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Windows 8 - New network features

A closer look at the impressive administrative features designed to increase network support, reliability, performance and security

Microsoft’s new Metro-style Start screen is getting all the buzz, but for IT administrators there are many new network-related features and changes in both Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 to be aware of. The changes are mostly targeted at simplifying the networking process and adding more mobile-related features. Plus, there are a bunch of new and impressive administrative features designed to increase network support, reliability, performance, and security.

Network List gets a facelift

Microsoft gave the network list in Windows 8 and Server 2012 a facelift, seemingly to better match the new Metro-style interface. When you click (or tap) on the network icon from the system tray, a solid colored window will pop out of the right side of the screen. Though horizontally about the same size as in previous Windows versions, vertically it’s larger and runs top to bottom.

Wireless connection options

You'll also find a new feature on the top of the network list: Airplane mode, which like on mobile devices will disable all wireless communications when turning on — obviously more useful on laptops and mobile devices. Though the functionality of the network list remains similar to previous Windows versions, there have been some features changes and improvements. Once you successfully connect to a network, you'll see a differently worded prompt asking if it's a private/work or public network.

Right-click for additional wireless controls

You'll find more features on the network list when right-clicking (or tapping and holding) on a network name. Here you can enable data usage tracking and connection metering, “forget” the network to remove saved password/credentials, and turn sharing on or off. If your laptop or mobile device has built-in or add-on wireless mobile broadband (3G/4G) capability, you'll also see these networks appear separately on the network list when detected. In addition to the Connect Automatically option, there’s also a Roam Automatically option.

Data Usage Tracking and Metering

By default, Windows 8 and Server 2012 track the amount of data usage per network, which can optionally be shown when you click on a network from the network list. This is useful, for example, to help track how much data you've used on mobile (3G/4G) and other networks that have usage limitations.

Controls to limit data usage

You can also enable connection metering for each individual network, which will then disable Windows Update from downloading updates (except for critical security patches) and possibly disable or reduce data usage from other Microsoft and non-Microsoft applications as well.

Real-time network usage statistics

You’ll also find data usage stats added to the Task Manager, among the other changes. You can view current network usage and a history of usage listed along with the other resource stats per process.

Network and Sharing Center gets streamlined

There are no big visual changes to the Network and Sharing Center from previous versions of Windows. However, it's been streamlined a bit. For instance, you won’t see the Manage Wireless Networks shortcut on the left. This is because Windows doesn't allow you to manually prioritise your Wi-Fi networks anymore, but automatically does this for you based upon your connection behaviours. When using the Set Up a Connection or Network wizard you'll also find the ad hoc (computer-to-computer) network option is missing. On the Network and Sharing Center, now you can't click (or tap) the network type (Private or Public) to change it like you could in Windows Vista and 7.

New EAP Types

In Windows 8 and Server 2012 you'll find a few new EAP types natively supported by Windows. Authentication types, including Wireless Internet Services Provider roaming (WISPr) and EAP-SIM/AKA/AKA Prime, ease the connection process to Wi-Fi hotspots. Support for EAP-TTLS has also been included so enterprises or campuses don’t have to use a third-party supplicant/client when implementing this 802.1X authentication type.

NIC Teaming Network Interface Card (NIC)

Teaming provides network connection load balancing and failover by bonding two or more network interfaces. Though this functionality isn’t new, in the past NIC teaming was handled by the NIC vendor’s driver and management software. But now starting with Windows Server 2012, NIC Teaming is now part of the OS and supports Hyper-V networks as well. Like other NIC teaming solutions, Windows can divide the traffic by virtual LAN (VLAN) so that applications can connect to different VLANs at the same time. You can also utilize a few different configurations: switch-dependent via IEEE 802.3ad and IEEE 802.1ax/LACPor or switch-independent configurations. Algorithms can also be chosen to distribute incoming and outgoing traffic, for example using Hyper-V switch ports or hashing.

SMB Protocol Updated

The Server Message Block (SMB) protocol has been updated in Windows 8 and Server 2012, improving availability, performance, administration, and security of file shares and storage resources, while also adding more support for application server storage. Some of the new features include SMB Encryption, SMB transparent failover and SMB multichannel.

New IP Address Management (IPAM)

The new IP Address Management (IPAM) feature of Windows Server 2012 helps you discover, monitor, audit, and manage a network’s IP addressing. It supports management of domain-joined DHCP, DNS, and NPS servers running on Windows Server 2008 and above in a single Active Directory forest. IPAM gives you reports on IP address space details and utilisation. You can organise IP addresses by blocks, ranges, and individual IP addresses. You can also assign addresses by built-in or user-defined fields and perform IP address tracking using DHCP leases. It can also monitor for your DHCP and DNS servers as well.

DHCP Updated

In Windows Server 2012 you’ll also find improvements to DHCP availability and administration. DHCP failover provides the ability to have two replicated DHCP servers serving IP addresses for the same subnet or scope. Policy based assignment lets you define prioritised policies for specific IP scopes and have IP addresses assigned against them. In the Windows PowerShell you’ll also find new task-oriented cmdlets you can use to configure and manage DHCP.

  • Network List gets a facelift
  • Wireless connection options
  • Right-click for additional wireless controls
  • Data Usage Tracking and Metering
  • Controls to limit data usage
  • Real-time network usage statistics
  • Network and Sharing Center gets streamlined
  • New EAP Types
  • NIC Teaming Network Interface Card (NIC)
  • SMB Protocol Updated
  • New IP Address Management (IPAM)
  • DHCP Updated
  • Play
  • Play
  • Backward
  • Forward

Microsoft’s new Metro-style Start screen is getting all the buzz, but for IT administrators there are many new network-related features and changes in both Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 to be aware of. The changes are mostly targeted at simplifying the networking process and adding more mobile-related features. Plus, there are a bunch of new and impressive administrative features designed to increase network support, reliability, performance, and security.

Microsoft’s new Metro-style Start screen is getting all the buzz, but for IT administrators there are many new network-related features and changes in both Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 to be aware of. The changes are mostly targeted at simplifying the networking process and adding more mobile-related features. Plus, there are a bunch of new and impressive administrative features designed to increase network support, reliability, performance, and security.

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