Greening the Branch Office with Windows Server 2008

Microsoft is launching Windows Server 2008 today, and one of the features which will get little press coverage is Windows Server 2008's Branch Office features and how they can help Green the Branch offices by reducing the hardware required in the branch office, and leverage central resources more efficiently.

With features such as Read-Only Domain Controller, BitLocker Drive Encryption, Server Core, and network protocol improvements, Windows Server 2008 is a great platform for the branch office. And now, through a virtualization component that Cisco will be embedding in their WAAS appliances, Cisco will offer Windows Server 2008 as part of their WAN optimization solution.  This means that IT can offer all of the performance and availability benefits of having base IT services in the branch office without the need for extra hardware. In fact, deployment is all centrally managed, entirely through software!

And Cisco is one of the partners in the Branch Office solution.

Cisco WAAS:

Cisco Wide Area Application Services (WAAS) is a WAN optimization solution that improves the performance of TCP-based applications operating in a WAN environment. The basic idea is to accelerate access to servers and applications that have been centralized into corporate data centers. This provides LAN-like application performance for branch office users while taking advantage of the IT infrastructure simplification that comes from centralization.

This certainly sounds like a win-win situation for customers, but we need to look a little deeper to understand why Cisco and Microsoft decided this was the next major area of collaboration for our companies.

Base IT Services:

When you centralize servers you quickly find out that there are some critical services that branch users and IT pros alike depend on. There are services like DHCP and DNS, that are required for just about everything, and then there is the “little” matter of managing printers, print queues and print driver distribution in the branch. And finally, users need to authenticate, process login scripts, and apply appropriate policies to connect to corporate resources – most often through Microsoft Active Directory®.

All of this infrastructure is provided by Windows Server for many Microsoft and Cisco customers. Customers have been talking with us about continuing to provide these services in the branch – even if they want to centralize everything else – and eliminate the need to deploy multiple physical devices into each branch office.

Cisco has their blog entry.

What makes that so interesting to our customers?

Several things:

1) The ability to flexibly design branch office IT architectures to meet information and business requirements, while actively lowering management cycles and cost.

2) Reducing IT devices in the branch, while still delivering required end user experience and local services (can you say print server, DNS, DHCP?)

3) Leveraging the network, and the benefits of WAN optimization (Cisco WAAS) coupled with virtualization, to enable the ideal mix of local branch and centralized data center services. Selectable by the customer.

I've tried to get the attention of some people on this subject, but Branch Offices tend to be much lower priority for the data center staff. I'll place bets almost no one thinks of their branch office in their Green Data Center strategy.