Microsoft buys Calista Technologies. What will this mean?

Perhaps the biggest of today's multitude of announcements from Microsoft is that Microsoft is buying Calista Technologies. Calista is a privately-held, venture-backed software vendor who was in the process of developing extensions to Windows and RDP that virtualized the entire GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) of the host computer.

Perhaps the biggest of today's multitude of announcements from Microsoft is that Microsoft is buying Calista Technologies. Calista is a privately-held, venture-backed software vendor who was in the process of developing extensions to Windows and RDP that virtualized the entire GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) of the host computer. This enables RDP to support multimedia, streaming and syncronized audio, and full and high-fidelity desktops and applications--all over a standard RDP connection from a standard RDP client device.

This is important in today's world because as people try to deliver a complete windows desktop, they learn that RDP is just not capable of this on it's own. Sure, it can work. But RDP was designed for delivering business apps here-and-there. When you're talking about delivering an entire desktop with all apps, multimedia, web browsing, graphics, huge resolutions, transparent windows--this is something that RDP just wasn't designed to do. I wrote about this a few months ago in an article "Remote display protocols for VDI: will RDP be enough?" (In case you're wondering whether RDP will be enough, my answer was 'no.' I felt that Microsoft would have to build or buy something if they wanted to get serious about delivering Windows desktops remotely.)

Let's get back to Calista though. As I said, Calista was in the process of developing a virtualized GPU that could be added to Windows. In my article about this last year, I quoted Provision Networks' (now part of Quest Software) Peter Ghostine as he explained what this meant. Let's look at what he said:

In “virtualizing” the graphics system of the host, software on the host captures all possible graphical layers (GDI, WPF, DirectX, etc.) and renders them into a remote protocol stream (like RDP) where they’re sent down to the client as fast as possible. This will give the client an experience which is very close to local performance, regardless of the client device (even on very low-end WinCE and Linux clients).

The challenge here is that GPU capabilities must exist on the server side where the rendering is taking place. This is fine if you plug a physical graphics card into physical hardware running a physical OS. But in a VDI scenario, your hypervisor must be able to virtualize the GPU just like any other piece of hardware. This means that the Windows desktop OS running inside the VM be able to detect the “virtual” GPU so that it can enable all of it’s cool graphical features.

The Calista technology can be used in all three modes of desktop delivery: terminal server, blade PCs, and VM-based VDI environments. When remoting the desktop of a physical single-user device (like a blade PC), the GPU is local and dedicated to that PC already, so this isn't too hard to do. When remoting a desktop via terminal services, Calista has to modify how Windows carves up the individual sessions and create a virtual GPU on a session-by-session basis. And when remoting a desktop via VDI, Calista has to work with the hypervisor to create a GPU for each VM (or it has to create a 100% software-based GPU in each VM).

Certainly creating these software-based host-based GPUs eat up some processing power on the host. But this is the type of transaction that would work well in multi-core environments. Since general Windows use was not really designed for multiple cores, Windows doesn't scale across multiple cores too well to begin with. So if you have all these "extra" cores on your host that aren't really doing anything too useful, why not let them spend time processing a software-based virtual GPU to improve the experience of the end users?

What will Microsoft do with the Calista technology?

Again, remember that Calista did NOT have a product on the market yet. At this point they are just a company who's developing some cool technology. In a phone call I had with some folks at Microsoft last night, they stressed that Microsoft does not yet have a roadmap for Calista. Will it be an independent product? An add-on product? Built-in to all products? They just don't know yet. They do know that it can enable remote desktop delivery both for Terminal Server and Windows XP and Vista. Their stated goal is to leverage it to make RDP more capable over time.

Of course there are a few unanswered questions that people are already starting to think about. For instance, will Microsoft "lock out" other hypervisor vendors (read: VMware) so that these Calista enhancements only work in Microsoft-approved scenarios (read: Hyper-V and Xen)?

What does this mean for Citrix?

In today's world, if you want to remote a full Windows desktop, you can't really do it with just RDP. One of the most popular options is to use Citrix's ICA protocol (either via Presentation Server or XenDesktop). So with Microsoft buying Calista, this is essentially Microsoft saying "soon RDP can be used to remote a full Windows desktop." In fact, in a blog item on MSDN posted a few minutes after the acquisition was announced, Calista's founder, Neal Margulis, wrote about Calista's technology and it's impact:

Some people in the industry seem to think that RDP and multimedia don’t go very well together, and it stuns me when they say that in order to provide a decent rich media desktop experience over an IP network, you need to resort to a non-RDP protocol. Well, these skeptics may want to rethink their position, in particular after watching a demo of the Calista Virtual Desktop software. When you utilize Calista’s unique GPU virtualization, smart capture and high-fidelity compression technologies, you end up with the industry’s most compelling, most economic, and most broadly acceptable solution for virtualizing a modern Windows desktop.

Which "non-RDP protocol" do you think Margulis is talking about?

How does Citrix respond to this? I had a conference call with David Roussain and Mick Hollison (VP, Product Management for XenDesktop) at Citrix. They were tripping over each other to say that Calista did not compete with them, that this just validates the space and Citrix's desktop delivery approach, and that they're a strong partner with Microsoft. Their feeling is that Calista is a core technology that Microsoft will build into their platform, most likely for the purpose of remoting WPF apps. They stressed that it's a raw technology and it won't make its way into a product for awhile. And when it does make it into a product, it will be another core technology that Citrix can "embrace and extend." Will this renew the conversation of whether Citrix should drop ICA and just go with RDP? Or is this just kind of "ho hum.. same old arguments, 2008 version?"

To be fair, the same press release also includes some news about Citrix and Microsoft strengthening their marketing relationship around XenSource and Hyper-V. Does this show that the two companies are still on the same page with everything? Or was this just thrown in there so that Citrix had some preemptive ammo against pissant alarmist bloggers who would claim that Microsoft doesn't need Citrix? Time will tell.

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> was this just thrown in there so that Citrix had some preemptive ammo against pissant alarmist bloggers who would claim that Microsoft doesn't need Citrix?

I wonder who Brian means. Anyway I doubt that either Microsoft or Citrix would issue s press release just to preempt a blogger or two. Indeed, I doubt that the two news items have anything to do with each other beyond the fact that they are both about virtualization and involve the same group at Microsoft.

I think that the biggest thing about the Calista purchase, beyond the very cool technology, it that SBC/TS/VDI is finally becoming mainstream at Microsoft. This is good news for everybody involved in this market segment as Microsoft’s endorsement will certainly increase the penetration of this technology.

It does seem like Microsoft threw a bone to Citrix to keep them pacified.  But it certainly looks like a strong jab...

Procotole is not everything... There is still "other things" that is making the difference like central administration, policies, ... I saw more this as a thread to small competitor that were directly adding value to TS-RDP for who the RemoteApp and TS Web Access (+ now the graphical remote display) will cause more problem...

Anyway, nice move. 

Same old story...anyone remember Prologue?

You sound intelligent.  Please post more!  :)


Anyone seen the massive differences in technology when it comes to remote app v published apps and terminal server farms v citrix farms.  Yes the name sounds the same but jesus, they couldnt be further apart.  Don't forget that the new ts session broker is a single point of failure (well sort of) unless you cluster it with shared stored which won't cluster across sites... i could go on for ever, but i think i will stop there!
Calista would be great if it can be used in a citrix farm without all the limitations of WTS 2008
You are absolutely correct regarding the differences between Citrix and WTS 2008. But there are several Citrix alternatives out there that provide at least some of Citrix's functionality on top of WTS, such as Quest/Provision, Ericom and 2X. Up until now one of Citrix's main technical selling points has been the advantage of its ICA protocol over RDP, which is what all the others use. When Celista's technology is integrated into RDP these products may actually have and advantage over Citrix with regard to the protocol.
indeed, but you can't manage an enterprise size vdi environment with wts2008, so citrix or something else would be needed too.
Another great concept that will be consumed by red tape, kept out of VMWare's hand and we will make limited progress. YAWN!!!! But stupid for Citrix not to pick it up in the first place.

I agree that this is good news, but then again, it's Microsoft we are talking about.  When was the last time you saw them purchase a company and quickly turn around a solid solution?  Anyone can rebrand a product, but in my book, it's not fully baked until it's fully integrated.  Just my two cents.

And BTW, not a bad chunck of $$ for the guys at Calista, especially for not officially have a product.  If I could only have such luck...
When there is no business model to build true value based on an RDP extentsion, it's better to sell out the technology into the larger echosystem while you can for as much $$ as you can :-) Remember geek product does not equal viable business.

You guys must be aware of the Citrix research projects on getting almost the same user experience through ICA as with locally processed applications. See the Citrix videos on this in the below links. I don't know if these are based on a similar technology as Calista, but I just have a gut feeling that Microsoft and Citrix are just grabbing out technologies which would help others (such as VMware). 


Very true. However, the REASON Microsoft and Citrix are grabbing technologies is different. Citrix would want to grab technologies so that they could have them and others couldn't. Microsoft, on the other hand, will add these technologies to the core platform, which means they'd be available for Citrix, VMware, or anyone else.
Or then the technologies would be "accidently" lost in the corridors of Redmond, benefiting Citrix.

The Calista technology doesn't alter the RDP protocol, it has to obide by the rules of it.  I would guess that Calista adds better compression, thus reducing bandwidth requirements.  Calista also enables hardware acceleration for RDP.  This has already been done by ThinAnywhere.  However, Calista can do this for workstation Operating Systems in addition to TS.  The question is what hardware do you run this solution on to get the hardware acceleration?  Further, Calista claims to virtualize the GPU thus enabling hardware acceleration in Virtual Machines???  What hypervisor allows that?  VMWare=No, Xen=No, Hyper-V=No.  I personally what to see how this all works, and would love to have a solution enabling hardware acceleration in a VM.