Windows 7: What's in it for the enterprise?

Microsoft spells out the enterprise features of its new operating system - though many will be dependent on the deployment of Windows Server 2008.

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Microsoft has been criticised for focussing almost exclusively on consumers in the beta of its Windows 7 operating system.

Popular blogger and editor of Supersite for Windows Paul Thurrott recently said in an interview with COmputerworldUk.com sister site Network World that Microsoft is treating enterprises as an afterthought and "arbitrarily locking Windows enterprise features to Windows Server 2008 R2 and asking corporations to spend a significant sum of money."

In response Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's senior director of Windows product management, admits that Windows 7 features that need Windows Server 2008 R2 are not going to be deployed overnight. "Some of these features are part of a longer-term strategy," Schuster says.

Nevertheless, Microsoft continues to spread the word about how Windows 7 can help enterprises, with Schuster drilling down into what Microsoft believes are the key features.

DirectAccess

The DirectAccess feature, which requires both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, lets mobile workers connect to corporate networks without the use of a VPN, giving business users more flexibility and easing the burden on IT.
Schuster says that with DirectAccess, users only need an Internet connection to have access to everything on the corporate network; they will never have to stop what they're doing and log on to a VPN. This will reduce the use of corporate bandwidth as remote users will mostly be using their own local broadband, she says.

The benefit of DirectAccess runs deeper for IT managers, she says. "For IT, the biggest challenge is managing remote laptops, knowing how long they've been off network, when they came back on and when they got patched. With DirectAccess, as long as a machine is on and connected to the Internet, it can be managed."

As for security concerns over there being no official VPN, Schuster says that DirectAccess is used with Windows Server 2008 R2 in the background, which will use the most secure protocol, IPv6, to encrypt data transmitted across the Internet. "It's not as if you don't have a VPN or firewall; we've just integrated that into DirectAccess," she says. "There is no longer a separate step to get to that secured tunnel."

BranchCache

BranchCache, which also requires the use of both Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, is a feature designed to speed up networks in remote offices that are away from corporate headquarters. Basically, BranchCache will speed the accessing of large remote files stored on the corporate network, says Schuster.

For example, a copy of a file server is downloaded from the corporate network and cached locally on Windows Server 2008 R2 at the branch office. When another user at the branch office requests the file, it is downloaded immediately from the local cache rather than over a limited bandwidth connection back to headquarters.

Users don't have to go back to the corporate network and use up bandwidth to download it again, Schuster says.

"And what IT can do with BranchCache is set the amount of partition on desktops in branch offices that can be used for caching, set how current documents need to be before forcing users to go back to the corporate network to get them again, and check what level of permissions users need to have," she says.

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