Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 7

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Many smaller companies operate globally, with small offices dotted around the world. There may be a small “head office” that houses the CEO and a few key people, but with small offices of two or three people in various different cities, it can be hard to keep things centralized. Even large restaurant chains run into the same problems. Windows Server 2012 has enhanced some existing features to make life easier for these types or organizations.

BranchCache

BranchCache isn’t new. It was introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. What BranchCache provided was a way to cache content from file and web servers at a branch office, dramatically reducing traffic across the WAN, and also reducing the amount of time it took for users at branch offices to access that content/data.

In Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, the quicker/easier theme continues. Branch offices no longer require a GPO at each branch, deduplication has been introduced to reduce storage usage and bandwidth, and you can now preload content to a cache server before its requested by a user. Add it all up, and you get a useful feature that’s now easier to deploy, and works even better than it used to at reducing the cost to serve your branch office.

Branch Office Direct Printing

Branch Office Direct Printing is a new feature. It allows print jobs from your branch office to be sent directly to a local printer instead of having to be sent to a print server, first. This is a massive improvement to a problem I’ve seen for ages in centralized printing environments! Time and time again I’ve seen companies with a central print server at their head office, and people printing multi-megabyte files wait upwards of 10 minutes just to get things going.

Why? Only to see their print job finally show up at the printer 3m away from them? It makes no sense!

This will be a boon to any small business currently experiencing WAN slowdowns due to large print jobs. There are, thankfully, free (as in beer) WAN optimization virtual appliances available, but if you can reduce the need for any such solution, or put it off and focus on more important things for awhile, Branch Office Direct Printing will pay off.

That’s all the information I wanted to share today! We have one more entry left in the series, so please check back in a few days for the wrap-up!

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 6

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In Windows Server 2012, the Server Manager has been redesigned to make it easier to manage multiple remote servers from a single admin console. Thankfully Windows Server 2012 servers are configured to allow for remote management by default, requiring less configuration upfront to make it work.

There is a new dashboard that provides you with very “glanceable” information, including alerts to issues that require your attention. The dashboard updates every 10 minutes, so don’t be alarmed if a user brings up an issue before the dashboard provides you with the corresponding alert.

It’s now easier to deploy roles and features to remote servers using the Add Roles And Features Wizard, as this wizard lets you select a server from your server pool, or even an offline VM, as the destination server.

Overall, the look and feel is more user friendly, while still retaining all of the power that system administrators expect. In fact, SysAdmins have greater power and flexibility now, paired with easier server, and Active Directory administration. Microsoft’s really taken the refinement approach to Server Manager.

That’s all the information I want to share about this topic. I know this was a short one, but next time we’ll be covering BranchCache and Branch Office Direct Printing. That entry will actually be focused on distributed organizations, and anyone reading this from a branch office perspective. Keep checking back for the final two instalments on how Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.

Windows Server 2012 In Your Small Business – Part 5

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Not only can Hyper-V be more easily leveraged in small businesses now, but Windows Server 2012 also introduces additional storage flexibility, allowing the use of cheaper storage in more ways, and adding new features to your existing storage solutions.

SMB 3

The server message block (SMB) protocol is ancient in technology terms. However it’s a ubiquitous protocol that serves an important purpose, and it does it well (like FTP). But new features continue to be added, making it a more powerful protocol than ever before. Let’s highlight how it can help serve your small business.

SMB Directory Leasing introduces a longer living directory cache. This means fewer round-trips from the user’s device to the server because metadata is maintained in the directory cache for a longer period of time. You can look forward to shorter application response times here, especially if you’re in a branch office.

SMB Encryption introduces end-to-end encryption, providing greater protection for SMB data being transferred over unsecured networks, like your ISP’s. No additional cost for encryption appliances or WAN optimization devices required.

SMB Scale Out is good for the growing small business. It lets you create file shares that provide direct, simultaneous access to data across your entire file server cluster. This reduces bandwidth, load balances across the nodes in the file server cluster, and increases bandwidth as additional cluster nodes are added.

Storage Spaces

The idea behind Storage Spaces isn’t new, but it’s a new feature for Windows Server 2012, and it’s built-in. It’s what you would call storage virtualization, and essentially it allows you to create a storage pool out of the local HDDs ins, or connected to, your servers. And this storage pool grows or shrinks as you add/remote disks from the pool, so it’s like a storage cloud in the sense that it’s elastic.

That’s all of the information I want to share today about improvements to storage in Windows Server 2012. There’s three parts left to the series, so please keep checking back to find out other ways Windows Server 2012 can benefit your small business.

Be Open to Changing Your Mind

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I just came across a blog entry from Jason Fried, co-founder of 37 Signals (developers of online services Basecamp, Highrise, and Campfire). Apparently Jeff Bezos came to visit, and shared quite the observation about people who are “right a lot.” When I read Mr. Bezos’ observation, I couldn’t help but agree enthusiastically. I’ve blogged about this issue before under a slightly different light, but the result is the same.

In business and politics, you have to be flexible. If the past of business and politics has taught us anything, it’s that a firm ideology yields poor (sometimes mixed) results. Believing the same thing today as you did yesterday, despite evidence to the contrary, will only lead to the worst kind of failure. Failing and learning is fine under normal circumstances, but when you’re dealing with the coffers, lives, and repercussions on a national scale, you must be paying attention to what others are saying about an issue.

Looking at the same issue in a different light inevitably leads to observations you simply hadn’t made before. Whether you’re deciding whether to launch a new product, or making changes to the criminal code, chances are there are people (and research) outside your bubble that will help you make a better decision. Unfortunately, especially in politics, this willingness to take in other people’s opinions and research, from all sides of the spectrum, is sorely lacking.

So please, do yourself, and those around you, a favour. If you’re a business leader, or a politician, listen to the opinions and view the research. You don’t have to take the advice/recommendations, but you may just hear or read something that makes a world of difference.

Ford St. Thomas Plant May Have a Buyer

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In case you missed it, yesterday the London Free Press revealed that there is a London-led business group hoping to buy the old Ford St. Thomas Assembly plant, spend $700 million redeveloping it, and then leasing  it out to various users/companies. The initial $700M would be a boon to any local companies that are selected to assist in the redevelopment, and of course turning the plant into usable space once more, potentially housing up to 2,000 employees, would be terrific for the London area.

I, for one, have a few hopes for this plant. Hopefully whatever is done there is done in the most environmentally way possible. The redevelopment is going to cost a tonne of money anyway, so spending some of that money to help reduce long-term energy usage, reduce energy waste, and perhaps even introduce some self-reliability (some solar panels) would be nice. I don’t personally have any skin in the game, but hopefully the business group is thinking of these sorts of things.

Good luck with the purchase and redevelopment, folks!