What’s better than a classroom full of PCs? How about 1 PC per classroom? As backwards as this may sound, it’s exactly the promise of the recently announced Windows MultiPoint Server 2010. The simple goal of this solution is to reduce the cost of providing a rich Windows PC experience by allowing many users to use one (powerful) PC simultaneously. Simply add multiple monitors and USB devices (keyboards, mice, speakers), and with a bit of software magic built upon Terminal Services technology (or Remote Desktop Services as it has recently been renamed), the PC management experience for school teachers everywhere just got a lot more simple.
I had the pleasure of a demo of the solution a couple of months ago, and it is a dream come true. I mean that almost literally – when I first joined Microsoft back in 1999, I was the product manager for Terminal Server. In 2001, the Terminal Server architect showed me a hacked up system that allowed multiple users on the same machine, using similar techniques that MultiPoint Server is using today. The main difference was that in 2001 we were using a Pentium 4 and not very much RAM by today’s standards. As is the fate of many prototypes, this one didn’t survive the prioritization process, but I always held out hope that one day it would see the light of day.
To cut a long story short, and in no small part to some bright folks from Microsoft Research India and support from the Unlimited Potential Group, Windows Multipoint Server was green-lighted for development in Chief Strategist Craig Mundie’s Startup Business Group.
The demo itself was impressive. 16 monitors simultaneously playing 720P HD video using the processing power of one PC (an Intel Core i7 system). This is particular feat was aided by a new feature available in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 that allows for full screen video rendering within a remote TS session. If you have two Windows 7 PCs, you can try this for yourself - just open up a WMV file from within a remote desktop session on another W7 PC and prepare to be amazed.
In case you hadn’t guessed by now, this is a win for the environment in several ways. First and foremost it helps reduce waste by dramatically reducing the number of processors, disks and RAM and other electronic components required to serve a given number of users. Secondly, it also significantly reduces the amount of power required to support those users. And third, not only is there less e-waste to deal with at the end of the day, but it makes it far more feasible (financially and practically) to upgrade the central PC’s components (e.g. bigger disks, more RAM) than it would be for multiple PCs – quite often it’s just easier and ultimately cheaper to replace the PCs altogether. The cherry on top is that no special hardware is needed – the whole thing runs using standard (multi-port) video cards and USB hubs, so if you decide you don’t need the system anymore, it’s easy to repurpose everything.
I think MultiPoint Server has the potential to be very successful, especially in school districts where for one reason or another, students don’t have access to laptops. It also makes a lot of sense in Internet Cafe’s and libraries. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s easier on the environment and your energy bill as well.
For more information on Windows MultiPoint Server 2010, check out the Unlimited Potential team blog post.