I would like to introduce a technology from Microsoft called Windows Multipoint Server (WMS). I came across this a couple years ago as I was searching for a way to deliver low-cost endpoints to local schools. Multipoint is a platform that allows multiple stations to share a single computer. This resource sharing provides for a reduction in both hardware costs as well as management costs. On top of this, there are some additional management and visibility features that make this a great fit for education especially.
The basic idea of Windows Multipoint is shown at the right. There is one physical machine (desktop PC or server) to which several inexpensive zero-clients are connected. Each zero-client has a monitor, keyboard, and mouse (as well as audio jacks and an extra USB port). The zero clients are a means to display what is happening on the Multipoint Server, but nothing runs or is stored on the zero-client. Each client is presented with a Windows Desktop which looks very familiar (for WMS 2012, this looks like Windows 8). Zero-clients can be connected via USB, or via network.
Because of this model of shared resources (everything is running on the Multipoint Server), there is a great potential for costs savings when it comes to hardware. Additionally, there is nothing to manage on the zero-clients, meaning there is only one system to manage. Finally, because the zero-clients are very low power usage (~5W), there is significant power savings as well when compared with traditional PCs. There are no special hardware requirements for the keyboards, mice, or monitors, so existing peripherals can be utilized.
Multipoint provides for simple, yet powerful management of what is happening on each station through the Multipoint Dashboard (pictured right). This dashboard gives certain users the ability to see what is displayed on each desktop, send an instant message to the user, blank the screen, launch a program or webpage, take control of the workstation, or even display their own workstation to the other user. That is a powerful set of tools to use for managing a lab or classroom of computers.
Management of the Multipoint Server itself is done through the Multipoint Manager. The first thing to notice is that you can actually manage more than one machine from this one pane. (Bonus: the dashboard above can also view the desktops from other Multipoint Servers that have been added here) This management window is great, but my favorite feature here by far is Disk Protection. This really takes this product over the top in my opinion. When Disk Protection is enabled, changes to the server only take effect until the next reboot. That means you can just set it to reboot every night and every morning the lab is fresh and clean and ready to go. No fighting viruses, settings, toolbars, etc. It just works every day.
I have been administering this product in multiple schools for over two years now and I couldn’t be happier with it. My only complaint is that the user base isn’t very big yet, so support can be difficult to find if it is needed. Additionally, while I have primarily focused on this an educational product, this product is not limited to education. I believe it would work well in many business settings as well.
Thanks for checking out this write-up on Windows Multipoint Server. I’ll be following this post with several more that dive into the technical details of the product as well as where it is heading in the future. If you have questions or would like to implement this product, feel free to comment or use the contact form on our website.
Michael Richardson – I’m an IT Systems Analyst / Project Manager for Midwest Data Center, a former IT Salesman, and a Youth Pastor at my local church. I live in Maryville, MO and I enjoy learning and implementing new technologies for businesses, solving problems and puzzles, and teaching about my faith.