Software

Domain Services And Direct Access

Guest blogger Terry Lynch gets hands-on advice on making the most of some of Windows Server 2012′s more advanced features. Your domain rollouts may never be the same again.

Where To Begin?

So, after being taught about the new features and improvements in Windows Server 2012 over the last three days at TechEd Australia 2012, the first question most people will have is: “so where do I begin?” Alex Pubanz and Jesse Suna from Microsoft began Friday morning with a session answering just that.

Introducing a Windows Server 2012 domain controller into your domain has been made much easier but the process has changed from previous versions. Gone are the days of running a dcpromo on the server to promote it – in fact, this command doesn’t even exist anymore. If you run dcpromo on a Windows Server 2012 machine you’ll be helpfully told that the role needs to be added through the server manager interface.

After adding the role of Active Directory Domain Services within the server manager you’ll be asked if you wish to promote the server to a Domain Controller and if you’re joining an existing domain or forest. The server manager runs a quick check on your existing infrastructure and determines if your domain or schema needs to be prepped and if they do, this process will automatically run as well. If you prefer to take control back from the wizards and manage this yourself, these processes can both still be run manually.

And that’s all there is to it really; after a reboot your new Windows Server 2012 domain controller is ready to go and your infrastructure is prepared and able for more Windows Server 2012 members to be introduced.

Migrating a file server cluster is also a fairly straightforward process. After building the cluster in Windows Server 2012 you can then use the Clustering Manager interface to pull information over from your existing Window Server 2008 or Windows Server 2008 R2 cluster (sorry, no direct migration support for Windows Server 2003). A maintenance window will be required while the information is transferred but the process does not alter the existing cluster so after this process is complete you’ll hopefully be presented with a report full of green check marks indicating a successful transfer but if for some reason anything fails, your existing cluster remains unchanged and can be rolled back with no issues ready to try again another time.

Everything, Everywhere

DirectAccess was introduced in Windows Server 2008R2 allowing remote users on laptops to connect back into the corporate network for logon credentials or file access without having to dial VPNs or configure any tunneling. This all sounds great in theory but some of the prerequisites for this setup really held back larger enterprises from embracing this feature – who in their right mind would allow a Domain Controller in the DMZ?

Fortunately this has all been rethought and a lot of the requirements around DirectAccess have been removed and simplified with a wizard style interface allowing administrators to configure this within minutes. During a demo we were able to see a complete DirectAccess deployment set up in the space of 10 minutes.

Another very interesting and useful feature in the new version of DirectAccess is the ability to provision non domain-joined machines who are out on the internet with no connection to the domain at all. Any Windows 8 Enterprise machine with an internet connection can be sent a package which, when run with administrative rights will rename the machine, join it to your domain, apply all your group policy settings and then allow the user to log in with their domain credentials – all without a VPN or any physical connection to the network. Obviously the package sent to the destination computer should be kept as secure as possible as this could be run on any Windows8 machine and join it to your domain but for provisioning purposes, this function could turn out to be extremely useful.

Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 take DirectAccess to a new level of easy deployment and gives fantastic new functions as described above but these can also be taken advantage of by your existing Windows7 machines although it will take some more configuration around certificates and trust to your domain. DirectAccess is also only compatible with Windows 8 Enterprise so you’ll need to keep this requirement in mind.

What a week!

TechEd 2012 has been a fantastic experience and I can’t wait to get back to the office and start testing and implementing the amazing new features we have been shown. I’ll almost certainly be back again next year and would love to bring more of my team with me to share the workload, there’s been far too many sessions that I wish I was able to attend but just didn’t have the time.

Well done to Microsoft and all the partners who helped make this TechEd so successful and gave all of us a great time. Now we just need to get out there and start making these things happen!

Visit Gizmodo’s TechEd 2012 Newsroom for all the news from the show.

Terry Lynch is covering Windows Server 2012 for Gizmodo using his ASUS Zenbook WX32VD.