Details about Microsoft Calista start to emerge, but much is still unknown

It's been almost a year since Microsoft bought Calista Technologies, a non-shipping set of technologies that leverages host and client-based GPUs for 3D and multimedia remoting. Since the acquisition, Microsoft has been mum about the technology.

It's been almost a year since Microsoft bought Calista Technologies, a non-shipping set of technologies that leverages host and client-based GPUs for 3D and multimedia remoting. Since the acquisition, Microsoft has been mum about the technology. Nevertheless, we've still learned a few things about it over the past year. So of the Microsoft folks at BriForum talked a bit about it, Tad Brockway posted a blog entry about it earlier this week, Microsoft demoed a Calista preview at WinHEC last week, and there's this obscure Yahoo video demoing it.

So what do we know about Calista?

  • The Calista team is in the Bay Area, being led by Tad Brockway. Tad moved down there from Seattle, where he worked with the Terminal Services group for years. (Many of you remember Tad from his BriForum 2006 presentation about how Terminal Services came to be.)
  • Calista is specifically meant to help with 3D and multimedia applications. It does that by leveraging the GPU running on the host and the client.
  • Microsoft has NOT announced the "delivery vehicle" for Calista. In other words, we don't know when it's coming out. Tad's post had a sentence which read "When we launch RDS (Remote Desktop Services) in Server 2008 R2, and eventually Calista..." So we can guess Calista will be after R2.
  • The Calista demos at WinHEC were running on Windows 7 preview code running Hyper-V preview code. We don't know if Calista will specifically require Hyper-V on the host.
  • In the past, the talk was that Calista required a real Windows OS running on a real computer. But one of the Calista demos at WinHEC used a prototype thin client device. We can assume this device had a full GPU.
  • Server 2008 R2 will have many new RDP features, including "real" multi-monitor support, a connection broker that can be used for VDI or TS/RDS sessions, and DirectX remoting. These are all separate from Calista.

The more I learn about Calista, the more it seems that it's a bit like Teradici, except that Calista is based on existing GPU chips, whereas Teradici has their own. Of course Teradici does the whole DVI signal, not just 3D and multimedia, and Teradici also handles client-side USB and security and stuff... but as far as a general concept of leverage host and client-based special chips, these two seem similar.

Now that I'm living in the Bay Area, I'm hoping to visit the Microsoft office where Calista is being developed to record some videos of it in action. (Oh, by the way, I moved to San Francisco.) Until then, if anyone has any more information or video links, please post them. Calista can potentially fulfill one of the four technical needs for the "VDI+ 2010 vision," so I'm very interested in watching it evolve.

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My worry with Calista is that MS will restrict its client interoperability to platforms running a version of Windows. I want to get Windows OFF the desktop, not duplicate it in two places (desktop & datacentre). Same with the next version of RDP. Its all very well shipping the graphics primitives over the wire to be executed on the client  devices, but this is inevitably going to fatten up the requirements of the thin end of the infrastructure. We're in danger of taking one step forward and two steps back - I want the simplest, cheapest, zero footprint, zero-maintenance device on my users' desktops and I think that has to mean the graphic execution takes place at the back end and is shipped ultra-efficiently down the wire. Sun seem to be able to do it with AIP; so hopefully others will follow.


We use Sunray's with the Provision Networks plug-in and there EOP software on HP e90 thin clients and all works really well.  Ewen's comment is true for Sunray, the only zero maintenance device on the planet.  Only problem is that the Provison Java client does not support EOP and hence not able to get all features from the software unless you access your VDI session from the HP e90 which runs XPe.  I wish that VDI vendors and especially Provision Networks put effort into supporting JAVA and full Sunray support.  I have been asking for this more than a year now with no success.  What I dont understand is why vendors are insisting on using thin clients that only support CE or XPe, is it a coding problem or is the vision just not there?  There is a huge requirement for Sunray in Africa but the only vendor currenly supports VDI on Sunray is VmWare and Sun themselves and both there solutions are miles behind that of Provision.  I wish.....


Went to WinHEC.  Saw the demo. Was impressed by the advancements in RDP (see below), but not by the end result: ‘quality of experience’ QoE factoring in the cost (capital & maintenance) of the client.

Microsoft is positioning RDP 7, and Calista with ‘thick-clients’.  To exploit all the features of RDP 7 a Vista-capable client (with GPU) is required but no GPU is needed on the host.  This allows you to run windows media files, and other formats that are supported by Microsoft Media Player/Real Player on the client only without loading up the server (NO ITunes/Quicktime/Adobe Flash/or even SliverLight). Apparently Calista technology will be able to exploit GPUs on the server and client to accelerate and offload pixel compression/decompression, but where do you find a rack or blade server that can support the power and thermals of a GPU?   The Microsoft demo at WinHEC had only two users on a server running Windows Server 2008 R2, and didn’t have a number of how many they would support in the future.

The other thing Microsoft is working on is a Calista FPGA, also a demo at WinHEC.  This demo used the Calista FPGA in both the server and client (similar to Teradici), but only performed compression / decompression of the video.  The USB devices and Audio (not demonstrated at WinHEC) were still using RDP protocol via the CPU’s in the host and client.

The Teradici solution is much different in that there are no caveats or footnotes as to what video, 2D or 3D software it supports.  It supports ALL (ITunes/Quicktime/Adobe Flash/and even SliverLight etc.) forms of multimedia, and any new forms that may come down the road. There is no CPU/GPU on the client device, and therefore no Windows operating system to have to manage at the client in a remote fashion.  The Teradici solution also is capable of a larger QoE dynamic range as compared to the existing Microsoft remoting technologies (RDP 6+) and the ones available in Windows 7 and beyond (RDP 7 and Calista).  In addition, Teradici solution doesn’t care what the underlying operating system of the host is, so it can be used for remoting Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux with the same hardware.

Disclaimer: I work for Teradici, and have been using both Teradici PCoIP and Microsoft RDP technologies at home and work for the past year.


Louis, I doubt a Java client will ever have feature equivalence with Windows and Linux, which will always lead the way with the latest features.  we are now delivering EOP features on Linux about 90 days after we ship them for the Windows clients.  we do have Java and Linux AppPortal clients that has been developed that I anticipate seeing in Q109.

As for the "Provision Networks" name, the funeral is arranged as everything is being rebranded and marketed under the name "Quest vWorkspace".  This should officially happen when we ship vWorkspace 6.0 in December.  the vWorkspace name follows the naming convention of Quest  Software's Vizioncore products.

As for porting EOP to Sunray, this is next to impossible, as Sun uses the ALP protocol to connect  a Sunray device to a Sun VDC Server which proxies the connection to the destination Remote Desktop, Terminal Server, Citrix Server or Nix Host.  Vendors are limited by the protocol stack on the Sun Virtual Display Connector server (RDP, ICA, X11...) and by what fidelity/features ALP can proxy to the Sunray device.  Perhaps we can work with Sun Microsystems to port EOP features to the VDC, but because ALP is the final transport & display protocol there are challenges.

We are starting to ship our EOP enhanced clients on HP and Wyse Windows & Linux devices in Q109 and are working with Wyse to "try" to port our EOP features to WTOS where they don't overlap with TCX.

I imagine Windows CE 5 & 6 will get EOP features where appropriate but i'm not as familiar with CE as I am with the other OS.