Windows 2008 R2

Windows 2008 R2 is almost here

It is just 2 days until the release of Windows 2008 R2. While a lot of people are hanging out for the Windows 7 (released on the same day), it is the new server operating system that is going to make waves in server rooms everywhere.

Significant improvements have been made to Hyper-V in the form of Live Migration (think VMotion but without the price) and support for more memory and more virtual CPU’s.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that Microsoft have already changed the game by making Virtualisation affordable to the masses and that now they are beginning to add Enterprise Features. Hands up who thinks VMware ESXi would exist if Hyper-V didn’t?

Windows 2008 R2 is also the enabler for many of the enterprise features of Windows 7. The server component of the DirectAccess “VPN-less VPN” feature requires Windows 2008 R2. DirectAccess does have some fairly specific requirements that make it more suited to medium to larger sites. Businesses with highly mobile work forces should also consider it as a way to simplify end-user remote access experience and as a way to better manage laptops that spend a lot of time out of the office.

The server can also be used in conjunction with BranchCache to reduce pressure on WAN links and accelerate access to services that use SMB, HTTP or BITS for remote users. Think of this as WAN acceleration but without dedicated hardware. Nice one Microsoft!
One of my personal favourites is the Active Directory undo feature. I would never admit to doing this myself, but I am sure a few accidents have happened over the years where this feature would have saved a lot of pain and agony!

The ability to park CPU cores is an interesting feature which allows the server to actually turn-off cores within a CPU when they are not required. This has the potential to save significant amounts of power and lower the operating costs of servers. Power consumption as the focus of governments globally and it my opinion is going to be an area where technology innovation is focused.

Don’t forget that this release builds on the many features of previous Windows versions. Remote Desktop Services, Network Access Protection, Distributed File System, Active Directory, Read-only Domain Controllers, IPv6, Windows Deployment Services etcetera. It builds on the same reliable, understandable and efficient foundation we already have with Windows 2008.

One more small note, this is a 64bit only operating system, time to consign those old 32bit only items to the giant recycling bin in the sky (some may of course not meet the criteria to get into software heaven and spend the rest of eternity being prodded with a blunt fork somewhere very hot). Software vendors should be supporting modern technologies by now. If they aren’t it is definitely time to put the pressure on. Isn’t that why we pay annual maintenance fees?

Microsoft will release Windows 2008 R2 on October 22nd 2009. No news on when or if we are likely to see R2 releases of Small Business Server 2008 and Essential Business Server 2008 has been announced yet.

Windows 7 DirectAccess overview

Windows 7 clients can gain remote access to network resources using a feature called DirectAccess. Microsoft see this as a game breaking technology that will change the way we work remotely. A Windows 2008R2 server  acts as a gateway for DirectAccess clients providing access to servers on the internal LAN.

DirectAccess does away with the need for third party VPN clients or access gateways on client devices and simplifies data access from the end user.The end user experience is seamless and simple. The user simply turns on and connects to the internet, no additional user actions required. DirectAccess will automatically reconnect if the internet connection is dropped for any reason.

DirectAccess removes some of the more frustrating issues end users have when working remotely. Connections are over port 443 (a standard port) removing connection issues due to firewall rules on remote networks and routing issues due to subnet clashes. Intelligent routing means users can access internet services at the same time as company resources.

For Network Administrators the ability to manage computers outside the firewall will be a key driver for using this technology. NAP can be used to audit clients before allowing network access. Group Policy can be applied over the DirectAccess connection before the user gains full network access.

One of the biggest difference between DirectAccess and traditional VPN solutions is that the DirectAccess connection can be initiated from either end where VPN’s are initiated from the client only. The connection is established when the client device starts up and doesn’t require the end user to login and initiate a connection.

DirectAccess Requirements:

  • Windows 2008R2 Server Active Directory Domain Controller Role
  • Windows 2008R2 Server DirectAccess Role
  • 2 Network cards configured
  • 2 consecutive public static IPv4 addresses with public DNS names
  • Digital Certificates with CRL attributes
  • Windows 7 client joined to the domain

Firewall configuration details can be found on technet – DirectAccess requirements article.

DirectAccess really is in my opinion one of the best reasons to move to Windows 7 when it is released later this year. End users will love seamless access to company resources while Network Administrators will see real value in the management capabilities.

Microsoft have recently published some tools to help implement and manage Direct Access. Download the kit from here:
Direct Access Admin Kit

Windows 2008r2 reasons to get excited

Judging by the number of messages on twitter about Windows 7 RC I sense a lot of excitement building. While I think Windows 7 will be a winner for Microsoft I am a little surprised about the lack of comment on Windows 2008 Server R2! Windows 2008 Server has proven itself to be a robust and powerful server operating system and R2 promises to extend those capabilities further.

6 Reasons to be excitied about Windows 2008 Server R2

  • Better virtualisation – Hyper-V gets some serious improvements
  • Enhanced remote desktop services
  • Advanced power management – switch off the cores you’re not using and save the planet
  • Works better with Windows 7 – DirectAccess and BranchCache
  • Super web apps – IIS 7.5 built in
  • Use your existing license Windows 2008 Server CAL’s with 2008r2

Official Windows 2008 R2 Home Page

Download Windows 2008 Server R2 Release Candidate