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As the migration to Windows 7 as the desktop operating system picks up, IT organizations are looking at hosting desktops in the data center using Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) as the desktop delivery method. We are finding that this is especially popular in the finance, healthcare, and federal verticals where security and compliance makes VDI an attractive choice. Moreover, IT managers in other vertical industries are interested in this technology as a flexible option to serve their employees while assisting with their desktop management goals.

One of the ongoing dilemmas for IT continues to be ensuring a good user experience for any new method used for delivering applications to end users. Many users are in remote branch offices, campus locations, or are mobile; as a result these users are separated from the data center by the Wide Area Network (WAN). Limited bandwidth (per user) on the WAN pipes, high WAN latencies, packet loss, and more often a combination of all three, impacts the user experience significantly. This is where the Cisco WAN optimization solution (Cisco WAAS) can assist IT with delivering a rich Windows 7 user experience to remote users while reducing the need for bandwidth upgrades.

If one looks at the usage profile, users are typically using productivity applications (eg: email, web, document preparation, presentations, etc), and accessing corporate videos for training as well as printing documents. These users are accustomed to getting a rich experience using applications locally on their Windows 7 desktops. The goal of the Cisco WAAS solution is to maintain this rich experience when the desktop moves to the data center, and is delivered using a VDI delivery protocol such as Microsoft RDP over the WAN.

Over the past few years Microsoft has made considerable enhancements to its remote desktop delivery technologies for Windows 7. Microsoft has introduced a significantly improved RDP version 7.0 with Windows 7 and is launching the much anticipated version 1 of RemoteFX this week at TechEd Berlin. RemoteFX (the new name for the technology through their Calista acquisition) promises a full featured, local-like experience for Windows 7 virtual desktops and will enable users to experience 3D applications and Windows Aero, and other content rich media.

The Cisco WAAS team has been working closely with the Microsoft RDS Team on optimizing RDP 7.0 and RDP7.1/RemoteFX technologies over the WAN. Our goal is to enable branch/campus users to use their Microsoft Office suite of tools, video and print in their remote virtual desktops with the same experience that they had when running them on their local desktop. Moreover, we want to assist IT organizations with cost savings on WAN bandwidth and enable IT to deliver virtual desktops to a larger user community spread across branch and campus locations.

We recently finished our optimization testing of RDP 7.0 with Cisco WAAS in a multiuser scenario and are currently testing RDP 7.1/RemoteFX. We conducted testing to simulate a real world environment. This included measuring the bandwidth consumption, application response and scalability of connections that could be supported on the available bandwidth. Our testing shows some really exciting results which demonstrate excellent benefits that Cisco WAAS can provide for Windows 7 delivery over the WAN.

For Windows 7 RDP 7.0 our test results show that Cisco WAAS can improve response times for interactive tasks up to 60%, improve print performance up to 9x, increase the number of users on WAN by 2x to 3x and also save up to 66% on bandwidth for RDP 7.0 MMR based Windows Media delivery. Cisco WAAS also improved the end user experience. For example menu draws were faster and PowerPoint transitions were delivered properly without being cut. More details on the testing can be found in the following Cisco white paper: Cisco WAAS and Optimized WAN Delivery of Microsoft Windows 7 Virtual Desktops.

For RDP 7.1/RemoteFX the testing is currently in progress and our preliminary results are showing around a 50+% reduction in WAN bandwidth requirements with Cisco WAAS. As we complete the RDP 7.1/RemoteFX testing we will present the results in a white paper and also blog about it. As we continue to work together with Microsoft we are looking forward to bringing further solutions for a better user experience in the virtual desktop space. Stay tuned!

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