Why Enterprises Shouldn't Shy Away from Windows 8
While Microsoft has been vocal on why consumers should upgrade to Windows 8, what about enterprises? Don Jones is here to make that argument.
Last month, I argued IT shops should be able to manage heterogeneous client environments, because they're more or less the de facto state of reality these days. I emphasized having a mixed Windows 7/Windows 8 shop was, if nothing else, an exercise in skilling-up that capability and getting the right tools and techniques in place.
But corporations have plenty of reasons to want Windows 8 on their desktops and laptops (and now tablets). While the headlines have mainly focused on consumer Windows 8 features -- read any blog and it seems like the "Metro-style desktop" is the only new feature -- the new OS is harboring a significant number of enhancements aimed squarely at businesses.
I'm sorry, but has anyone paid attention to DirectAccess lately? Yes, the Windows Server 2008 R2 version was pretty tough. To make it usable required a doctorate in magical studies, and anyone really using it was using the version from Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG). But on paper, DirectAccess seems awesome, no? Plug any client computer into any network and it's magically and securely connected to the corporate network. Non-corporate Internet access continues to go through a separate channel, unless you want it looped back through the corporate firewall and proxy for security reasons. Users don't have to do a thing: they don't log on, they don't manually connect. It just works. It's way better than a VPN. On paper.
Actually, with Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, it really does "just work." Yes, it's still a bear to set up, but vastly less so than the previous release. Many of the improvements, of course, are server-side, and you'll get them with Windows 7 clients, too. But much of the automation -- and the elimination of digital certificates as a hard requirement -- depends on the client being Windows 8. If you haven't looked at DirectAccess as a solid replacement for your existing VPN... well, think about it.
Again, did anyone notice that Microsoft has rewritten the book on highly available file servers? Clustering file servers is now much easier, because the Server Message Block (SMB) 3.0 protocol in Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8 natively recognizes active-active configurations -- which provides not only failover, but also workload balancing. Full capability, however, only engages when Windows 8 is your client computer.
We've always been willing to add a new version of the Windows Server OS to the datacenter when there's a compelling feature we want. But, increasingly, some of the best features require the client to be aware of what's happening, so there are more strategic reasons to roll out the latest client.
Windows To Go
A secure copy of the corporate Windows 8 desktop on a USB flash drive that can be popped into any computer and run from that thumb drive? Hello, solving problems -- and this one, you can utilize even if your main client base is Windows 7. Give 'em to traveling employees as a backup plan. All they have to do is find a computer with a USB port that you can reboot, and they're up and working. You can give them to contractors as well as employees working from home.
It's Just Windows 7-Plus
I think the biggest misconception about Windows 8 is that it's like the Windows XP-to-Windows Vista jump: big and scary. But it isn't. Aside from the visual interrupt caused by the new "Metro-style desktop," it's just an improved version of Windows 7. Under "Metro," it looks the same. It acts the same. It's supported the same. It's deployed and managed the same. It makes sense to just roll it into your environment, rather than doing the usual disruptive "bulldozer" rollout. If we can keep trickling new versions of Windows into our environments, we'll have much easier lives.
Don Jones is a 12-year industry veteran, author of more than 45 technology books and an in-demand speaker at industry events worldwide. His broad technological background, combined with his years of managerial-level business experience, make him a sought-after consultant by companies that want to better align their technology resources to their business direction. Jones is a contributor to TechNet Magazine and Redmond, and writes a blog at ConcentratedTech.com.