Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 networking enhancements for education


I’ve just finished reading the whitepaper about networking enhancements that are included within Windows 7, which are especially powerful when combined with Windows Server 2008 R2. Although I’m not the most technical person in the team, it made sense to me, and a couple of key features jumped out at me as being particularly useful in schools:

DirectAccess for academic staff to replace VPN connections

The scenario of VPN which the whitepaper describes matches my own use of VPN.

When I’m working from home, I avoid using a VPN connection when I can, because all of my internet traffic is re-routed through it, and slows down downloads and other web access (VOIP is sometimes lower quality too). And if my machine goes into sleep mode temporarily, I have to go through all of the quarantine and security checks again when it wakes up. So I tend to ‘batch up’ the things I need to VPN for, logon, do them, and then logoff VPN again.

But as a user, it means that if I get internal SharePoint links in email, I can’t click straight through. And I can’t quickly update my own SharePoint wiki etc. (And, similarly, the IT support team can’t automatically deploy critical updates or Group Policy changes until I next VPN in). I’m guessing that you have the same situation on campus.

With Windows 7, the inclusion of DirectAccess means that teachers can have the same experience (and access) when they work at home (or from another remote location, like a wireless hotspot) as they would when they’re in school. So they can access your internal SharePoint, other intranet sites and any internal applications and data remotely. But it doesn’t re-route their general Internet traffic, so they still have full-speed web access. Unless you decide to change that too – which might be the case if you use the same methodology for laptops that you let students take home. For example, you could use this same technology to insist that all school-owned devices go through the school firewall and filters for all Internet access, even when used at home.

There’s a lot of technical details (and acronyms like IPv6, IPsec and 56-bit key encryption) on page 5-6 of the whitepaper

Better synchronisation for offline files and slow connections

Windows 7 adds enhanced support for synchronising files between your own PC and a network share – with more sensitivity to bandwidth for broadband and WAN connections, and invisible background synchronisation of offline files. This will be particularly useful where staff keep master files on their local machine (like their curriculum delivery plan) but you want to protect them from losing it all by ensuring it is synchronised to a network connection.

Well, the alternative is to implant the I-must-make-a-backup-every-day chip in your colleagues!

Better support for saving money on electricity

With the wider use of wireless and laptop trolleys around schools, you’ll be pleased to hear that Wake On Lan has been extended to wireless too – allowing you to use a more aggressive power-saving profile on your laptops and desktops, without compromising your ability to manage them.

Don’t underestimate how much money this could save you. PC Pro put the potential power savings at nearly £50 a computer if you switch from Windows default power settings to the most energy efficient. With an estimated 1/2 million university-owned computers across campuses, that’s a big bundle of money. (I know that you don’t pay the power bills from the IT budget, but perhaps there’s an opportunity to get some contribution from the facilities teams to support the changes!)

Have a read of the whitepaper – there’s a lot of straightforward and clear advice

And bonus materials…

As a bonus, there are more detailed technical documents on DirectAccess which are also useful:

  • DirectAccess Technical Overview
    Covers the functional and architectural aspects of DirectAccess, a technology introduced in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 to enable mobile workers to seamlessly connect to enterprise network resources when connected to the Internet.
  • Next Generation Remote Access with DirectAccess and VPNs
    Compares DirectAccess with VPNs and describes the scenarios that are most appropriate for each.
  • Using DirectAccess to provide secure access to corporate resources from anywhere
    Case Study: Although broadband services and Wi-Fi have dramatically improved, the connectivity experience for remote corporate users remains largely unchanged. Microsoft Information Technology (Microsoft IT) is adopting the DirectAccess feature in Windows® 7 and in Windows Server® 2008 R2 to enable employees to gain seamless remote access to corporate applications and data. The solution, which only requires Internet connectivity and credentials, significantly improves productivity and can be an important cost-saving mechanism.
  • DirectAccess Early Adopter’s Guide
    This guide introduces DirectAccess concepts, defines new terms, explains requirements for installation, discusses how to design DirectAccess architecture, and then steps you through installation and deployment.
  • Direct Access Step-by-Step Guide
    Step By Step Guide: Demonstrate DirectAccess in a Test Lab
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