Even though Windows 8 won’t be officially released until October 26, its Metro user interface and Microsoft's decision to remove the Start menu have already received lots of criticism. Some observers have gone so far as to predict that Windows 8 will reduce productivity in office environments.
Nevertheless, Windows 8 has new features and improvements aplenty to consider. So here I’ll introduce many that you—as a business user, owner, or IT administrator—might find useful. There’s something for everyone with improvements to security, networking, virtualization, recovery, and more.
Networking Improvements Help Network Administrators
Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 include many new and enhanced networking features useful for administrators. Native NIC (network interface card) teaming provides network connection load balancing and failover by bonding two or more network interfaces. The updated Server Message Block (SMB) protocol improves the availability, performance, administration, and security of file shares and storage resources, with new features like encryption and transparent failover.
The new IP Address Management (IPAM) feature of Windows Server 2012 helps admins discover, monitor, audit, and manage a network’s IP addressing. Finally, DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) has also been improved to provide server failover ability and policy-based assignments.
If you administer cloud servers or services, such as those from Amazon Web Services or Rackspace, you might be relieved to learn that you don't need access to a notebook or desktop PC to perform routine administrative tasks.
Install one of these five apps--AWS Console, Android AWS Manager, Decaf Amazon EC2 Client, Rackspace, or ConnectBot--on your Android phone or tablet, and you can manage your cloud infrastructure from anyplace where you can access the Internet.
Startups like Square and PhoneSwipe spotted a lucrative opportunity to empower the smallest of merchants to accept credit card payments, and they've made the most of it. If you have a product or service to sell, all you need to get paid by credit card is a smartphone or tablet, a tiny card swiper, and an account with one of these vendors.
Tomorrow, those companies will gain a significant competitor when VeriFone launches SAIL, a mobile payment-processing platform for small and medium-size businesses.
Similar to the programs that Square and PhoneSwipe offer, merchants who sign up with VeriFone's SAIL program will get a free credit card reader that they can plug into their Apple or Android smartphone or tablet, and a free app for processing credit card transactions. The merchant will pay a 2.7 percent fee for each swiped transaction, which is comparable to the other services (Square charges 2.75 percent; PhoneSwipe, 2.69 percent); but VeriFone will also provide its customers the option of paying a $9.95-per-month subscription fee in exchange for a discounted transaction fee of 1.95 percent.
When it comes to adopting new operating systems and applications, common practice among system administrators is to delay adoption until the release of the first service pack. Admins found plenty of reasons to put off moving from Windows XP to Windows Vista, and then to Windows 7: The new operating systems demanded more capable hardware, the user interface changes required user training, and there were compatibility issues with legacy hardware and applications.
These days, it’s becoming difficult to find device drivers and applications compatible with Windows XP. More importantly, Microsoft has ended mainstream support for Windows XP, and extended support ends in 2014. New PCs come with Windows 7 by default, so admins must support both operating systems anyway. And with Microsoft widely expected to ship Windows 8 in October, can your business afford to be two or three OS generations behind? Unless you intend to set aside the first-service-pack rule, it’s time to bite the bullet and move forward.
Server admins are even more conservative. In this case, Windows Server 2008 R2 requires 64-bit hardware, and the interface is just different enough to make them nervous. The latest server applications, however, are compatible only with the newer operating system. Microsoft ended mainstream support for Windows 2003 in 2010, and extended support ends in 2015.
Many organizations continue to run Windows XP on many or all of their desktop PCs, either because migration typically requires costly hardware upgrades, time-consuming transfers of settings, and user retraining, or because there’s simply no compelling reason to move users to a new OS and the new application software that goes along with it. In some cases, both justifications apply.
But when you consider that Microsoft has already stopped issuing non-security hotfixes for Windows XP and will end all support for the OS in 2014, that strategy won’t be tenable for much longer.
Virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) utilizes server hardware to run desktop operating systems and application software inside a virtual machine. Users access these virtual desktops using their existing PCs. This not only eliminates the need for workstation hardware upgrades, but also enables the user to switch between operating environments, such as Windows XP and Windows 7.
Solid-state drives (SSDs) are an increasingly popular choice for businesses looking for faster performance and lower power consumption than magnetic hard-disk drives can provide. As SSDs continue to slowly fall in price and improve in performance, businesses are implementing SSDs across server farms, laptops, and desktops.
Data center have a number of ways to use SSDs: in conjunction with other storage, as cache, or as a tier zero--the best and fastest level of storage you have available. That way, the most-used files can be stored on SSDs, relegating less-accessed files to slower media. In enterprise storage, you can find all-SSD systems as well as those with SSDs used alongside older, rotating media.
There are a variety of new technologies advancing in 2012 that you should investigate, if you aren’t already doing so, to give your small business a leg up on the competition. These recent technologies are beginning to be widely adopted and will continue to drive business forward.
Tablets are highly visible, and many users want them, if only to read books and consume media. However, from a business perspective, replacing notebook computers with much lower-cost tablets may have a double benefit of reducing capital expenditures as well as increasing user satisfaction. Security can be an issue, both protecting company data and keeping malware and other threats out. Fortunately, both encryption providers and antivirus vendors are busily creating business-focused products that can help ensure security.