Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008


Remote Desktop Services is a role in Windows Server 2008 R2 that provides remote access to sessions running on centralized servers. If you’ve tried Windows Server 2008, then you’ve probably encountered what used to be known as Terminal Services. That’s what Remote Desktop Services, or RDS, really is.

(Instructional video below provides a walkthrough of the steps contained in this article.)

Basically, RDS provides remote access to sessions like:

  • Session-based desktops – You can connect to a session of the actual desktop on the server.
  • Virtual machine-based desktops – You can connect to a virtual machine.
  • Applications – You can even connect to a session of an application running on a server.

Some of the advancements that have been made allow us not only to access these remote sessions from within the corporate network but also from just about any other network, including the Internet.

RDS Role Services

There’s a number of different role services that fall under RDS. This includes:

  • RD (Remote Desktop) Session Host – This is the most important RDS role service. Without it, you can’t have Remote Desktop Services. That’s because the Session Host is the server responsible for hosting the sessions that are going to be accessed remotely.
  • RD Virtualization Host – This supports the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure or VDI.
  • RD Licensing – Manages RDS Client Access Licenses or CALs. In order to access a remote session, you need to have a license (or CAL) to do so. The server that validates that a client has a license to access a session on the Session Host is the RD Licensing Server.

Actually, it’s possible to access Remote Desktop Services without an RD Licensing service within a 120-day period. After that, you need to start paying for the licenses.

  • RD Connection Broker – This service plays a number of different roles but is mainly designed for supporting session load balancing.

    If you’re going to administer an environment that’s large enough to require more than one Session Host, then you’ll need a Connection Broker to balance the load. That way, clients that come in later can be matched with the most available Session Host.

    Another task that the Connection Broker is responsible for is the management of disconnected clients that want to reconnect. When a client is disconnected from a running session, that session will continue to run in the Session Host.

    Once the client attempts to reconnect, the Connection Broker will check whether that client had a previously running session and, if so, connect it back to the Session Host that hosted the session.

  • RD Gateway – Supports connections to the Session Host from the Internet.
  • RD Web Access – Although this sounds like a service that’s responsible for accessing the World Wide Web, it isn’t necessarily so. Remember, RD Gateway is already in charge of that.

    Instead, RD Web Access enables access to RemoteApp and Desktop Connection through a web browser. This allows a user to open up a browser, go to a designated site, and click on links to connect to the remote sessions they want to get to.

Changes in Windows Server 2008 R2

Before we wrap things up for this article, let’s take a closer look at the two columns below and discuss some of the changes made from Windows Server 2008 to Windows Server 2008 R2. There are some terms that are quite confusing and we’d like to clarify them here.

Windows Server 2008 vs 2008 R2

Actually, the services that we had in Windows Server 2008 were very similar to services in prior versions of Windows Server. All the way up until Windows Server 2008, what we now call Remote Desktop Services used to be called Terminal Services.

Interestingly, as far back as Windows Server 2003, there was already a service known as Remote Desktop Services. However, that was really a version of Terminal Services that allowed admins to remotely manage the servers without having to go out and get Terminal Service licensing.

In other words, the Remote Desktop Services that already existed back then was actually slightly different from the RDS that is being included in 2008 R2, and the Remote Desktop Services that we are referring to now is the one that used to be known as Terminal Services in those past versions.

Moving forward, what is now known as a RD Session Host used to be referred to as a Terminal Server. In turn, TS (Terminal Services) Licensing is now known as RD Licensing. TS Session Broker is now called RD Connection Broker, TS Gateway is now called RD Gateway, and TS Web Access is now called RD Web Access.


With that, I hope you now have a better understanding as to what the components of Remote Desktop Services are and how they relate to those found in past versions of Windows Server. That’s all for now.