Buckle your seatbelt for major Microsoft releases

During TechEd 2009 in LA this year it was amazing the amount of new products that will come to market in the next six to twelve months. Here’s a short summary of some of the new releases you should expect and plan for:

  1. Windows 7 – Q4 2009
  2. Windows Server 2008 R2 – Q4 2009
  3. Exchange 2010 – By end of year 2009
  4. Office 2010 – 1H 2010
  5. Geneva (Federation identity) – End of year 2009
  6. Kilimanjaro (new SQL server) – 1H 2010
  7. Gemini (BI for Kilimanjaro) – 1H 2010
  8. ForeFront Identity Manager 2010 – 1H 2010
  9. Quebec (compontentized Windows embedded) – 2010
  10. SharePoint 2010 – 1H 2010
  11. Dublin (App server extensions to Windows server) – TBD
  12. Velocity (distributed caching for clusters) – Mid-2009
  13. Stirling (Forefront client) – Early 2010
  14. TMG/UAG – 2H 2009
  15. Madison (massively parallel data warehouse) – August 2009

What was even more surprising and out of character was that Microsoft was telling people to skip Vista and Exchange 2007 if you haven’t started deploying them today. I would go as far as say skip server 2008 and wait for R2, unless you really need some server 2008 features today. Like Windows 7, server 2008 R2 has undergone hundreds of tweaks and changes to make it faster, more secure, and easier to manage. Oh and don’t forget server 2008 R2 is 64-bit ONLY!

Copy files faster with Server 2008 R2 and W7!

During one of the sessions this week on DirectAccess, the speaker mentioned a tidbit of information which I found useful. For those of you running Windows XP and Server 2003, you know the pain of accessing file shares across the WAN. The higher the latency, the dramatically worse the performance. SMB was not designed for the WAN, so it is VERY chatty with many round trips needed to perform very basic tasks like copy a file or do directory listings.

With Windows Server 2008 and Vista, Microsoft introduced SMB 2.0 which dramatically cut down on the chattiness and thus accelerated accessing file shares across the WAN. What I learned this week is that in Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7, Microsoft made additional changes to SMB and it’s now up to revision 2.1.

In version 2.1 a command that would take 5 round trips to complete, now completes in three. And commands that took four round trips can now do it in three. While that may sound like a small change, but that’s a 25% to 40% reduction in the number of round trips. But this reduction ONLY occurs if the server and client are Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. Yet another reason to upgrade your file servers to R2 and jump on the Windows 7 bandwagon!

CorpNet at 30,000 feet

One of the really mind blowing new features of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 is something called DirectAccess. What is DirectAccess? Think of it as a background VPN to your corporate intranet, but with none of the end-user hassles of a traditional VPN. Work anywhere in the world as if you were sitting in your office.

Think of this scenario:

You are flying on a WiFi equipped airplane and power on your Windows 7 laptop. It boots up and before you even logon your laptop establishes a machine certificate authenticated IPsec tunnel to your company. Group policies are pulled down to your computer, and your anti-virus software gets an update. You logon, and you are authenticated to a domain controller and pull down new user group policies.

You then access a file share using a short name, such as \server50common and open a Word document. You realize your password is about to expire, so you change your domain password. You also surf over to your favorite internal HR portal and input your time card data and blog about this new remote access your IT gurus setup for you.

Being the CEO of your company, you aren’t the most technical user around and experience a problem with your OCS communicator client. So you e-mail your help desk and they open a remote assistance session with your laptop. They walk you through the solution, and you can now IM. They also notice your print spooler service crashed and needs to be restarted, so they issue a remote PowerShell v2 command to start your print spooler service.

Next, your company wants to push a software patch via SCCM to close a major security vulnerability in Acrobat Reader. So they assign the patch package to your computer. Your computer receives the advertisement and installs the update.

For the next two hours you want surf public Internet sites, but don’t want your IE traffic routed through your corporation because the content is of a personal nature.

Finally, you need to RDP into a server and install a patch so you launch the RDP client and install the patch on the server. Your flight is now about to land, so you shut down your computer.

This scenario would have been impossible until the release of RC1 of Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2. But the entire scenario I described above will be possible and completely transparent to the end user. Good bye traditional VPNs and hello DirectAccess!

For more technical details, see this link.

New Exchange 2010 Features

Here’s a short list of some of the new features in Exchange 2010. This is certainly not a comprehensive list, but gives you a flavor of the many enhancements.

  1. Built-in e-mail archiving, with full OWA and fat client access.
  2. Support for 10+GB mailboxes
  3. Shows OCS contacts and can send basic IMs via OWA
  4. Text preview of voicemail messages
  5. Create your own personal auto attendant and configure complex routing rules.
  6. Auto-complete cache is now server based so it works from OWA, fat clients and mobile devices.
  7. Federated calendaring for external business partners.
  8. No more SCC, SCR, SCC, LCR, a new single HA method that supports 16 copies of each database called DAG (Database availability group).
  9. Mailbox role can now host all other Exchange roles (except UM).
  10. Users remain online during mailbox moves.
  11. Role-based administration: Define a role, scope the role, assign users to the role.
  12. Self-service options for creating/managing DLs, personal data, etc.
  13. 70% reduction in IOPS from Exchange 2007.
  14. Transport based rules for automatically applying RMS policies to e-mail.
  15. Full OWA premium experience with Firefox and Safari
  16. Ignore e-mail threads so you never see all the future replies.
  17. Mail tool tips in Outlook 2010 notifies you before a message is sent of issues (OOF, quotas, max message size, etc.).
  18. Apply RMS policies to voicemail messages.
  19. Update the mobile Outlook client over the air.
  20. Can restore corrupt database store pages from other HA instances of the database.
  21. Certificate generation wizard in the EMC! No more command line certificate generation.

Whooaahh…RAID-free Exchange 2010 mailboxes?

During one of the Exchange 2010 sessions at TechED 2009 I attended, Microsoft made what I think is a major announcement. Given a proper design, Microsoft no longer recommends RAID protected disks for your Exchange server and goes a step further and suggests using locally attached SATA drives.

This is in stark contrast with Exchange 2003, where you needed fairly high-end Fibre Channel storage arrays, lots of disks, and full RAID protection. So how did Microsoft go from uber expensive storage in Exchange 2003 to el-cheapo SATA disks seven years later?

The first step was Exchange 2007, which cut disk I/O requirements by 70% due to its 64-bit architecture and much smarter use of memory. In a CCR cluster you could implement RAID protected locally attached SAS drives for many implementations supporting hundreds or thousands of users. Many still used fibre channel SANs, though.

Exchange 2010 has undergone some major changes to further reduce I/O requirements by another 70% over Exchange 2007. This equates to a more than 90% reduction in I/O over Exchange 2003. In addition, MS threw out all of the Exchange 2007 high-availability methods (SCC, CCR, SCR, LCR) and now has a single HA method that supports up to 16 replicas of a database. Gone are storage groups! In addition, without RAID you reduce the total number of disk I/Os since you aren’t writing some percentage of redundant data.

Microsoft is now saying if you have three or more copies of a database, then you can store all copies on non-RAID SATA disks. Should you lose a disk, fairly automatic fail-over will occur for the affected databases to another active node. Microsoft internally is hosting over 7 million mailboxes on non-RAID storage.

Another bonus of the HA 16 copy feature is that you can have any combination of local and remote replicated copies. For instance, a single database could have two local copies plus one or more remote copies located at data centers hundreds of miles away. Have a branch office with an Exchange server and two data centers? No problem..send copies everywhere! This really opens the flood gates to many creative DR/BC scenarios.

In addition, you can configure a lag for each of the replicas. Don’t like doing backups? Then configure a lag for one of the copies for say seven days. Now you don’t have to revert to tape restores if you want to grab some lost messages from the past week.

This is just one of dozens of new and pretty cool features of Exchange 2010. There’s a public beta available, so I would encourage you to check it out if you are a messaging geek. It is truly a compelling upgrade over Exchange 2003/2007.

I’m at TechED 2009

Once again, I’m here at TechED. This is a great opportunity to learn about the latest and greatest Microsoft technologies. You can also collaborate with peers, and talk with a wide range of vendors. I’ll be posting some notes from various sessions that I’m attending. The notes will likely not be detailed, as I don’t have time to fully flesh them out. But it should give readers some insight to new technologies that you can dig further further yourself