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IT mulls multi-user Windows 10 as Server 2019 drops RDSH

Multi-user Windows 10 could replace RDSH, which isn't in the first Windows Server 2019 preview. The move has ramifications for app compatibility, XenApp and Windows licensing.

If RDSH will not be available in Windows Server 2019, IT pros are left wondering where that leaves their remote application delivery strategies.

The first preview of Windows Server 2019, which Microsoft released last week, does not include the Remote Desktop Session Host (RDSH) role. Several IT consultants and analysts said they expect Microsoft to allow for multi-user Windows 10 sessions as a replacement for server-based RDSH -- a possibility that drew mixed reactions.

"If they indeed take the session-hosted capabilities out of 2019 ... it has to still work somewhere, and the only way to do that is with a multi-user thing -- that has to be from Microsoft," said Cláudio Rodrigues, CEO of WTSLabs consultancy in Nepean, Ont. "At the end of the day, it might be just re-skinning the cat. People will buy into that, I can bet."

Where's RDSH?

Microsoft declined to comment on the future of RDSH and the possibility of multi-user Windows 10. The company will disclose more information soon, and Remote Desktop Services (RDS) is "not gone," said Jeff Woolsey, principal program manager for Windows Server, on Twitter. RDS refers to the group of technologies that provide access to remote desktops and apps. RDSH is the component of RDS that allows multiple remote users to connect to session-based desktops and published apps.

It's still possible that Microsoft might make the RDSH role available when Windows Server 2019 becomes generally available in the second half of this year, but it's not likely, experts said. Microsoft had already removed the option for using a GUI to manage RDSH in Windows Server 2016 for the Semi-Annual Channel, leaving that capability available only to the Long-Term Servicing Channel (LTSC). Still, Microsoft could keep RDSH in Windows Server 2019 on the LTSC just for enterprise customers, said Jeff Wilhelm, CTO at Envision Technology Advisors, a solutions provider in Pawtucket, R.I.

"There's going to have to be some point in time where Microsoft provides some clarity, not just from a technical perspective, but also from a roadmap perspective," Wilhelm said. "I find it extremely hard to believe they would just unceremoniously cut that feature. I believe there will be a version that will allow RDS."

Even if Windows Server 2019 does not support RDSH, this issue isn't likely to affect a lot of organizations right away. Thirty-two percent of respondents in the TechTarget 2018 IT Priorities survey said they're just moving to Windows Server 2016 this year, and 15% said they plan to move to Windows Server 2012.

"Probably 90% of the market will not even touch [Windows Server] 2019 from an application hosting perspective for minimum a year or two," Rodrigues said.

Remote Desktop Session Host
How RDSH works

Potential for multi-user Windows 10

VDI takes a single-user Windows approach. There's one VM running a desktop operating system per user. Multi-user Windows 10 would instead allow multiple user sessions to run on one VM directly on the client OS.

If multi-user Windows 10 indeed sees the light of day, it would be a similar approach to RDSH on Windows Server -- which enables multiple user sessions to run on one server operating system -- so customers wouldn't experience a major change, experts said.

"It's semantics," Wilhelm said. "A multi-user OS is a server OS. There's a lot of similarities between the Windows Server kernel and the Windows [desktop] kernel."

If people are expecting Windows 10 multi-user to magically solve application issues, they are going to be disappointed.
Cláudio RodriguesCEO, WTSLabs

Desktops delivered from RDSH on shared Windows servers can help IT optimize resources and support more workers. Application compatibility can be an issue, however, if an app update prevents another app on the server from functioning properly, or if a legacy app isn't supported. Multi-user Windows 10 could address some of those compatibility issues, because applications would run directly on a Windows client VM. IT would also see similar benefits as far as resource optimization. But legacy apps could remain a problem if they're not supported on the latest version of Windows 10.

"A lot of those issues will still exist," Rodrigues said. "If people are expecting Windows 10 multi-user to magically solve application issues, they are going to be disappointed."

Plus, a lot of apps are built to detect when they're connected to RDSH and Windows Server, to help ensure they can work with the server OS. It would be critical for Microsoft to allow applications to do something similar with Windows 10, Rodrigues said.

In the past, Microsoft licensing restrictions prevented Windows shops from running remote multi-user desktop and application sessions directly from the client OS. In July 2017, Microsoft changed its rules and allowed virtualization rights for Windows 10 VMs on Azure. Some observers pointed to that shift as a sign that Microsoft is trying to make multi-user Windows 10 remote sessions possible.

Jack Gold, founder of J.Gold Associates LLCJack Gold

Another option for Microsoft is instead moving customers to Remote Desktop modern infrastructure, which offers RDS running as a service on Azure.

"Most companies now with virtualized apps, they are cloud-based," said Jack Gold, founder of J.Gold Associates LLC, a mobile analyst firm in Northborough, Mass. "Microsoft is probably seeing less demand for RDSH on local servers, and they are also trying to push their customers to use Azure."

Multi-user Windows 10 questions remain

Citrix XenApp runs on RDSH, so it's possible Citrix shops could see some changes with multi-user Windows 10 as well.

"Does this mean XenApp will die and XenDesktop will take over?" said James Rankin, solutions architect at Howell Technology Group, an IT consultancy in the U.K. "From a Citrix perspective, it might be a boon to them."

Citrix could offer a multi-user XenDesktop capability that works the same way XenApp did, for example, but organizations would need to test that a multi-use desktop behaves with its applications the same way it did with the server-based capability, Rodrigues said.

James Rankin, solutions architect at Howell Technology GroupJames Rankin

How to license multi-user Windows 10 also remains a question.

"Would you pay more if you activated the multi-user version?" Rankin said. "Or is it simply part of Enterprise [licensing]?"

The replacement of RDSH with multi-user Windows 10 would have licensing implications for IT at Northern Arizona University, which relies on Windows Server 2012 R2 and 2016 for app delivery.

"We are obviously concerned," said Tobias Kreidl, desktop computing team lead at the university. "If that support changes, we would have to contemplate a lot of retooling and ... figure out how the new licensing model would need to be applied. Right now, I think most people will adopt a 'wait and see' approach."

Microsoft could use the existing RDS licensing server infrastructure and change the pricing and naming to create a model for multi-user client OS sessions, Rodrigues said.

"It's a chance for them to simplify and in a way unify the licensing message," he said.

That could help address IT's calls for improved Microsoft licensing over the years, Gold said.

"Customers are saying, 'Look, we just can't deal with this anymore,'" he said.

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