I’m finally recovering from Tech Ready.  Last week was incredibly busy, and I learned a lot about recently-released and upcoming products, especially those that have the potential to help our customers improve their branch banking infrastructure.

All of these products and features share a common goal:  reducing the “branch tax”, which is a more concise way of saying “the inherent overhead involved with setting up and managing information systems at a remote branch location.”

In the category of general guidance around planning for branch deployments, the Branch Office Infrastructure Solution for R2 has been updated.  One of the key improvements to BOIS is the inclusion of modular System Design References (SDRs) that walk you thru the Design Considerations, Design Stages, and Design Options for a variety of subject areas (e.g., Directory Services, File Services, etc.).  This approach makes it easier to tailor our guidance to fit more easily with the heterogeneous environments that actually exist in the real world of bank branches.

Other interesting tidbits, in no particular order:

  • Longhorn Server Core will be incredibly useful within the branch.  Server Core allows you to install a minimal set of Windows features onto a machine, and supports the following roles:  DHCP server, File Server, DNS Server, Active Directory.  There isn’t even a GUI installed on a Server Core box, so admins can either use a local command prompt or remotely attach via MMC.  The net result is simplified maintenance, reduced hardware requirements, and a much smaller surface area for attackers to target.  Since most Windows Updates address client products like Office or Internet Explorer, which won’t even be installed on Server Core, there will be less need to patch these machines over time.  The Server Core team has a blog, here.
  • Improvements to DFS replication and GPO storage formats should greatly reduce the bandwidth required for AD synchronization, as described here.  There’s also a ton of DFS info here, including a branch demo.
  • SMB 2.0 in Vista should go a long way toward making UNC pathnames in email less irritating to those of us who work in remote locations.  Remote file copy, networking browsing, etc. consumes less bandwidth and the branch user experience is a lot better.  The CFS Team Blog has more detail, here.
  • Data Protection Manager (DPM), which is shipping, and supports platforms back to Windows 2000, is another valuable addition to the management stack.  I think the key benefit in the branch scenario is the ability for users to recover their own data, without requiring intervention from an administrator.  DPM and DFS have similar roles, but this datasheet explains the differences.

There are more features, and I’ll keep blogging them as I run across them, but this is a good start.  By addressing manageability and bandwidth consumption, we’re helping to reduce the branch tax and make life in the branch more productive.