As Windows 2003 Server R2 release time draws closer, Redmond is getting more and more detailed with us on what’s really going to be included in the new release. Turns out those 120MB are going to include a whole bunch of stuff. One lesser known new feature will be a remote site management capability. Dubbed Branch on all the marketing slides, this is an installation of Windows Server that’s optimized for branch office workloads.
Redmond says it’s done significant customer surveys, studies, and vivisectionist investigations and determined that branch office applications represent a surprisingly huge part of the IT landscape. According to Microsoft, fully 55 percent of medium- and large-enterprise staff are in branch offices, and that between a quarter and third of all installed Windows servers are in remote sites. Turns out every McDonald's has a server, and every Jack in the Box has two.
So the concept of Branch was born. Microsoft is quick to point out that this does not represent a new SKU of Windows 2003 Server. Although the company flirted with this idea, the Standard Edition seemed well suited to the task, with optimization concentrated on specific new technologies and configuration tweaks.
On the surface, Branch is designed to incorporate a fairly basic set of features, including DNS/WINS; DHCP; SMS (agent/secondary site config); a MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) agent; secondary Terminal Services capability; ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration, for HTTP caching, local firewall and site-to-site VPN); and Windows Storage Server for Windows storage appliances.
Microsoft is partnering with some folks to build Branch-based appliances, but anyone with R2 can build their own Branch servers based on Windows 2003 Server Standard Edition. If this seems (rightly) to be far more complex once you get into line of business applications, don’t fret; Microsoft has made a guide available on the Web site for building Branch servers and designing Branch-based remote architectures.
Much of the potential complexity comes from a key new Branch technology, which is a serious revamping of DFS (Distributed File System), mainly because managing file services at the branch office has always been a pain. Merely backing up data is agonizing; total consolidation management has always been pretty much impossible with native OS tools. Local backup is the only way to cover your posterior, but even reconciling those changes to a hub site on a scheduled basis is difficult.
The new DFS is far more flexible and fast than its predecessor, if I can believe the demo tests I’ve just seen. The new DFS is sexy in all kinds of ways. First, the new management interface (an MMC, Microsoft Management Console, snap-in) is not only easy, it’s fast. You can manage DFS over multiple topologies (hub-and-spoke, meshed, whatever), manage bandwidth utilization, and manage scheduling. You can even mix these tasks; for example, you can schedule specific bandwidth utilizations for certain times -- which can be huge for many operations.