Windows Server 2008 : DHCP/WINS/Domain Controllers - Understanding the Key Components of an Enterprise Network

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Although an enterprise network has many functional layers, this article focuses on three key concepts that are critical to the functionality of a Windows Server 2008 R2 environment. These three concepts—network addressing, name resolution, and directory integration—provide for the base-level functionality expected of any modern enterprise or even a small business network, and they provide the backbone for the Windows Server 2008 R2 infrastructure.

Detailing the Importance of Network Addressing

The first concept of a network is network addressing. Network addressing allows for systems to be attached to a network, and it lays the foundation to allow for communication between network systems. Network addressing was historically configured by proprietary network protocols, one for each network operating system (NOS). This gave NOS designers a great deal of flexibility in tailoring the communications components of their network to their specific design needs but made it difficult to exchange information between networks or systems running different network operating systems.

One of the first common network protocols developed was the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). TCP/IP was designed to interoperate between a different variety of networks and network operating systems, allowing network clients to speak a common language. The rise of this protocol coincided with the widespread adoption of the Internet itself, and it was this popularity and ubiquitous use of this protocol that led Microsoft to choose it as the standard protocol for Windows 2000. Windows Server 2008 R2 continues to use TCP/IP as the default network protocol, fortifying its position within the Microsoft NOS world. And to be frank, any company that develops an operating system that does not support TCP/IP or the next-generation version, IPv6, will never have widespread adoption in the business or consumer computer, network, and Internet market.

TCP/IP requires that each node or device on the network be assigned a unique IP address, such as 192.l68.206.10. One way to look at this is to consider that each computer IP address is just like a phone number. Each household with a phone has a unique number, but the neighbors may share a common area code and prefix. TCP/IP networking works similarly in that each node’s IP address on a common network will share some common number, called the network number, and the unique portion is called the host number.

Each node that is connected and desires to communicate on the network must be assigned an IP address manually or by an automatic method. The automatic method is provided by a service known as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol or DHCP. Of course with DHCP, proper planning and management of addresses and configuration options is essential and, historically, many DHCP services lacked functionality. This is where the Windows Server 2008 R2 DHCP service really shines with new features that will enable better management and higher reliability.

Understanding Name Resolution

The second concept or desired function on a network is name resolution. Because humans understand and remember names better than they do phone numbers, IP addresses—the need for name resolution was realized early in the development phases of computer networking. Name resolution can be described as matching a name to an IP address for the purposes of establishing network communication.

Windows Server 2008 R2 provides two services that provide computer networking name resolution. These two services are the domain name system (DNS) and the Windows Internet Naming Service (WINS).

The first type, the domain name system (DNS), translates fully qualified domain names (FQDNs) into IP addresses, which allows them to be addressed in an Active Directory or Internet DNS infrastructure. DNS name resolution is the standard for all Internet name resolution and it is required in all Microsoft Active Directory environments.

The second type of name resolution, mapping legacy Microsoft NetBIOS names into IP addresses, is provided by WINS. Although it is technically possible (and ideal) to create a Windows Server 2008 R2 environment free of NetBIOS name resolution, the truth is that divorcing a network from WINS dependency is very difficult, so it will likely remain an active part of network services in most organizations, at least for a few more years.


When Windows Server 2008 DNS service was released, it introduced a new feature, known as the GlobalNames zone. The GlobalNames zone provided single-label name resolution for large enterprise networks that do not deploy WINS and for which using DNS name suffixes to provide single-label name resolution was not practical.

Examining Directory Integration

The third concept that is critical to a functional Active Directory networking infrastructure is Directory Integration. Having a centralized directory that contains a database of all network clients, their services, user accounts, and security groups that can be used to define security and permissions is vital to any centrally managed modern computer network. Microsoft provides the Active Directory Domain Services role to serve this purpose.

The Active Directory Domain Services role, included with Windows Server 2008 R2, is a core service that is depended upon by many other roles and services hosted on the network. As an example of this, the servers that host the Active Directory Domain Services role, also known as domain controllers, are accessed by other servers and workstations to verify authentication to resources and to also locate resources on the network. Domain controllers contain the full set of directory data used for many networking functions, but certain domain controllers also host a role known as the global catalog. The global catalog hosts a compact subset of the entire Active Directory domain controller database that is indexed, read-only, and used to provide faster results to directory lookups and searches.

Subsequently, choosing where to place domain controllers and domain controllers that are also global catalog servers is critical to the design and operation of the Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory infrastructure. Special considerations must be made regarding this concept because access to directory lookup and registration are crucial functions for Active Directory clients on the network. Of course, before an Active Directory client can locate or register with a domain controller or do a search of the global catalog, they must first get on the network and find the right systems hosting these services, through network addressing and name resolution.

Outlining Networking Services Changes in Windows Server 2008 R2

Windows Server 2008 R2 introduces several functional improvements to networking services. These improvements allow for increased administrative functionality, greater reliability, and an overall increase in value for an organization’s network infrastructure.

DHCP improvements such as DHCP MAC address filtering for leases, DHCP delay in address distribution for redundant DHCP architectures, and DHCP migration improvements using the new Windows Server Migration Tools feature of Windows Server 2008 R2 provide the functionality that many DHCP administrators desired. WINS improvements include advanced database searches and filtering in the WINS console, but the architecture and functionality has not changed too much in this release.

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