Horizon View 5.3 Part 14 – Windows Server Desktops

Technology isn’t the most complicated part of any VDI deployment.  That honor belongs to Microsoft’s VDA licensing – a complex labyrinth of restrictions on how the Windows Desktop OS can be used in a VDI environment.  The VDA program either requires software assurance on Windows devices or a subscription for devices that aren’t covered under SA such as zero clients or employee-owned devices.

The VDA program is a management nightmare, and it has spawned a small movement in the community called #FixVDA to try and get Microsoft to fix the problems with this program.

The licensing for virtualizing Windows Server is much less complicated, and a licensing model for remote desktop access that isn’t dependent upon software assurance already exists.

Note: I am not an expert on Microsoft licensing.  Microsoft does update VDA and other licensing options, so check with your Microsoft Licensing representative before purchasing.  If you want more details about Microsoft’s licensing for 2008 R2 Remote Desktop Services, you can view the licensing brief here.

In previous versions of Horizon View, it was possible, although difficult to configure and unsupported, to use Windows Server 2008 R2 as a desktop OS.  Horizon View 5.3 has added official support for using Windows Server 2008 R2 as a desktop OS.  This opens up desktop virtualization for enterprises and service providers.

Batteries Not Included

Windows Server-based desktops are missing a number of features in View that other versions of Windows are able to take advantage of.  These features are:

  • Virtual Printing (AKA ThinkPrint)
  • Multimedia Redirection
  • Persona Management
  • vCOPs for View functionality
  • Local-Mode Support
  • Smart Card SSO
  • UC/Lync APIs and support

ThinPrint can be worked around – either by using Group Policy Preferences for users inside the firewall or buying the full product from Cortado.  Personal Management can also be worked around by using Roaming Profiles and folder redirection.

If you need smart cards, Lync 2013 support, Local-Mode, or vCOPs for View support, you will still need to pony up for a VDA subscription.

I suspect that more of these features will be working in the next version of View as they are fully tested and validated by VMware.

What’s Included Today

It seems like there are a lot of features in View 5.3 that aren’t supported or available with Windows Server 2008 R2 desktops.  So what is included? 

  • PCoIP Access
  • VMware Blast HTML5 Access – Installed separately with the Remote Experience Pack
  • USB and Audio Redirection

That doesn’t sound like much, but it may be worth the tradeoff if it saves on licensing.

Enabling Windows Server Desktop Support

Windows Server Desktop support is not enabled by default in Horizon View 5.3, but it isn’t too hard to enable.  There is one step that needs to be performed inside the View LDAP database to enable support, and the agent needs to be installed from the command line.

To configure View to support Server 2008 R2 desktops, you need to take the following steps:

  1. Connect to the View ADAM (LDAP) Database
  2. Expand dc=vdi, dc=vmware, dc=int
  3. Expand OU=Properties
  4. Expand OU=Global
  5. Right click on CN=Common and select Properties.
  6. Scroll to the attribute named “pae-EnableServerinDesktopMode”
  7. Click the Edit Button
  8. Change the value to 1 and click OK.
  9. Click OK
  10. Close ADSI Edit

After the View environment has been configured to support Windows Server as a desktop source, the desktop gold image can be configured.  Although the process is mostly the same as Part 11 – Building Your Desktop Golden Images, there are a few key differences.

These differences are:

  • The VMXNET3 network card should be used over the E1000 network card.
  • The Desktop Experience Feature needs to be installed before the View Agent.  This feature is important if you plan to use VMware Blast.
  • The VMware View Agent needs to be installed from the command line in order to force the agent to install in Desktop Mode.  The command test is “VMware-viewagent-x86_64-5.3.0-xxxxx.exe /v”VDM_FORCE_DESKTOP_AGENT=1″”


Aside from these differences, a Server 2008 R2 desktop source can be configured the same as a Windows 7 desktop source.

The next post in this series will be on securing the View environment with SSL certificates.

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