Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 beta arrives in July, too

WS2008 R2 SP1 will improve memory usage in Hyper-V, graphics in virtual desktops

Microsoft is timing the release of its first service pack for Windows Server 2008 R2 to coincide with the first service pack for Windows 7. Beta versions of both packs will be available by the end of July, according to the Windows Server Division blog.

Windows Server SP1 includes what seems to be Microsoft's reaction to the well-documented "memory overcommit issue" in Hyper-V. (That's a favorite thing that VMware likes to trot out when discussing competitive features.) The service pack will give Hyper-V the ability to grab more memory as needed thanks to a feature called Dynamic Memory.

SP1 also includes some technology to improve desktop virtualization that Microsoft obtained when it acquired Calista Technologies in 2008. The feature is RemoteFX and it describes a set of Remote Desktop Protocol technologies that beefs up graphics performance in a virtual desktop, particularly useful for graphics-heavy situations like watching full-motion video or Silverlight animations, or running 3D applications.

Here are some more details from Microsoft about these new features.

Dynamic Memory is an enhancement to Hyper-V in R2 and allows IT administrators to pool all the memory available on a physical host and dynamically distribute it to virtual machines running on that host as necessary. That means based on changes in workload, your VMs will be able to receive new memory allocations without a service interruption. For a deeper look at Dynamic Memory check here.

RemoteFX is the latest addition to Microsoft’s desktop virtualization stack. Using this new feature in Windows Server 2008 R2, you’ll be able to deliver an even richer and more user-transparent desktop virtualization experience. RemoteFX functions independently of any graphics stack and supports any screen content, including rich content like Silverlight or Flash. It also enhances the end-user’s hardware experience with support for USB redirection. Because it uses virtualized graphics resources, RemoteFX works on a wide array of target devices, which means you can deploy it over both thick and thin client hosts and a wide variety of network configurations. For some more information on RemoteFX check here.

One of the areas I've heard users discuss is curiosity about whether Hyper-V will ever leapfrog VMware in features or functionality. Experts like Rand Morimoto say that Hyper-V now more-or-less matches VMware (with the help of SP1). Others argue that it isn't equivalent at all, but it does offer most of the stuff that an enterprise wants in a hypervisor.

Microsoft users certainly like Hyper-V's price, as long as they aren't stung with higher costs from management issues. For instance, some say that Hyper-V can't produce the same VM density thanks to memory overcommit and/or storage management issues, which means users need more servers or storage to create acceptable performance as the number of VMs rise.

As for RemoteFX, I've also heard users ask about when they can expect that feature. Calista has been in Microsoft's hands for a long time and I've seen discussions from Microsoft dating back to March promising that RemoteFX will eventually wind up in WS2008. Good to see it finally arrive in SP1.

By the way, if you are going to ask me what I meant by the word "too" in the headline, I'll explain. I sometimes feel sorry for the Windows Server 2008 folks as that product's updates are timed to be released alongside Windows 7's updates. The client and server software are closely tied and so it makes sense to do this. But it seems as if Windows 7 gets all the glory in the news.

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