Two of the most hotly anticipated features of Windows 7 are DirectAccess and BranchCache, each of which requires the new Windows Server 2008 R2 to be installed as well (see story, "Are Win 7's R2 Server Ties A Blessing Or Curse?").
DirectAccess lets end users access corporate networks remotely without having to sign on with virtual private network software. As soon as a Windows 7 PC configured with DirectAccess boots up and finds an Internet connection, it authenticates via an encrypted tunnel to a DirectAccess server. The related VPN Reconnect feature automatically reconnects users to their VPN if a connection is lost.
To the user, the DirectAccess benefit is rather simple: no more annoying VPN to log into. IT departments could see the savings from not making further investments in VPN infrastructure, though that might be long term as they continue to support VPNs until all employees are on DirectAccess.
ETS-Lindgren plans to deploy Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 hand-in-hand and is considering DirectAccess for its hard cost savings. In order to support Windows 7, it would need to upgrade its Cisco VPN software, increasing that license cost. But if DirectAccess passes its performance tests, it won't need the Cisco software and thus could eliminate that recurring cost, while also simplifying connectivity for its global workforce, Border says.
BranchCache caches content either on a dedicated caching server in a remote office, or by using peer-to-peer caching on PCs in that office. Accessing the cached content doesn't eat up precious WAN capacity. However, BranchCache doesn't do some of the more advanced protocol tweaking of more expensive, standalone WAN optimization appliances.
ETS-Lindgren is just starting a pilot test of BranchCache, but Border says it can defer some additional spending on WAN optimization. "We have some pretty tough users, 12 permanent locations around the world, and we've spent a lot of money on WANs and WAN optimization technology," he says. In a Microsoft case study, Taiwanese IT services company Systex estimated it will save 20%, or $100,000, on its annual bandwidth costs by using BranchCache. (Your mileage may vary.)
The new server operating system will be a tough sell alongside a substantial desktop investment. To make it, the OS also promises more sophisticated server virtualization, particularly Live Migration, which allows the movement of running virtual machines among physical servers, a feature that's revered by users of VMware, the No. 1 virtualization vendor. Gartner recently predicted that Microsoft's virtualization market share would triple by 2012, as it continues to increase its functionality. Other server additions are a management interface for Active Directory that lets admins restore accidentally deleted identities, an enhancement to let virtualized applications appear in a PC's start menu, support for up to 256 logical processors, and the ability to automatically classify and set policies for files based on their type.
In this economy, it would be shocking to see a stampede to Windows 7 unless it promised hard cash savings, which it doesn't. Still, it's surprising to see more than a third of companies with no plans for Win 7. More than half have done some testing, at least.
For those laying plans, the driving forces are the end of XP support and improved security, and after that some impressive new features. Some, like Del Monte, trust that the upgrade will deliver on hard-to-measure productivity improvements and employee retention.
In the end, Microsoft has come up with a solid operating system, yet it has a lot of work to do to bring businesses around to upgrading. They skipped Vista, stayed on XP, and don't feel any worse for having done so. Their budgets don't have room for nice-to-haves. So, yes, Microsoft makes a more compelling case for upgrading to Windows 7 than it did for Vista. But it needs to.
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