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Improvements in Windows Server 2008 R2 for Better Branch Office Support


Windows Server 2008 R2 has greatly enhanced the technology offerings that provide better IT services to organizations with remote offices or branch offices. Typically, a remote or branch office has limited IT support or at least the site needs to have the same functionality and reliability as the main corporate or business office, but without the budget, to have lots of redundant hardware and devices for full operational support. With the new Windows Server 2008 R2 branch office resources, a remote location can now have high security, high performance, access to data without significant latency, and operational capabilities, even if the remote site is dropped off the network due to a WAN or Internet connection problem.

The tools and technologies new or improved in Windows Server 2008 R2 include Read Only Domain Controllers, BitLocker Drive Encryption, distributed file server data replication, and distributed administration.

Read-Only Domain Controllers for the Branch Office
The RODC provides a copy of the Active Directory global catalog for logon authentication of select users and communications with the Active Directory tree without having the security exposure of a full global catalog server in the remote location. Many organizations concerned with distributed global catalog servers chose to not place a server in a remote location, but rather kept their global catalog and domain controllers centralized. What this meant for remote and branch offices is that all logon authentication had to go across the WAN or Internet connection, which could be very slow. And in the event of a WAN or Internet connection failure, the remote or branch office would be offline because users could not authenticate to the network and access network resources until the WAN or Internet connection was restored.

Read-Only Domain Controllers provide a way for organizations to distribute authentication and Active Directory access without increasing their security risk caused by the distribution of directory services.

BranchCache File Access
New to Windows Server 2008 R2 is a role called BranchCache. BranchCache is a technology that provides users with better access to files across a wide area network (WAN). Normally, if one user accesses a file, the file is transferred across the WAN for the user, and then when another user accesses the same file, the same file is again transferred across the WAN for the other user. BranchCache acknowledges that a file has been transferred across the WAN by a previous user, and instead of retrieving the file across the WAN, the file is accessed locally by the subsequent user.

BranchCache requires Windows 7 on the client side and can be set up so that the file is effectively retrieved in a peer-to-peer manner from another Windows 7 client that had previously accessed a file. Or, a Windows Server 2008 R2 server with the BranchCache server role can be set up in the remote location where remotely accessed files are temporarily cached for other Windows 7 client users to seamlessly access the files locally instead of being downloaded across the WAN.

BranchCache does not require the user to do anything differently. Users simply accesses files as they normally do (either off a Windows file system or from a SharePoint document library), and the combination of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 does all the caching automatically. BranchCache has proven to improve access time on average 30%–45% for remote users, thus increasing user experience and potentially user productivity by having faster access to information in remote locations.

BitLocker for Server Security
BitLocker is a technology first introduced with Windows Vista that provides an organization with the ability to do a full partition encryption of all files, documents, and information stored on the encrypted partition. When BitLocker was first introduced in Windows Server 2008 as a server tool, it was hard to understand why a server would need to have its drive volume encrypted. It made sense that a laptop would be encrypted in the event the laptop is stolen—so that no one could get access to the data on the laptop hard drive. However, when considering that servers are placed in remote locations—many times not in a locked server rack in a locked computer room but rather sitting in a closet or even under a cash register in the situation of a retail store with a server acting as the point-ofsale system—servers with sensitive data are prevalent in enterprise environments.

So, BitLocker provides encryption of the volume of a Windows Server 2008 R2 server; for organizations that are concerned that the server might be physically compromised by the theft of the server or physical attack of the system, BitLocker is a great component to implement on the server system.

Distributed File System Replication
Introduced in Windows 2000, improved in Windows 2003, and now a core component of the branch office offerings in Windows Server 2008 R2, Distributed File System Replication (DFSR) allows files to be replicated between servers, effectively providing duplicate information in multiple locations. Windows Server 2008 R2 has a much improved Distributed File System than what was available in Windows 2000/2003. In most organizations, files are distributed across multiple servers throughout the enterprise. Users access file shares that are geographically distributed but also can access file shares sitting on several servers in a site within the organization. In many organizations, when file shares were originally created years ago, server performance, server disk capacity, and the workgroup nature of file and print server distribution created environments in which those organizations had a file share for every department and every site. Thus, files have typically been distributed throughout an entire organization across multiple servers.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Distributed File System Replication enables an organization to combine file shares to fewer servers and create a file directory tree not based on a serverby-server or share-by-share basis, but rather an enterprisewide directory tree. This allows an organization to have a single directory spanning files from multiple servers throughout the enterprise.

Because the DFSR directory is a logical directory that spans the entire organization with links back to physical data, the actual physical data can be moved without having to make changes to the way the users see the logical DFS directory. This enables an organization to add or delete servers, or move and consolidate information, however it works best within the organization.

For branch office locations, DFSR allows for data stored on a file server in a remote location to be trickled back to the home office for nightly backup. Instead of having the remote location responsible for data backup, or the requirement of an organization to have tape drives in each of its branch offices, any data saved on the branch office can be trickle replicated back to a share at the main office for backup and recovery.

If the main office has data that it wants to push out to all remote offices, whether that is template files, company policy documents, standard company materials, or even shared data that a workgroup of users needs to access and collaborate on, DFSR provides the ability to push out data to other servers on the network. Users with access rights to the data no longer have to go across a WAN connection to access common data. The information is pushed out to a server that is more local to the user, and the user accesses the local copy of the information. If any changes are made to remote or centralized copies of data, those changes are automatically redistributed back to all volumes storing a copy of the data.

One of the enhancements made in Windows Server 2008 R2 specific to DFS-R is the ability for an administrator to set a DFS replica to be read-only. In the past, DFS replicas were all read/write replicas so that a user in a remote location could accidentally overwrite files that then replicate to all replicas in the environment. Administrators have compensated for this potential issue by setting file-level permissions across files and folders; however, for many remote branch offices, if the administrator could simply make the entire replica read-only, it would simplify the security task dramatically. Thus, read-only replicas can now be set so that an entire server or branch of a DFS tree can be set to replicate to a remote server on a read-only basis.

Improvements in Distributed Administration
Finally, for remote or branch offices that do have IT personnel in the remote locations, administration and management tasks have been challenging to distribute proper security rights. Either remote IT personnel were given full domain administrator rights when they should only be limited to rights specific to their site, or administrators were not given any administrative rights because it was too difficult to apply a more limiting role.

Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory has now defined a set of rights specific to branch office and remote site administrators. Very similar to site administrators back in the old Exchange Server 5.5 days—where an administrator was able to add users, contacts, and administer local Exchange servers—now network administrators in Active Directory can be delegated rights based on a branch or remote site role. This provides those administrators with the ability to make changes specific to their branch location. This, along with all the other tools in Windows Server 2008 R2 specific to branch office and remote office locations, now provides better IT services to organizations with multiple offices in the enterprise.

Source of Information : Sams - Windows Server 2008 R2 Unleashed


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