Wolfe's Den Podcast: Windows 7 Virtually Speaking

Our columnist ponders the demise of virtual private networks (VPNs), examines virtual hard disks (VHDs), and chats with Gavriella Schuster, Microsoft's Windows client general manager, and Ward Ralston, Windows Server product manager.
As well, organizations can keep their VPN clients both as backup and to support legacy users.

The most interesting thing that strikes me about DirectAccess isn't so much its technical guts. Let's face it -- this is nice stuff, but nothing unusual technically speaking -- but rather the usability angle. As in, it makes administration much easier on a lot of levels, in terms of making sure users are properly audited and are running what they're supposed to.

Personally, I know I hate the application restrictions my company imposes on me; I want to run what I want to run, and I also am not happy with the (slow) antivirus client I've got on my laptop. So when I'm mobile, I never VPN in. (For email, I use a Webmail client.) However, I realize that, on a global level, as a network admin, you don't want folks like me. With DirectAccess, admins don't have to worry about this, because anytime you're on the Internet, you're also seen by your enterprise network. Which means the latter can enforce policies etc.

To close the thought about users not perceiving DirectAccess to be "connecting" them to their corporate network, even though it is, I think the really interesting thing here is where this takes us in terms of overall Internet usage. What is does is effectively break down the probably false separation most of us make between the "personal" (or non-work) Web and one's business network. (For a related take, see my recent blog post, Should Your Enterprise Network Be An Internet Hot Spot?)

While CIOs and sys admins might be able to make the distinction between what's public and private, and where their strategic assets reside, most users don't know or care. The advent of cloud computing -- and , to a greater degree, the nascent rise of hybrid clouds -- is blurring the line even further.

I'm not sure this is a good thing, because a boundary-less world is one that's inherently less secure and more difficult to protect. In this regard, enterprise networks are no different that nations wracked by the evaporating borders wrought through globalization.

Virtual Hard Disk

On a more optimistic note, I'd like to make note of another feature of Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2, which is turning out to be extremely valuable. That would be the Virtual Hard Disk, or VHD, format.

As its name implies, VHD is tied in with virtualization. Definition-wise, "the Microsoft VHD file format specifies a virtual machine hard disk that can reside on a native host file system encapsulated within a single file."

VHDs are widely used as storehouses for hard disk images you intend to deploy out to clients. For example, you can keep different images, for different types of users, in the form of separate VHDs and then just deploy the ones you need to whomever they need to go to.

They can also be used for backup and recovery; antivirus and security; Image management and patching; disk conversion (physical to virtual, and so on); life-cycle management and provisioning.

VHD has been around since 2005, when Microsoft offered it royalty-free to third parties. (Citrix and VMWare support VHD, though for VMWare it's not the prime format. ) The thing that's new in Win7 is built-in native support.

To learn more, I recommend "VHD Getting Started Guide," here. See also "Native VHD Boot Deployment Scenarios, by Microsoft blogger Michael Waterman. (Downloadable at the bottom of this post.

Microsoft slides spotlight the tech features of Windows 7. (Click to enlarge, and to see more PowerPoints.)

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