How To Setup Remote Desktop Services 2012 Step By Step

The setup of Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2012 comprises of 6 component services:

  • Remote Desktop Services Virtualisation Host – This is the VDI setup for 2012, enabling the terminal server to host multiple Windows client VMs
  • Remote Desktop Services Session Host – This is the Terminal Server, as it was traditionally known
  • Remote Desktop Services RemoteApp (Web Access) – This service enables users to launch published applications on the terminal server as if they were ran from their local machines
  • Remote Desktop Services Session Broker – This is a load balancing service which directs users to the appropriate RDS service (Session host, RemoteApp or VDI / Virtualisation Host)
  • Remote Desktop Services Licensing Server – This handles the licensing for RDS 2012

The first thing to do when you are looking to setup Remote Desktop Services 2012, is to plan how many servers you need, how you want to spread out the Remote Desktop Services, which Remote Desktop Services you want to use and whether you want to do any clustering / load balancing. This article doesn’t cover this planning stage or best practices, it just provides a step by step tutorial depicting how to setup Remote Desktop Services on Windows Server 2012.

This tutorial assumes that you are using a total of 3 servers, one of which will be taking care of Remote Desktop Licensing and the Remote Desktop Services Broker service and the other two acting as load balanced Terminal Servers (Serving Remote Desktop Session Host services, one of which will be the RemoteApp server).

Installing Remote Desktop Services on Windows Server 2012

Here’s my step by step guide for installing a Remote Desktop Services infrastructure on Windows Server 2012.

  1. Install Windows Server 2012 on 3 servers, give each a static IP address, a name, join them to the domain and activate them (I won’t go into any more detail than that, this is a step by step guide, not an idiots guide πŸ™‚ )
  2. From Windows Server 2012 Server Manager (Running on any machine), add the 3 servers (Right click Servers -> Add Servers and follow the process)
  3. In Windows Server 2012 Server Manager, on each terminal server (RD Session Host) enable remote desktop and Allow remote connections to this computer (Selecting users and adding the AD security group of users that you would like to allow RDP access to)
  4. In Windows Server 2012 Server Manager, click Add Role and choose Remote Desktop Services Installation -> Standard Deployment -> Session-based desktop -> Next. You can install the requires services by simply adding the roles, but be warned – you get unexpected results and things missing in the Server Manager later on πŸ˜• This one is a bit of a gotcha
  5. The next part of the installation will ask you which server you would like to install the RD Session Broker on, select the appropriate server from the list. You can only choose one server. If you would like to have a highly available RD Session Broker server, then you can do so but are required to either use something like VMware HA or a windows cluster with a SQL server for the RD Session Broker database (This is out of the scope of this article, but the place to start looking would be by right clicking the RD broker after the Remote Desktop Services 2012 setup has finished and configure RD Broker to be highly available…)
  6. After this, Remote Desktop Services 2012 setup will ask which server you would like to install the RD Web Access (RemoteApp) services on, select the appropriate Terminal Server from the list. You can only choose one server
  7. Then setup will ask you to choose 1 or more Session Host servers, do so.
  8. Click Next and put a tick in the Restart destination computers if required checkbox then click Deploy to start the installation of Remote Desktop Services 2012
  9. Connect Windows Server 2012 Server Managerto the server that has RD Session Broker installed onto it. You will see the following error:

    The following servers in this deployment are not part of the server pool:

    The servers must be added to the server pool.

  10. There’s actually a gotcha here, whereby the server’s do not perform the last reboot that is required after installing the services, so reboot each server next
  11. Next connect to the Server Manager on the RD Connection Broker server and click on Remote Desktop Services. It will take a while to populate this info and you may need to switch between the Dashboard view and the Remote Desktop Services view a few times to get it to populate the first time. It just takes a while and there’s nothing to let you know that you’re waiting for it to appear πŸ™
  12. Next, click on the picture of the + sign on the diagram to add an RD Licensing Server and follow the steps to add your RD Licensing Server before rebooting.
  13. Reconnect to the Server Manager on the RD Connection Broker server and click on Remote Desktop Services again
  14. Next, right click the RD Session Host picture in the same diagram and click Create Session Collection
  15. Follow the setup to create a Session Collection, adding the two Terminal Servers (You will be using the name of the Session Collection in DNS, so make sure it’s available). Note: I didn’t bother creating aUser Profile Disk, because the users are using Terminal Server Roaming Profiles
  16. Create an A record in DNS with the name of the Session Collection you just created for each RD Session Host (Terminal Server) added to the Session Collection. Users will use this DNS record to connect to the load balanced RD Session Hosts (Terminal Server farm)
  17. You now need to activate your RD Licensing Server or migrate your remote desktop licenses to the new RD Licensing Server
  18. Once this is done, you need to add the RD Licensing Server to the Terminal Server License Servers group in Active Directory Domain Services before installing any applications the users require on the terminal server and setup any required group policies to lock the server down
  19. If you want to setup RD Web Access (RemoteApp), then you can do so from the 2012 Server Manager, under Remote Desktop Services and clicking on the Session Collection you created in step 15 then clicking on Publish RemoteApp programs and following the wizard.
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19 thoughts on “How To Setup Remote Desktop Services 2012 Step By Step

  1. Thanks for the well written article, How To Setup Remote Desktop Services 2012 Step By Step.

    My company is migrating from 2008 TS to RDS 2012 and I was wondering if the Web Access Role is needed. Currently we have 9 2008 R2 Remote Desktop VM’s (Terminal Servers) that the users connect to through a session broker. These machines are connected to via an RDP connection from thin clients. We have no need for RemoteApps, just a server 2012 desktop that we can publish to directly. So I ask, is the Web Access Server needed as part of the configuration? Also, all the guides do not show a VM that the users connect to, is this now called the session host rather than the terminal server?

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    • Hi Danny,

      Thank you and yes, correct on all accounts. The Session host = terminal server. The web access role is just for published apps to be listed on users (fat clients or Windows based thin clients) Start Menu and not needed for standard terminal services.

      One thing I did think of today, was that during your upgrade / migration to RDS 2012, you might want to test to make sure the thin clients support the new RDP protocol in RDS 2012. If they don’t, it’s well worth upgrading them (maybe a firmware flash fixes this?) because it’s MUCH FASTER πŸ˜€

      Good luck with your migration πŸ™‚

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  2. Thanks for the tips. Can the RD Connections Broker Server be a Windows Server 2008 R2?

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    • I don’t think that you can use a 2008 RD Connection Broker in a 2012 environment to manage 2012 RDS.

      If you give me a bit more info about what you are trying to do, perhaps I can help you architect your RDS environment?

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  3. Thanks for the awesome write up.

    I am wanting to setup a RDS and RemoteApp environment to replace our current Citrix XenApp system.
    I am wanting to stream Office 2010 and Adobe Reader via RemoteApp. I have installed the software on the RDSH servers and created an MSI file for deployment.

    I have a question regarding the Connection Broker and load distribution.

    Is there a way to distribute the load via this method? If the MSI is created on SVRRDSH01 and deployed to my clients. It will always connect to SVRRDSH01. How can I distribute the load across the remaining SVRRDSH servers, eg SVRRDSH02, SVRRDSH03, SVRRDSH04, SVRRDSH05?

    I know it can be setup and then used in RDWeb, but I want the icons to be on the users desktop/start menu and use the connection broker to assign them to a SVRRDSH server and present the apps.

    Is this possible?


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    • Sorry, since the last 4 months I’ve not worked with RDS 2012, so these questions are harder for me to answer now… If you find the answer, will you post it here for others to see? Similarly, if I find myself working in an RDS 2012 environment again (unlikely for another few years, because I’ve just joined the private sector πŸ˜† ), I will post the answer πŸ˜€

      By the way, have you looked into AppV? You might be able to do what you want to do with this, it’s pretty neat πŸ˜€

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      • I have found the answer, All you have to do is change the “RD Session Host Server” connection name to your FQDN of your RDS Farm name. It will then use the connection broker to distribute the load and the connections across the RDS Session Servers.



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        • Hi Jason,

          So you say that creating a DNS Round Robin for your RD Connection Broker instead of a DNS Round Robin for your RD Session Host Servers?

          Thanks for your explanation.

          Best Damien

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  4. Thanks for a nice succinct but thorough article. Just wondering about port forwarding through our firewall – what Port/s are required? Just standard Port 80, or 3389, or anything else? And to which servers? Just to RD Web Access?

    We’ve also got other web-based services running from our network on Port 80 – will I need to run an alternate sub-domain (e.g. or can I set it up in a shared environment, so that our primary IIS system knows what to do with these various requests?

    Any advice/suggestions greatly appreciated! Cheers.

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    • Hi,

      I think you’ve got it there… Depends what you’re doing… I probably wouldn’t recommend opening 3389 to the internet… Better to secure it with a VPN or DA first.

      Aside from that, you’re right: 3389 is the standard RDP port and this remains the same in RDS 2012… For the Web Access aspect of Remote Desktop Services, if you’ve secured it, you’re probably going to need 443. I’m sure Google knows plenty about this if you need any other info are are trying to achieve something fancy like port forwarding, etc… πŸ™‚ Sorry I try to stay on the server side of things and avoid playing with firewalls too much :p

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  5. Hi,

    I would like to install the Remote Desktop Services on my VMWare Virtual Machine. I followed your guide but it keep on failing to install the Remote Desktop Role services.

    Does Remote Desktop Services installation workable on VMWare VM?


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    • Hi Ridhuan,

      Yes, RDS 2012 can absolutely be installed onto a VM (using VMware)… In fact, the steps I used when I wrote this was onto a VMware (ESXi 5) VM!

      What error are you getting when you try to install the role?

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  6. Hi Lewis,

    Thanks for the reply. The error says: “Unable install RD Connection Broker Role Service on…”

    Do I need to spread the roles across a few machines in order for this to work, instead of using only 1 VM?

    Please let me know if you require more information. Thanks, mate!


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      • Hello Ridhuan Amri and All,

        We just finished setting up RDS 2012 on a Hyper-V VM, it is possible to install all the 3 services onto one VM/Server – Remote Desktop Broker, Web access and Session host.

        There are 1 or 2 things we did to fix that error.

        1. Instead of using the Quick install wizard, Use the standard install wizard.
        2. Start a service called “Windows Internal Database”

        We are publishing web apps and I’m trying to configure IE.
        Our Application goes to a server login page using IE, what i want to do is disable the address bar, favorites menu and anything else native to IE, so when a user launches the application (IE) they are directed to our login page and can’t perform any other actions…
        Can anyone assist with this ?
        Is there a way to modify these options / settings through IIS manger for the web app page or would it be done through a Local / Group Policy ?

        Any help is greatly appreciated !


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        • Thanks Malcum,

          You should check out IE Kiosk mode πŸ˜‰ You can launch IE with a command line switch ( /k I think, from memory), otherwise you could see if there’s a GPO you can leverage. If Kiosk mode doesn’t do it for you, I suppose you could change the webpage files in IIS, but I’d avoid that because it would give you a non-standard installation of RDS… This would be a problem if you updated the server you might lose all your unique configuration.

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  7. Guys,

    Sorry for the late update. I have managed to install the RDS using Malcum’s advise. Kudos to him!!

    I am testing the RD Gateway now.. It seem to have an issue if the server name in the certificate is not the same with the RD Gateway server. My case will be:

    RD Gateway Server Name:
    External Access RD Gateway (That I use in certificate):

    Should I change the RD Gateway server name to match the details in the certificate? Thanks for your time!


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  8. Hi great post!

    I have a question that I hope you may be able to answer.

    We currently have a 2008 R2 server with UAG portal integrated with RD Gateway in the perimeter network and a 2008 R2 session host in the internal network.

    Currently we can’t use iOS or OSX to view the apps from the portal because it requires activex and the Microsoft Remote Desktop app doesn’t know how to handle UAG and the redirection it does.

    We are planning to deploy a 2012 R2 server in the perimeter network with the RD Gateway and WebAccess roles and publish the application from the internal 2008 R2 session host server.

    Do you think we can have the UAG Portal with RD Gateway and the RDS RD Gateway with Web Access running concurrently and both getting apps from the 2008 R2 session host?


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