Windows Server 2008 R2 networking : Overview of Windows Server 2008 R2 Networking

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Microsoft has enhanced many of the core network features with the release of Windows Server 2008 and 2008 R2. Windows Server 2008 R2 also comes with some newly added features that deliver greater security, reliability, and a better end-user experience.

Network and Sharing Center

The Network and Sharing Center is the new central console to configure and manage network settings in Windows Server 2008 R1, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Windows 7. It includes options that allow you to manage network adapters, enable or disable file sharing, change network location settings, and troubleshoot connection problems.

Redesigned TCP/IP Network Stack

Windows Server 2008 R2 includes what Microsoft calls “The Next Generation TCP/IP Stack.” During the development of Windows Server 2008, Microsoft chose to completely redesign the TCP/IP stack to improve performance, add new features for IP version 4 (IPv4), and to include support for IP version 6 (IPv6). The redesign includes new features such as:

  • Fail back support for default gateways —Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP provided the ability to add multiple default gateways for redundancy. If one gateway became unreachable, Windows could fail over to a backup default gateway. Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP did not, however, provide an automatic check of the unreachable gateway to determine when it came back online. An administrator would have to manually fail back the computer to the original gateway. Windows Server 2008 introduces the ability to have the computer perform regular “checks” of a dead or unreachable gateway. Once the gateway becomes reachable again, the computer will fail back to the original gateway automatically.

  • TCP chimney off-load —As networks have advanced over the years, so has the amount of processing required to manage and maintain network connections. Significant increases in CPU utilization have been seen when performing large data transfers, such as those seen during backups and on iSCSI Storage Area Network (SAN) connections. Typically, this increased utilization is seen on 1-gigabit and 10-gigabit connection speeds. To address this issue, Microsoft developed the ability to off-load all TCP connection processing to a TCP Off-load Engine (TOE) card. TOE cards are special network adapters built specifically to off-load TCP traffic from the computer’s main CPU. This allows the TOE card to carry the additional processing load, freeing up the computer’s primary CPU for other processing requests.

  • Network Diagnostics Framework —The Network Diagnostics Framework helps to locate and diagnose network connectivity problems and in many cases it will take the end-user through a series of steps to find the cause of connectivity loss and fix it. It can help resolve several common issues, such as IP address conflicts, dead default gateways, stopped DHCP client services, or disconnected media.

DNS enhancements

Windows Server 2008 now includes new DNS features including IPv6 support and the GlobalNames zone. The GlobalNames zone provides single-label name resolution without the need for a dedicated Windows Internet Naming System (WINS) deployment.

Notes From the Field

The Windows Internet Naming System (WINS)

For those who are unfamiliar with WINS; it was originally developed to support name resolution over Windows networks separated by wide area network (WAN) links. WINS provided name resolution of NETBIOS names before DNS became the primary technology used for computer name resolution. Though not as prevalent, WINS can be seen on a lot of Windows networks today supporting legacy NETBIOS based applications. The new GlobalNames zone is Microsoft’s solution to help traditional WINS deployments to move to DNS technologies for name resolution.

Policy-based QoS

Traditionally, Quality of Service (QoS) has been set up to throttle or prioritize traffic between network switches and routers; however, Policy-based QoS in the Windows Server 2008 R2 allows administrators to deploy these features to servers and desktops. This ability opens the door to more enhanced network bandwidth management.

SMB 2.0

Server Message Block (SMB) 1.0 was originally developed for sharing files in Windows operating systems. SMB 2.0 was released as part of the Windows Server 2008 R1 and Vista operating systems, and remains in 2008 R2 and Windows 7 today. SMB 2.0 has greatly been enhanced to increase the performance of SMB file traffic. Copying files between two SMB 2.0 capable systems occurs at much greater speeds as those seen using SMB 1.0. Several enhancements to SMB, such as the ability to perform multiple operations at the same time, make it more efficient. SMB 1.0 would perform only one operation and wait for a response before moving to the next. SMB 2.0 can issue two to three operations or more making it more efficient and faster in the eyes of the end-user. An additional benefit to SMB 2.0 is that it also has the ability to sustain a file transfer even if a brief network disconnect occurs. Have you ever been in the middle of a very large file transfer, and suddenly the network connection briefly drops? Do you remember the frustration of having to start the file transfer all over again? SMB 2.0 can automatically maintain the file transfer during that brief connectivity drop and continue copying files after the connectivity is restored. SMB 2.0 is available in Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows Vista, and Windows 7 operating systems.

You may be wondering, “What happens if I transfer a file between a SMB 2.0 capable system and a SMB 1.0 capable system, such as Windows XP?” In this situation, the file transfer process will use the 1.0 version of SMB providing backward compatibility to the older operating system.

Windows Firewall

Microsoft first included the Windows Firewall in Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP. The Windows Firewall in Windows Server 2003 provides the ability to “lock down” certain ports and applications resulting in a greater level of security not only for applications but also for the server system as a whole. Though the Windows Firewall was a great addition from a security standpoint, it did have a few shortcomings. The firewall was cumbersome to configure at times, especially for less experienced Windows administrators. It also filtered only traffic incoming to the server, so all outbound connections were allowed by default.

Windows Server 2008 R1 and R2 include a new version of the Windows Firewall with a much improved administrative experience. The Windows Firewall has been configured using a console built into the Server Manager interface (see Figure 1). The firewall now has the ability to filter both inbound and outbound connections. Additionally, Windows Server 2008 R2 services and some applications will automatically create necessary firewall rules to ensure that they can communicate properly with the network. Additionally, the firewall has APIs which allow application developers to publish their own exception requirements to the firewall during installation of their given application. The firewall can also be changed on a per-network interface, opposed to a particular rule or configuration applying to all interfaces. 

Figure 1. Windows Server 2008 R2 Firewall Configuration.

IPv6 support

IPv6 is the next generation IP protocol designed to eventually replace IPv4. Windows Server 2008 R2 natively supports both IPv6 and IPv4 out-of-box. Both are installed and enabled by default in Windows Server 2008 R2. As with most technologies, support for IPv4 will continue to be required for several years but in the near future IPv6 may very well become the IP standard. To assist organizations in moving to IPv6, Windows Server 2008 R2 includes several standards-based IPv4 to IPv6 transition technologies such as Teredo, 6to4, and IP-HTTPS.

Network awareness

Windows Server 2008 R2 has the ability to sense changes in network connectivity, whether this is connecting and disconnecting on the same network or plugging into a different network altogether. The Network Awareness APIs in Windows Server 2008 R2 allow developers to write applications that can rely on this network state change monitoring and react when changes occur. For example, an application may require a connection to the corporate network for certain features to function properly. Using Network Awareness APIs, the developer could instruct the application to display only those features when it detects that the computer is connected to the corporate LAN.

Network Access Protection

Network Access Protection (NAP), originally released in Windows Server 2008 R1, is a technology that ensures that computers on your network comply with IT health policies. NAP makes sure that client computers have current operating system updates installed, antivirus software running, and custom configurations related to ensuring that the client is compliant with corporate IT policies. NAP restricts the computer’s network access until it verifies whether the client is in compliance. If the computer is found not to be in compliance with set policies, the end-user can be offered a way to remediate the problem and then granted full network access.


DirectAccess is a new feature introduced in Windows Server 2008 R2 and Windows 7. DirectAccess provides end-users with constant, secure connectivity to the corporate network anytime an Internet connection is available and without the need for traditional Virtual Private Network (VPN) client software installed. This connection not only gives end-users easy access to the company network, but also provides systems such as configuration management and software distribution server’s access to the PC. This is a Win-Win feature for end-users and IT departments alike. DirectAccess is accomplished by creating a secure tunnel between the Windows 7 workstation and the Windows Server 2008 R2 network.

Exploring Network and Sharing Center

The Network and Sharing Center is the new central console for managing TCP/IP network connectivity and features, such as Windows File sharing. The new Network and Sharing Center is the “one-stop shop” to view, manage, and troubleshoot your network connectivity in Windows Server 2008 R2.

The Network and Sharing Center can be accessed via a few methods. It can be accessed via the control panel under the Network and Internet section (see Figure 2), by right clicking on a network connection in the system tray or by right clicking on the Network option in the Start menu and choosing properties.

Figure 2. Network and Sharing Center.

You will notice several options presented when you first open the Network and Sharing Center. In the top middle section of the window, you will see a basic connectivity map as seen in Figure 3. The simple map provides a visual representation of network connectivity from the operating system’s perspective. This includes the ability to access a local network and the Internet. If the server fails to connect to either of these, the map will display the problem area with a red disconnected status. The connectivity map may vary slightly depending on what type of network your computer is connected to.

Figure 3. Simple Network Map of Domain Joined Computer.

Below the connectivity map, you will see a section that lists the name and type of the network you are connected to along with the media (wired or wireless) providing the connection (see Figure 4). By clicking on any connected media type, you can view the status of the connection as well as make configuration changes, such as disabling the network adapter or setting the IP address.

Figure 4. Network Connectivity.

Moving down the window, you will see a section named “Change your network settings” (see Figure 5). Here you can change various aspects of your network connection, including setting up a new connection to a remote network via VPN or dial-up, connecting to an existing network, or diagnosing current network problems.

Figure 5. Change Network Settings.

The left-hand section of the Network Sharing Center provides links to the following network and configuration settings:

  • Change adapter settings —This link opens the network connections window. Here you can perform tasks such as disabling/enabling network adapters, and assigning IP addresses and protocols to those adapters.

  • Change advanced sharing settings —This link takes you to the window that allows you to turn network sharing, network discovery, and public folder sharing on and off. These settings can be turned on or off for each network profile individually.

Notes From the Field

See Also Links

Throughout the configuration windows in Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft has embedded “See Also Links.” The links take you to the configuration and management consoles similar to the current console where the links appear.

Network profiles

Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista introduced a new way to manage network configuration based upon the network that the computer is connected to. For example, you can configure the computer to open Windows Firewall ports for Remote Desktop connectivity while connected to the corporate network and to disable the ports when connected to a public network. Windows Server 2008 R2 includes the following network profile types:

  • Domain —The domain network profile is used when the computer is connected to the network that hosts the domain that it is a member of. For example, if a computer is a member of the domain, the domain network profile will be used when that computer connects to the network that hosts the domain.

  • Private —The private network profile is used when connecting the computer to a trusted network that does not host the domain in which the computer is joined. This profile is less restrictive than the public profile and thus should only be used on trusted networks, such as a home network or in situations where the computer is connected to the corporate network, but not joined to a Windows domain.

  • Public —The public network profile should be used when connecting the computer to a non-trusted network, such as a public Wi-Fi hotspot. This profile is much more restrictive toward other network computers and devices.

You will more than likely not be moving your production servers between various networks on a regular basis. However, it is important that you understand how Network Profiles impact on the operating system’s configuration to ensure that proper settings are applied for your given network scenario. For example, if you open a Windows Firewall port for the private profile and the computer is using the domain profile, then the firewall change that you made will have no impact on the computer’s current configuration.

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