I had a great conversation with Michel Roth recently that shed a lot of light on what's been going on since Dell acquired Quest Software last year and about the new features of vWorkspace 8, which was released back in April. I had two big questions going into the conversation:
- Is EOP still relevant now that RDP 8 is out?
- How does Dell navigate their partnerships with VMware and Citrix now that vWorkspace is under the Dell umbrella?
Is EOP still relevant?
The most important question, at least from my perspective, is the technical one. We've praised vWorkspace in the past for their EOP protocol enhancements for RDP that have added missing features or rectified troubling problems, even going so far as to enhance RemoteFX so that it could run on WAN connections. If you've tried running RemoteFX in RDP 7 over a WAN, you can understand the need for any improvement. With RDP 8, though, Microsoft addressed many of the protocol's shortcomings, and all-but-renamed it to RemoteFX rather than RDP 8. If Microsoft fixed everything, where does that leave EOP?
Before we get too far ahead, I should mention that the vWorkspace team has always secretly hoped Microsoft would address the problems that EOP solved because it would free up development resources to fix larger problems. Ok, that probably wasn't always the case–they used to charge extra for EOP–but after they bundled the price of EOP into the cost of vWorkspace, then they wanted Microsoft to fix things. The bottom line is that anything Microsoft has done to RDP 8 is not seen as competition by the vWorkspace team.
With that said, let's look at the features of EOP and see if and how they still apply today.
EOP Xtream was designed to accelerate RDP over the WAN, especially for RemoteFX. We took a look at this back in 2010, and came away quite impressed. At the time, RemoteFX was not useful with latencies over 20ms, so it was more or less a LAN-only protocol.
With RDP 8, Microsoft added UDP functionality to RemoteFX, and this drastically improved the experience and lowered the bandwidth consumed by RFX. Of course, for WAN environments, this was especially important. In situations where UDP is supported (as in, if it's been opened on the firewall and the network you are on supports it), there is no need for EOP Xtream anymore. However, if something prevents UDP from working, for instance, the ports are blocked, RemoteFX will fall back to its TCP roots. If this happens, EOP Xtream steps in and optimizes the protocol once again.
EOP Text Echo
Local Text Echo is something that you only really want to use in the worst network situations since it changes the UI to some degree. The addition of UDP as a transport has addressed some of the issues with regards to latency, but only for video. RDP 8 still uses TCP for keystrokes and mouse clicks, and this is what EOP Text Echo is designed to enhance.
EOP Multimedia Acceleration
This feature accelerates the playback anything that can be played in Windows Media Player by redirecting it to the client. This sounds similar to what Microsoft has offered since Server 2008 R2, except that the Microsoft solution is on or off with no middle ground. It also only works for Windows Media files. EOP MA remains valuable because it works with any type of video that can play in Windows Media Player (DIVX, QT, MKV, etc…), and can be controlled via policy from with the vWorkspace management console.
EOP Flash Acceleration
Flash acceleration has been added to RDP 8 by transcoding Flash into h.264 on the fly, which is then sent down to the client. The problem with this is that the video and audio transcoding are separate processes, so sync is not guaranteed. EOP Flash Acceleration works with RDP 8 and can keep the audio/video in sync by redirecting the Flash content to the client side. Since EOP's Flash redirection is only good until about 120ms of latency, it will fall back to RDP 8's method when latency reaches that point.
EOP Graphics Acceleration
This is the only EOP feature that has been rendered totally useless with the introduction of RDP 8. Originally, this feature compresses bitmaps (those 255x255 blocks that you can see in your RDP session when using slow connections), but RDP 8's Adaptive Compression has surpassed EOP's capabilities. According to Michel, this feature might not even be supported since there would be no point in downgrading the experience.
The benefit of EOP USB is that it allows you to use just about any USB device through your remote desktop session. This feature was added to RDP as part of RemoteFX in Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows 7 SP1, but in VDI environments this required a GPU for the feature to work. RDP 8 has done away with the GPU requirement across the board, so USB redirection works fairly well. In some ways, the USB redirection in RDP 8 is better than EOP's, but it does not support compression, encryption, and bandwidth control like EOP USB does. Of course, EOP USB is configurable via policy through the management console, as well, so there is still some value there.
This feature was designed to enable support for applications that need microphones, such as VOIP or dictation apps. According to Michel, there has been no real improvement in RDP 8 in this regard, so the EOP Audio feature is still valuable if you have the requirement.
EOP Print was designed to add printing features that RD Easy Print is missing, and since nothing has changed on the Easy Print front, EOP Print still has value. The key features of EOP Print are centered on a universal print driver that can be centrally configured from the vWorkspace management console. It also adds support for native printer features (paper trays, stapling, paper size, etc…) and bandwidth control.
This is just here for completeness, since Microsoft more or less removed the need for EOP MultiMon in RDP 7. The original goal of EOP MultiMon was to allow you to run RDP sessions on multiple monitors in different layouts. RDP 6 essentially saw two 1024x768 screens next to each other as one, really wide 2048x768 screen rather than two separate monitors, so at the time EOP MultiMon was useful. Since RDP 7, Microsoft has fixed this and rendered EOP MultiMon useless.
It's easy to see that EOP still has a place in the vWorkspace solution. Thanks to Michel for helping out with the different features and what is/is not still relevant. He could have said "it's all relevant" and left it at that, but he's cut from the same cloth we all are, so he knows we appreciate candid answers.
Dell, Partnerships, and Competition
The other big question I had during our discussion was with regards to how Dell is dealing with their lucrative partnerships with VMware and Citrix while owning a competing product. The answer is that, while the Dell moniker is attached to both scenarios, vWorkspace is part of what is effectively a separate entity called Dell Software. As such, Dell Software (which was formed during they're acquisition spree last year that netted them Quest and Wyse, among others) is treated almost like a different company.
This is evident when considering the recent announcement from Dell (regular Dell, not Dell Software) regarding their new DVS Enterprise solution based on vWorkspace 8. Dell chose to aim it at the mid-market sector (500-5,000 users). This drew the ire of a few people in the industry, myself included, because I firmly believe that the number of people in the deployment doesn't have as much to do with which solution to choose as the use case does. I've argued this with VDI-in-a-Box in the past as well.
What I learned from Michel, though, is that this was a decision made by Dell as they productized a DVS offering, not by Dell Software. The vWorkspace team (for which Michel is the Product Manager) is still developing the product for all sizes of deployments, including large enterprise.
I'm curious if Citrix and VMware see Dell Software as a separate entity from Dell proper, but it seems that the relationships continue to be harmonious. Perhaps that's working out well. If that's the case, then we all benefit because there are still three dogs in this fight, which only serves to drive competition and innovation.