Virtualization takes center stage in Windows service packs

Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 almost ready to go.

As the first service packs for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 ship Feb. 22, they will bring better virtualization capabilities to the operating systems.

Two new features in Windows Server called Dynamic Memory and RemoteFX improve virtual-machine density and the ability to deliver rich graphical desktops to Windows 7 PCs and other clients.

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Dynamic Memory in Service Pack 1 boosts Microsoft's Hyper-V virtualization platform to "increase virtual machine density with the resources you already have - without sacrificing performance or scalability," Microsoft said. This can, for example, increase the number of virtual desktops that can be hosted on a server without compromising the performance of users' desktops.

"In our lab testing, with Windows 7 SP1 as the guest operating system in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) scenario, we have seen a 40% increase in density from Windows Server 2008 R2 RTM to SP1," writes Windows Server senior technical product manager Michael Kleef. "We achieved this increase simply by enabling Dynamic Memory."

Kleef promised that the increased density will not compromise security, while accusing "other offerings in the industry" of doing so. Dynamic Memory should work out-of-the-box without administrators needing to tweak the hypervisor, he writes.

RemoteFX, meanwhile, "lets you virtualize the Graphical Processing Unit (GPU) on the server side and deliver next-generation rich media and 3D user experiences for VDI."

VDI technologies run hosted desktops on a server in the data center and let users access the desktops remotely from a client device. RemoteFX is part of Microsoft's plan to enable Windows desktops to work seamlessly on "new low cost ultra-thin client devices."

In conjunction with the Service Pack 1 announcement, Microsoft also said it will offer Windows Thin PC, a "smaller footprint, locked down version of Windows 7" that is designed for thin clients. Scheduled to ship to Software Assurance customers in the coming weeks, Windows Thin PC will let customers reuse older hardware by turning PCs into thin clients, Microsoft said.

One final announcement from Microsoft is that it will offer a new way to manage the Windows 7 security feature BitLocker, which encrypts the operating system. The new Microsoft BitLocker Administration and Monitoring tool, to be available in beta starting next month, will "help simplify BitLocker provisioning and deployment, reduce costs while improving compliance and reporting of BitLocker," Microsoft said.

The Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 service packs were made available to OEM partners this week, and will be available beginning Feb. 16 to volume licensing customers and subscribers to MSDN and TechNet. Starting on Feb. 22, the service packs will be available to everyone through the Microsoft Download Center and Windows Update.

Beyond the client-side support for Dynamic Memory and RemoteFX, the Service Pack 1 updates for Windows 7 are mostly minor and include some that were already available through Windows Update, Microsoft said.

Coincidentally, Microsoft's virtualization updates occurred in the same week that Windows security patches problems for users of rival VMware's desktop virtualization software. The patches broke the connection between user PCs and their hosted virtual desktops, forcing them to uninstall the patches or upgrade VMware View in order to continue accessing their desktops.

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