Connecting to your company’s network can be, at times, a frustrating task. The tried and true VPN client can be a haste to configure and install. Hardware devices like firewalls and VPN concentrators require highly skilled and knowledgeable IT professionals to manage them. Microsoft thinks it has the cure for your desktop VPN blues — Direct Access in Windows 7 & 8 using Windows Server 2008 or 2012. Direct Access is a VPN connection for mobile devices like laptops and Windows 8 tablets that connects you to your company’s network anytime it senses you are out of the office and have an internet connection. The net effect of this automatic VPN for the person using the device is that they have the same experience connecting to their business network when they are in the office as they do when they are out.
Direct Access can be set up on a device using group policy. The device connects to the network for the first time, downloads the settings, and the VPN is ready to go. The user of the computer just picks it up and walks out the door. They never had to install any software, they didn’t even have to call IT to come set up the VPN connection. Once the device has left the network, NAP or Network Access Protection can be set up to check the remote client while it is away and ensures that it has the latest configuration and that it is in compliance with security requirements such as having updated antivirus.
Another exciting new feature of Direct Access in Windows 8 when connecting to Windows Server 2012 that I recently learned about is the ability to remotely provision or set up a new computer that has never been connected your corporate network. Let me spin a little tale for you. Imagine you run a small company in the Mountains of WV. Jane from your sales team takes a trip to France to meet with a new client. After she lands, she gets in a cab and heads to the hotel. When she arrives at the hotel, she realizes that she left her laptop in the cab. Thankfully you don’t allow any corporate data to be saved on devices like laptops, so all you have lost is the hardware. But Jane needs a new laptop for her presentation tomorrow. No worries. Send her out to get a new laptop from anywhere running Windows 8 Professional. All you have to do now is send her a provisioning package that she runs on the new laptop. The laptop will reboot and be joined to the domain, direct access set up, and she will have access to the company’s network and all the files she needs to nail her presentation.
Server 2012 and Windows 8 open up a number of new possibilities for telecommuters and road warriors as well as ease the burden and complexity IT departments have to deal with, making them more efficient. It is time to start seriously looking at Windows 8 as a replacement for those old laptops and adding Server 2012 to your bag of tricks when it comes to managing the increasingly distributed world of business.