What Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 can do for your business

Some killer enterprise features in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 will solve some of your problems. Here's one expert's take on the best of what's coming in these two new operating systems.

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With Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 in the release candidate stage and getting close to general availability, it's a good time to determine the potential benefit these two new operating systems will have on your enterprise.

First, you'll want to identify the new features of each product, then classify where in your infrastructure you need improvements, and then make a return on investment (ROI) analysis. After that, decide which of the new features could potentially solve your current problems.

I can't provide a generic set of problems that everyone can solve, but I can identify some "killer" features in both products and explain how they might benefit a given environment.

New features that require both platforms

Some of the best features in Windows 7 and Windows Server R2 are only available if the enterprise uses both OSes together. Remember that Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 are built from the same code tree. Server 2008 R2 is itself a new OS and not an upgrade from 2008. In fact, currently, there is no upgrade path from 2008 to 2008 R2. In addition, R2 is only available on x64 platforms. Windows 7 does have an upgrade path from Vista and is quite "Vista-like," but it has new features.

The killer features for these new products are DirectAccess and BranchCache. Indeed, both of these features require Windows 7 and a 2008 R2 server.

DirectAccess is a networking feature that provides an improved remote access experience for remote users. Once it's set up, it eliminates the annoying procedure of starting up a VPN connection and logging on to get access to corporate network resources. In addition, managing remote clients is easier for the IT staff because DirectAccess does not need a VPN connection to the intranet, which makes it easier for patch and antivirus definition management of all clients.

There are traditional VPN improvements as well. If a user is in the process of downloading a file and his Internet connection fails, the download will resume when Internet connectivity is restored.

BranchCache is the latest attempt by Microsoft to improve the branch office experience. There are two core configurations of BranchCache.

  • Distributed Cache mode permits clients in a site with no server to download files from a file server in the hub site and cache it locally. Then, when another client requests the same file, the server redirects the request to the client in the remote site that has it cached and permits a local copy. There are numerous questions about how the current version of a file is tracked and if it is spread out over several sites. Also, this essentially turns each client into a mini-file server, and that may impact performance on that client.
  • Hosted Cache mode works like the Distributed Cache mode, but all files are cached on a server rather than on individual clients. I just don't get this one. I can see the possible benefit of distributed mode because it eliminates a server. But if you have a server on site, why not use DFS?

Specifically in Windows 7

There are two very good Windows 7 features for ROI consideration: BitLocker-To-Go and Boot from VHD. BitLocker-To-Go makes it easy to encrypt a USB drive. These drives are very handy to transfer data but are easily lost. Consider the cost of recovering sensitive data or the loss of confidence by customers when you have to announce that someone lost a USB drive with their account information on it.

Boot from VHD allows a virtual hard disk image to be made of a computer and stores it on a USB drive of some sort. Then a computer can boot from the VHD. Of course the hardware must support the USB boot, but it would be very useful for booting a single machine to multiple configurations and operating systems for labs, training and testing -- perhaps even in data recovery.

There are also some cool new Aero features, including my favorite: side by side comparison. Drag a window to the left edge of the screen and it resizes the window to one-half of the screen. Drag another window to the right edge of the screen and it resizes to the other half of the screen – quickly and easily. Shake a window from the titlebar and all other windows disappear. Repeat to bring them back. Users will like these features, but you can't necessarily make an ROI case out of them.

Other Windows Server 2008 R2 features

Active Directory adds three powerful features: Active Directory Best Practices Analyzer, Active Directory Recycle Bin and PowerShell V2.

We have been waiting for the Best Practice Analyzer ever since Microsoft gave us the Exchange BPA, which is invaluable. From an ROI standpoint, AD BPA can easily help resolve AD problems and reduce downtime by finding and solving the problem quickly. It can point out obvious deficiencies in configuration, service packs and so on, and it moves the problem analysis forward.

The Active Directory Recycle Bin, while delays the deletion of objects and makes it easier to return them to the AD. From a disaster recovery point of view, this can shorten the time it takes to recover mistakenly deleted objects while reducing user downtime and helping with AD administration.

PowerShell V2, for AD, has the ability to manage Server Core machines. This is a great improvement that will enhance administrators' capabilities to control and manage Server Core. It helps administrators be more efficient, but actual ROI may be difficult to prove.

There are other features in IE8 that you might want to also consider. Read some of the documentation to see how they match up with your needs and your infrastructure, then try them out. Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7 are available on the Microsoft download sites. I have loaded both of them in virtual machines on Hyper-V and on a VMware workstation. Unfortunately, Virtual Server does not support x64 guests.

You can find some helpful resources online, including  a Windows 7 feature walkthrough, a list of Windows 7 secrets and a Windows 7 engineering blog.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gary Olsen is a systems software engineer for Hewlett-Packard in Global Solutions Engineering. He authored Windows 2000: Active Directory Design and Deployment and co-authored Windows Server 2003 on HP ProLiant Servers. Gary is a Microsoft MVP for Directory Services and formerly for Windows File Systems.

This was first published in June 2009

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