Citrix Project Apollo: Aero, DirectX, and OpenGL via ICA

It's been over a year since Citrix first demoed "Project Apollo," their solution for remoting Vista Aero glass to clients. Displaying Vista Aero glass over a remote display protocol like ICA or RDP is complex, because Aero requires a GPU to render the complex graphics.

It's been over a year since Citrix first demoed "Project Apollo," their solution for remoting Vista Aero glass to clients. Displaying Vista Aero glass over a remote display protocol like ICA or RDP is complex, because Aero requires a GPU to render the complex graphics. (It's not as simple as just enabling the "themes" service like when you wanted to add the Windows XP Luna experience to a Windows 2003 Terminal Server.) This is essentially impossible in a multi-user Terminal Server enviroment, since each session would require its own GPU. (Sure, maybe you could pop a graphics card into your server, but best case that'd just give you Aero in a single session--and that's assuming that you had a remote display protocol that could support it.) Microsoft is rumored to be working on an Aero remoting solution for Terminal Services based on the Calista technology they acquired earlier this year, but so far nothing official has been announced.

But until something can be done for multi-user Terminal Servers, today's solutions for remoting Aero glass are based on 1-to-1 deployments. In other words, a real physical PC with a local graphics card / GPU (either in desktop or blade form factor) will live on the back end, and a thin client or workstation client will connect in a 1-to-1 VDI-like way.

Several vendors support 1-to-1 Aero solutions today, including Teradici and hp's RGS. So far, Citrix hasn't offered anything here (because even with Citrix XenDesktop connected 1-to-1 to a Vista host, ICA couldn't support Aero). But Project Apollo will change that, and for the past few months, it's been available for private beta testing. (Interested? Check out the Project Apollo website, where the Tech Preview 2 is now available.)

Apollo seems pretty cool. (YouTube Video) In addition to Aero (which is nice eye candy, but not really useful), Apollo supports OpenGL and DirectX applications and is really designed for CAD and medical imaging applications.

Does anyone have hands-on experience with Apollo in the real world yet? Share your thoughts below.

Apollo will ultimately be made available as an add-on to Citrix XenDesktop, since that's Citrix's 1-to-1 solution. Will it ever make it to XenApp for Terminal Server? Perhaps, but that's a larger GPU / TS architectural challenge, and we'll probably have to wait to see what Microsoft does with Calista and TS moving forward.

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Hi B,


You failed to mention Project Pictor which does address the GPU issue, although last I heard it requested an additional piece of hardware that houses multiple GPU's in it.  It was originally developed for Boeing and Citrix decided to add it under the umbrella of Apollo.  Apollo is just a broad name for everything the Multi Media team is currently developing at Citrix.  Debbie Fox is the project owner:  citrixblogger.org/.../project-pictor


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I've seen this topic come up a lot recently, but there always seems to be some confusion about it.  You can remote Aero over RDP *now* with a Vista (or higher) client.  The GPU is required on the client, not the host--the actual graphics commands are remoted and then rendered on the client.  No special card is required on the host.  In fact, through RDP, you can enable Aero on a VM--even though the VM itself has only basic graphics support.  


This approach would seem to scale far better than attempting to render everything on the host and then remoting the result to the client.  However, it looks like Win7 will have a DX10-compatible software-renderer (if no GPU is available), so perhaps Microsoft is taking both routes here... although I suppose the software rendering could still be done on the client side if it lacks a GPU--this still seems to be a better approach for scaling.


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I think the real business will be remoting CAD/CAM applications, and I don't think remoting 3D will be enough for that. You also need huge computation power on your back and probably a solution like CUDA installed on the terminal server could helps. But we are just looking too far imho.


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You can only remote Aero via RDP from one Vista Machine to another.  Terminal Server 2008 does not currently support it.  They took that functunality out on the Beta 3 release.  You absolutely have to have a Vista Aero capable back end to remote Aero to an end point.


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Hi Brian,


Thanks for the coverage on project Apollo (www.citrix.com/apollo), which is actually a multi-faceted project covering all aspects of multimedia virtualization from media streaming to 3D graphics to VoIP and video chat. The current Tech Preview release (www.citrix.com/apollo3Dgraphics) targets high-end professional graphics with large 3D models (e.g. CAD, GIS). As part of our SmartRendering strategy, we are also developing technology for delivering Aero desktops by leveraging the GPU on the client (incl. WinXP clients). And you've probably already seen my video blog post on how we are extending our RAVE (Remote Audio & Video Extension) technology) to enhance the delivery of Flash content, including HD videos.


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As for the comment about being able to remote Aero over RDP "now", this can only be done from a Vista or 2008 client. This isn't very useful (in most cases) since people are wanting to remote Vista from devices that can't support Vista, or from devices that don't run Vista because IT doesn't want to support two Windows Client OS per user.


The idea is to be able to deliver the rich experience to any most devices running any OS,  yes?  I said "most devices" because you can't display rich graphics or high resolutions on an old thin client or 486 that only has 2MB Video RAM.


I still don't know how much this will be used in the business world, but I'm sure we'll see.  In education, engineering and entertainment industries I see this being more of a fit.


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"Several vendors support 1-to-1 Aero solutions today, including Teradici and hp's RGS. So far, Citrix hasn't offered anything here (because even with Citrix XenDesktop connected 1-to-1 to a Vista host, ICA couldn't support Aero). But Project Apollo will change that, and for the past few months, it's been available for private beta testing."


Just to be clear, this still appears to be 1-1 (thats not changing); as to date there is no way produce a 4+ vista user experience virtual GPU is there?


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Actually, I should have explained my question futher as you make it clear that this is a 1-1 solution in the article.  However, while XenDesktop does support, blades, XenDesktop seems most commonly associated with VM desktops  (ie XenServer, ESX).  These are 1-1 in terms of OS just not hardware.  So although the article does make it clear, I've heard more than 1 customer seem to think that since this is a XenDesktop solution, it will work with VMs as well.  I'm just thying to be sure I am not missing something as this does not seem possible.


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To be fair to Citrix, I have heard zero customers tell me that running Aero on Vista is a business requirement of theirs going forward with VDI.  95% of customers I deal with are only "currently" interested in virtualizing XP, and the ones that have chosen Vista have not asked for this functionality.  Would it nice bell/whistle, definitely.  Is it in the top 20 list of wanted features from customers, no.  It looks really, really pretty, but I don't know of an overwhealming business case for Aero Glass via Remote Desktop Services or VDI.  If there is, it is a niche that I've yet to encounter.


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Honestly I am not aware of any clients that have specifically asked for Aero in Vista in a VDI environment (I have not had anybody ask about implementing Vista in their VDI environment).  I agree there would probably not be a strong business case for implementing Aero, however for demonstration purposes, if one could get Aero to work via RDP or ICA then it would lead onto conversations about utilizing the GPU for other applications.  It opens up possibilities to further utilise centralised processing (which can now include GPU) for a wider range of users.  This wont just be restricted to Aero, but maybe also Youtube :)


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Keep in mind gentleman that this is not just a question around areo glass, but aroung .Net 30 and the applications that are currently being built to this standard.  So that they can take advantafe of the 3D and OpenGL features of Vista Aero/


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