Remote Office Server Consolidation With Hyper-V and BitLocker

Do you remember the days when servers for remote offices were under someone's desk or in a janitor's closet? How about in a reconfigured bathroom stall? (Yes, I've actually seen these) Are those days still now for you? The problem of securing remote branch office servers is still a common one. I've seen broom closets, dusty storage rooms, and even a server being used as the local administrator's desktop workstation all as part of major enterprise branch office infrastructures.

A main concern with these kinds of installations is security. Since there isn't usually a dedicated, secure server room to house these servers, they share access with what are normally commonly accessed areas: like an office trailer at a construction site, or under the receptionist's desk. Another concern with branch offices is space - which is why these servers end up under desks or next to the water cooler in the copy room. Maybe the site has enough room for one server, but two? Three? Five? Not likely.

How do you secure these servers as well minimize the number of servers you deploy to the branch office?

First, let's start with Hyper-V. What is Hyper-V? It's the new virtualization engine for Windows Server 2008. It is a radical change from Virtual Server and the performance is much, much better. Among the many benefits with Hyper-V, you can run native x64-based guest OS installs. This is especially important when installing products like Exchange 2007.

For small branch offices, Hyper-V provides the option of packing several virtual servers on one physical box, thereby simplifying the amount of infrastructure necessary for site deployments: less power requirement, fewer network drops, fewer cables, less space, etc.

Now that you've decided that virtualization is a good thing for small offices, you think: "But wait! If someone swipes the server from the construction trailer, they'll have copies of my sensitive data!" This is where BitLocker comes in.

First introduced with Windows Vista, BitLocker is full volume encryption for Windows (Vista and Server 2008). That small branch office server with Hyper-V you just built can now be configured to use BitLocker to encrypt its drives, thereby securing the installed virtual machines and making them practically inaccessible even to those who would steal the hardware.

You can even put a more secure spin on this combination by making the host OS a Server Core installation. This will greatly decrease you attack footprint on the host as well as simplifying the patching process. A smaller OS footprint means fewer vulnerabilities. Fewer vulnerabilities means fewer patches for Server Core. Fewer patches means fewer reboots, which is always a good thing.

Installing Server Core as the host OS also provides an additional layer of security: the command line interface. There's no GUI with this OS which makes it harder for the amateur site administrator to inflict any damage.

In summary, a Server Core installation of Hyper-V protected with BitLocker (and possibly a Read Only DC installed as a VM, but we can talk abou that later) will give you a great option for deploying to less secure and “infrastructure challenged” environments.

You should try it.