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Built-in NIC teaming in Windows Server 2012 gives IT pros a break

In Windows Server 2012, IT pros can prepare for failover scenarios using the newly built-in NIC teaming capability.

High availability is the name of the game in IT today. Security, compliance and general business demands keep IT shops running.

Thinking back a couple of decades ago, I remember how painful and expensive the high availability options were for Windows and competing operating systems. Many Windows admins still experience the pain and cost of high availability in their environments, but Microsoft aims to fix this with NIC teaming in Windows Server 2012.

Be it for cloud scenarios or simple in-house setups, Windows Server 2012’s NIC teaming has a lot to offer in such a small package. It’s built right in and extremely simple to configure.

NIC teaming, or load balancing and failover, allows multiple NICs to be teamed together for bandwidth aggregation and failover in the event of a network hardware letdown. Until Windows Server 2012, we were at the mercy of NIC vendors to provide these features. There was no direct OS integration and Microsoft didn’t officially support NIC teaming. In Windows Server 2012, NIC teaming is front and center. It’s built right into the OS.

Some out-of-the-box NIC teaming features include:

  • Support for virtual NICs inside Hyper-V
  • Switch-dependent and switch-independent modes that do or do not require each NIC to be connected to the same Ethernet switch
  • VLAN traffic division so that applications can communicate with different VLANs at once
  • Support for up to 32 NICs per team

The only technologies that do not support NIC teaming in Windows Server 2012 are PCI I/O Virtualization, remote direct memory access and TCP Chimney, which are older technologies.

Configuring NIC teaming is a simple process that involves enabling it, adding a team on the server and configuring the specific network cards you wish to use for each team.

You can do this via PowerShell, the Server Manager GUI and via the RSAT tools in Windows 8. For PowerShell, you have a number of NIC teaming-specific commands such as:

  • NetLbfoTeam (Get, New, Remove, Rename, Set)
  • NetLbfoTeamMember (Add, Get, Remove, Set)
  • NetlbfoTeamNic (Get, New , Remove, Set)

Simply entering Get-Command -Module NetLbfo will show you all the commands available.

In the GUI, configuring a NIC team is a matter of:

  1. Selecting Local Server/Properties/Remote Desktop/NIC Teaming Administration.
  2. Selecting the server name and under Teams/Tasks, selecting New Team.
  3. Entering your team name and selecting the specific network adapters you want to use for the team.

More details about NIC teaming can be found in Microsoft’s document Windows Server 2012 NIC Teaming (LBFO) Deployment and Management.

One thing I’ve witnessed over the years is network admins not taking advantage of IT management and security controls they already have at their disposal. Having been in network administrator shoes, I think this is due in large part to a general lack of time and focus.  NIC teaming is not all that sexy, but it can buy you a ton of server resiliency. Customers, internal auditors and even management will never know you’re using it, but that’s what IT is about anyway: making things look simple by keeping the shop running smoothly. Microsoft is throwing us a bone with NIC teaming. I can’t think of any reason to not take advantage of it in Windows Server 2012.

Kevin Beaver is an information security consultant, expert witness, author and professional speaker with Atlanta-based Principle Logic, LLC. With over 23 years of experience in the industry, Kevin specializes in performing independent security assessments revolving around minimizing information risks. You can reach Kevin through his, follow him on Twitter at @kevinbeaver and connect to him on LinkedIn.

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