Windows MultiPoint Server 2011: Good for more than just schools

You can power as many as 20 workstations from one PC, giving libraries, classrooms, training centers, and more an economical computing platform

I recently helped a large school system make an epic move to newer server technology: Its Active Directory infrastructure was more 10 years old, and I had to switch it to newer hardware and completely migrate it onto the latest versions of Windows Server and Active Directory.

In the process, I would enter classroom after classroom to discover why migrations weren't occurring smoothly. Typically it was because in many of these classrooms we were dealing with junk -- systems that had been beat up badly over their lifetime, running (barely, in most cases) Windows XP and on their last legs. It was sad to think of young minds of tomorrow clicking away on these dinosaurs. Even worse, throughout the world are classrooms that would love to have an XP dinosaur to click away on.

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It may not always be possible to provide a new system, but with Windows MultiPoint Server, you can provide a modern desktop experience for all students. The production version of MultiPoint Server 2011 should be available by April, but there's a release candidate now available to try. In a nutshell, MultiPoint Server allows for a VDI session for as many as 20 connections through a single PC.

Microsoft is promoting it for classrooms, labs, and libraries. The savings comes in with the fact that you don't need to provide full computers for everyone who connects; each user requires only a monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse. The main system shares its resources with the other users through a Windows 7 interface.

MultiPoint Server 2011 is the newest version of this largely unknown product. Its worthwhile new features and enhancements include the following:

Support for RDP-compatible clients. Systems that are RDP-compatible (like those old Windows XP systems you can't get rid of) can connect to the MultiPoint Server. It supports thin clients, laptops, and netbooks as well. Thin clients that support RemoteFX should have a very rich remote multimedia experience.

Management of multiple servers from one location. If you have more than one MultiPoint server, you can manage them from one user interface.

One monitor, two users. It sounds great that all you need is to provide a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for each user, but let's face it: Monitors are expensive. With MultiPoint server, you can pair two people with one monitor, working independently (through split screens) or together.

Active Directory integration. You can join the MultiPoint servers to your existing domain and use existing accounts on the domain with the server logins. In addition, as a member of the domain, the MultiPoint server can be controlled through group policies and provide roaming profiles.

Virtual deployments. You can install MultiPoint Server as a virtual machine without having the glut of new infrastructure that virtualization sometimes requires.

Teacher management. A teacher can check in on each station; there's a thumbnail view that allows him or her to see each station (like a security camera setup), then zoom in when a student needs help. With a click of a button, the teacher can block all stations so that the students have to disengage from the computer and focus again on the teacher -- I wish I had that feature in some of the IT courses I've taught over the years. The teacher can also restrict access to certain sites and so forth. (This is basic protection, so you'll want an iBoss parental control unit or some other kind of Web filtering product to really protect your students, library visitors, and so forth.) Students are given personal folders, but they can also bring in a USB storage drive and plug it into their stations for access to their personal data.

Although MultiPoint Server could be a great tool in schools and libraries, I see real value in many enterprise-oriented situations such as labs, in-house training centers, and kiosk stations that workers use to check their schedules and so forth.

This article, "Windows MultiPoint Server 2011: Good for more than just schools," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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