One of the hottest buzzwords in technology is the 'Cloud'. Vendors across all types of computer applications and services are looking for ways to leverage the power of cloud computing. Microsoft takes that a step further by making it easier to move a different kind of resource to the cloud: people.
Actually, that egg may have come before the chicken. Laptop sales have steadily crept up on desktop sales, surpassing desktops in late 2008. That is a domino-effect from another chicken-and-egg conundrum in that the work force has become increasingly remote and mobile.
Arguably, it is the evolution of remote computing and the rise of telecommuting and roaming users connecting from home, hotel rooms, and coffee shops which has fueled interest in cloud computing to begin with.
Regardless of which chicken begat which egg, this is the henhouse we live in now and it has been a headache for IT administrators. Remote and branch offices come with unique network connectivity issues. Roaming users with laptops are difficult to manage and secure, but Windows 7 (combined with Windows Server 2008 R2) has the potential to change that.
Let's take a look at some of the common issues faced by a roaming / remote work force and how Windows 7 addresses them:
· Dropped Connections. The VPN (virtual private network) is a fact of life for roaming and remote users. It is the secure, encrypted connection that allows them to penetrate the organization's perimeter defenses and access internal network resources. It is not uncommon for the VPN connection to drop. Each time it does, the user must re-authenticate and re-establish the connection which takes time and interrupts productivity. Microsoft developed the VPN Reconnect feature for Windows 7 which automatically reconnects broken VPN connections in the background.
· Slow Bandwidth. Organizations are more spread out than ever. Many have remote / branch offices scattered across town and around the world. Branch offices often have localized servers and resources, but also must maintain access to data and network resources at the headquarters or primary data center. A major problem with this remote network access is speed. Limited bandwidth between sites combined with the limited processing capacity of servers and resources in the primary data center bog things down. BranchCache reduces WAN (wide area network) utilization and increases efficiency for remote offices. BranchCache can operate in either a client/server or peer-to-peer mode. Either way, when a user needs access to data the information can be retrieved from a local cache rather than having to be pulled from the main server every time.
· Rogue Machines. Arguably the biggest headache for IT administrators when it comes to remote users is trying to maintain and secure those roaming assets. Computers on the internal network have the benefit of things like automated patch updates, managed firewall and antimalware protection, and managed policies. Roaming devices may go days or weeks without connecting to the home base and won't receive the updates until they do. DirectAccess changes that dynamic for both the IT administrator and the user. With DirectAccess, remote computers are connected to the network as if they were sitting in a cubicle at the main office as long as there is a live Internet connection. Even if the user is not logged in, the IT Administrator can interact with the computer and apply updates as if it were sitting on the internal network. From the user's perspective, DirectAccess makes the VPN obsolete because the computer is connected seamlessly from virtually anywhere.
Users are increasingly mobile. Whether they are traveling around the world or working from home, the users are *in* the "Cloud". That geographic diversity is a catalyst for the rise of other cloud computing products and services, but working from the cloud still has its challenges.
Windows 7 features like VPN Reconnect, BranchCache, and DirectAccess simplify network access for remote and roaming users. These are features with a direct, measurable effect on productivity and the all-powerful bottom line and help justify the business case for making the switch to Windows 7.
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.