the broker from being a single point of failure and also allows ‘scale out’ as load demands.
  • PowerShell support. All platform functions and capabilities can be controlled through a comprehensive and rich PowerShell layer. IT administrators can use this layer to build sophisticated automation that helps fit RDS into their IT infrastructure and workflows. We also anticipate third-party vendors to use this new extensibility layer to address unique new scenarios and integrate Windows Server 2012 RDS into management tools.