Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 SP1 betas to arrive in July

Microsoft sets a date for the first service pack updates for its desktop and server operating systems at TechEd, where it also unveils new Azure tools in a cloud push

The first service packs for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 will see a beta release in July, Microsoft announced at its TechEd 2010 conference on Monday.

The software maker did not disclose a date for final availability for the service packs at the conference, held in New Orleans, but it did go into detail about what customers can expect to see. The relatively minor updates add a few new features, concentrating instead on improving desktop virtualisation support for the server operating system and providing a roll-up of hotfixes and updates for the desktop OS.

Also at TechEd, Microsoft unveiled an update to the Windows Azure software development kit (SDK), which now provides support for .Net Framework 4, Visual Studio 2010 RTM and Intellitrace. The company also said it will offer spatial data support and access to 50GB of SQL Azure Database. On the management side, it provided a new public preview of the SQL Azure Data Sync Service, which controls how data is synced and distributed among several datacentres, and delivered SQL Server Web Manager, which helps develop, deliver and manage cloud applications.

Bob Muglia, the president of Microsoft's server and tools division, focused on cloud computing in his keynote speech, saying that customers have a range of approaches to cloud computing. Some want to use it to reshape the way they approach IT, while others just want to use it to extend their existing infrastructure, he argued.

"Our job, simply put, is to deliver what customers need to take advantage of cloud computing on their own terms," Muglia said. "Some vendors would have you believe that you must move everything to the cloud now and there is only one way to achieve cloud computing; don't be misled and lose sight of the value of all the investments you have already made to enable the full promise of cloud computing."

Microsoft also announced the release to manufacturing of its Windows Server App Fabric, a server deployment and management technology that is key to Microsoft's strategy for enterprise clouds. Other announcements include a SDK for creating Bing Maps applications, and a feature list for Communications Server 14, the unified communcations platform expected to arrive later this year.

In a press briefing, Microsoft introduced the virtualisation changes it has made in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1. The server OS will introduce dynamic memory support for virtual machines, Microsoft said in a press briefing. Dynamic memory will tailor virtual machine memory consumption to the changing requirements of running virtual machines, allowing system administrators to maximise the number of virtual machines on a single host.

"When we talk to customers about memory and virtualisation, we know the key limiter to density is the amount of memory you have in the host. What the customer really is after is maximum density with scalability and predictable performance. We designed dynamic memory to do that," Justin Graham, senior product manager Windows Server Group, said.

Memory allocated to a virtualised OS will be able to be varied up or down without interrupting operations or service, treating host memory as a single pool that can be shared between running virtual machines, Microsoft said. As well as optimising virtual servers, the technique can also be used to handle the variable memory demands of virtual desktops.

"With desktop VMs [memory usage is] clearly much more variable; the usage varies during the day or evening, there may be lot of demand at certain hours of the day. This gives you the ability to flexibly allocate the memory," Bill Laing, corporate vice president Windows Server and Solutions Division, argued.

Microsoft will support dynamic memory in Windows Server 2003, 2008 and 2008 R2 virtual servers, and in the Enterprise and Ultimate editions of Windows Vista and 7 virtual desktops.

RemoteFX, a new feature that was initially announced in March, delivers a GPU-powered desktop to remote clients. Using a virtual 3D graphics card device driver and server side rendering, RemoteFX gives virtual and remote desktops the same Aero visual effects as a PC with a dedicated graphics card. "RemoteFX gives you a full rich experience much like you would get with a full desktop," Graham said.

In the briefing, Microsoft used a thin client device to demonstrate the full Aero desktop on a virtual Windows 7 machine, along with 3D images, textures and shading in AutoCAD. The same virtual desktop was also able to deliver high-definition video content.

Based on technology bought in by the acquisition of Calista in January 2008, RemoteFX requires a server to have GPU-based graphics — Microsoft suggests a single GPU can support up to eight clients, with at least two graphics cards recommended — with a dedicated codec for screen rendering. The RemoteFX codec is available initially in software only, but a hardware implementation is expected to become available soon.

Part of an updated version of Windows Remote Desktop Services, RemoteFX also gives virtual machines and remote desktops generic USB device support, which Graham described as "generic, underlying USB redirection that's redirecting at a lower level than we have done before".

Virtual desktop USB support will allow thin client users to use multi-function printers, VoIP headsets and webcams, among other devices. A new Remote Desktop client with RemoteFX support, which requires an updated version of Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol,  is part of Windows 7 SP1. It will also be available for Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Other features in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 will include improvements to its Direct Access tools for connecting remote PCs to corporate networks, improvements to how Managed Service Accounts operate, and increased scalability for domain servers.


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