Flash and RDP7.0. Still relevant?

In the age of Windows Server 2012 and more than that, 2008 R2 SP1 that brought you RemoteFX, why the hell is someone (me) writing about RDP7.0 and Flash?
Well for many simple reasons. First of all, I get asked about this on a daily basis. My wife, my kids, my dogs. They always ask me that, before I even sit down in the morning to get my cappuccino going.
Seriously, there is a ton of Windows XP out there and more than that, a LOT of Windows Server 2008 R2 as not everyone took the leap and went all the way to 2012 RDS and its mighty RDP8.
So all that said, RDP7 is still out there and strong, thanks to legacy clients (XP) connecting to it. In this case does not matter RDP7.1 and RemoteFX are on your server as the client cannot handle it and will fall back to RDP7.0. You can see this here:

RDP7.0 Client on XP SP3
RDP7.0 Client on XP SP3

Now, is it possible to run Flash on RDP7? The final answer, video to prove, is…

YES.

It is possible.

But there are some caveats and potentially HUGE ones. Before anything let’s watch a quick video (well not that quick) I recorded last night. It does cover YouTube, Flash and Windows Media HD on a 2008 R2 SP1 RDS Session, through a Windows XP SP3 box.

As seen on the video the main issue here is indeed bandwidth. I passed the connection through my loyal and reliable Apposite Linktropy Mini2 and monitored the bandwidth in all three cases. This is what I found roughly:

Youtube: consistently over 30MBits. Some spikes over 37.5Mbits.
We Chose the Moon Flash Website: Stage 1. Peaks over 25Mbits. 10s average close to 20Mbits.
Windows Media HD: 10s average in the 7.5Mbits range.

The key thing to understand here is, Flash is accelerated but NOT redirected while Windows Media HD is indeed redirected and decoded on the client. Just watching the video you can see WMV HD 720p playing full screen. No lag, nothing. Pure beauty.

Even YouTube/Flash played extremely well (my recording software, iShowU HD, for some reason introduced some audio stuttering with the latest version – pretty bad – and an older version was much better but still not perfect like the one I had before). Very smooth, great frame rate and audio in good sync. Also note I probably recorded at 15fps. Again, real life looks really good.

The problem really gets down to bandwidth, link quality and of course CPU (for Flash) with RDP7.0. If you want to run 50 people over a 10Mbits link to watch YouTube (like one of my customers DID want to do), no way it will work. This gives in a perfect case scenario around 200kbps per user. As long as the YouTube video is sized 32 pixels by 24 pixels, yes, it will work perfectly. They will need magnifying glasses but that is another story…

And if we factor latency and loss, well than you are screwed. Seriously.

The lesson here is, RDP7.0 on older clients against 2008 R2 SP1, can deliver Flash as long as you have infinite bandwidth with very little latency.
As far as I know such connection does not exist yet as of 2013. Maybe in 3102 but by then RDP 308 will deliver Holographic 4D content, with a separate virtual channel for smell, no problem.

Until then, please avoid Flash on RDP7.0.

Keep an eye for another post now showing the effects of latency and a comparison between RDP7 and RDP8, from a Windows 7 SP1 endpoint.

Cheers.

CR

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Ericom Blaze Review

This week I had some time available to give Ericom Blaze a try. For those not familiar with the product, it is basically an add-on for Remote Desktop Services that accellerates RDP performance using compression/shaping techniques. It also reduces the overall bandwidth utilization and the effects of latency. Ok, this is all they say on their marketing materials in a nutshell.

The bottom line for me, when running the tests, was to determine two things: does it work? And given its costs, is it worth? After some not extensive testing, this is what I found out.

Installation

Dead on simple. Just load a server component that does not even require a reboot on all your RDS Session Hosts (or Terminal Servers as it is compatible with 2003/2008/2008R2) and their client on all your PCs and Thin Clients. They cover all sorts of clients, from Linux/OSX to Windows XP/Vista/7 and even Windows CE. Nice. I even recorded videos to show you how simple the install really is. Here you have them:

Server

Client

Performance

So here is the deal. No matter how good marketing is, the bottom line is if the product works. For these tests I simulated two different connection scenarios using an Apposite Linktropy Mini2 (a great device that deserves a review on its own). To determine how much bandwidth and latency I was going to use, I used the Speedtest.net website and the iOS app 10 (ten) different times and got the average numbers for each case. With these in hand I first created a baseline video where I use a plain RDP7 client on an XP SP3 box to connect to a 2008 R2 RDS SH and opened a simple PDF file and the Adobe Flash player website. Here you have the videos:

Baseline

With that out of the way I then proceeded to simulate the two scenarions: cross country connection and 3G. For the cross country, my ten tests returned a 2.5MBits down/1.9MBits up connection with 108ms latency, from Ottawa to San Francisco. For 3G, 2.2Mbits down/330kbps up, 112ms latency (using the Rogers network in Canada from a metro location like Ottawa). Again let’s watch the results:

Cross Country

3G

So what do I think of Ericom Blaze? Well the videos do not lie. It does help your RDS Session Host for sure but depending on the conditions this does not necessarily mean it is usable. IMHO Flash does get better but not to the point that makes it usable. Of course it will get down to the Flash content you have. I do expect Flash websites to work great. For video, at least on my tests, the audio was very choppy, choppier actually than with plain RDP7. But again, your mileage may vary. Bottom line is do I think it is amazing and that it greatly enhances RDP? No.

The second thing to consider, and to me the most important one, is the cost/benefit and here, again, IMHO, it fails miserably. At US$ 100-110 per USER, I cannot understand how anyone can justify such solution, considering Quest’s EOP does offer similar (if not better) capabilities in terms of RDP enhancements PLUS a lot more on the RDS SH side. And if you stretch your budget you are now in Citrix XenApp territory and its ICA protocol what does work great indeed.

Resuming: Blaze does work but it is not the silver bullet and may not be that great under certain conditions. Plus it costs. Way too much for my wallet.

CR

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