How to Improve Network Efficiency with Delivery Optimization and Endpoint Configuration Manager

Can Microsoft’s Delivery Optimization and Configuration Manager help solve enterprise network efficiency problems supercharged by the coronavirus pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced numerous companies to adopt hybrid working models. This has seen demand for bandwidth capacity increase considerably.

Couple bandwidth-busting traffic connecting from all over with spiraling data costs and network administrators have something to worry about. With no end in sight of this global pandemic, enterprises are now looking for solutions to counter these issues.

As a result, the question that’s now at the fore for many network administrators is how to improve network efficiency as cost-effectively as possible in the New Year. 

COVID-19 and Network Efficiency

Pre-COVID, 17% of the American workforce worked remotely at least 5 days per week. Since the onset of the pandemic, this number has increased to 44%.

With nearly 6% of the population (i.e. 21 million people) having no high-speed connection, enterprises have begun to ask questions such as how best can they keep all their employees connected to their networks?

A range of solutions has been proposed in order to modernize the existing mainframes including the adoption of key technologies such as Microsoft’s Delivery Optimization, Connected Cache, and Configuration Manager.

Let’s examine each of these in greater detail.

What is Delivery Optimization

Delivery Optimization is an inbuilt Windows component. It’s distributed cache technology which means that it is software that is designed to act as an intermediary between an enterprise’s primary storage solutions and remote employees’ computer.

The benefits that Delivery Optimization provides include optimizing cloud download efficiency, minimizing internet bandwidth, and lowering the latency in data access.

This is excellent because you want to keep your internet bandwidth high as this translates to a faster and better experience for employees, particularly those working remotely.

What is Microsoft Connected Cache?

Microsoft Connected Cache is an application that is installed on a Windows Server 2012 or later. It is also a high-speed data storage function that works hand-in-hand with Delivery Optimization to reduce latency and improve efficiency.

Connected Cache acts as a dedicated cache on your enterprise network. This server-based solution caches the managed downloads that Delivery Optimization extracts from the Cloud.

It’s ideal for companies because it serves as a local cache on your on-premise network.

What is Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager

Microsoft Endpoint Configuration Manager, formerly known as System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) or Systems Management Server (SMS) is a full-feature systems management software designed to manage computers on a larger and streamlined scale.

Configuration Manager works by providing patch management, remote control, operating system deployment, software inventory, software distribution, and network access protection capabilities.

Now that we’re up to speed about what each of these features are and what they do let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of Delivery Optimization.

Delivery Optimization Pros

No Upfront Costs

For enterprises already encumbered by high remote operating costs, this is a welcome reprieve. There are no upfront costs because of the fact that Delivery Optimization exists as part of Windows 10. Therefore, it’s a feature that’s paid for through your regular Windows 10 license.

Leverages Peer-to-Peer Efficiency

Delivery Optimization enables PCs connected to your network to download updates in a more streamlined manner from other peers within the network that have already downloaded the content. In this way, overall bandwidth use is reduced. This also mitigates update-related traffic.

Same Time Send/Reception of Update Files

Gone are the old days of having to wait long periods of time while update files were sent and received in succession. Today, Delivery Optimization facilitates simultaneous sending and receiving of update files. This allows updates to easily and seamlessly take place.

Can Resume Interrupted Downloads

Do you remember the times when downloads would be interrupted because of a network glitch and had to restart? This meant updating PCs across company networks took longer and sometimes pushed up data costs for enterprises. Thankfully, one of the perks of Delivery Optimization is the ability to resume downloads should they be interrupted.

Load Balancing Capabilities

Network administrators can use all the help they can get to distribute workloads in a uniform manner across enterprise servers and employee PCs.

Load balancing is an incredibly important process as it promotes more efficient processing so there is no uneven overload on individual computer nodes. Delivery Optimization presents itself as a tool that expedites this distribution of network traffic.

Windows Native and Cumulative Updates Enabled

As a Windows 10 native feature, Delivery Optimization is Cumulative Updates enabled. This means that on all the PCs equipped with the DO feature, updates – both old and new – can be bundled together into a single update package.

But it’s not all fun and games with Delivery Optimization, here are a couple of disadvantages network administrators have to also contend with.

Delivery Optimization Cons

No Analytics and or Reporting

In Deloitte’s The Analytics Advantage report, analytics are highlighted as important as they enable companies to drive business strategy and facilitate data-driven decisions. Thus, it comes as a big disappointment that Delivery Optimization provides no such insights neither in the form of analytics nor reports.

No Content Control

Being able to control both the content that’s being downloaded and transmitted across networks is imperative for network safety. The fact that Delivery Optimization doesn’t give network administrators such control is frustrating.

No Support for Windows 7/10 Migration

Are you thinking of migrating from Windows 7 to Windows 10? Well, unfortunately, you’ll have no help from Delivery Optimization. It’s not clear as to why the developers over at Microsoft thought it was a good idea to complicate migration in this way.

No Support Packages and App Deployment

That’s not all, but Delivery Optimization also offers no support for Packages and Application with Configuration Manager stand-alone deployments. This greatly hampers the standardization and streamlining process of installing software on employees’ work devices.

No Smart Agent

Delivery Optimization is a tool full of potential. However, it is baffling trying to understand why this supposed network optimizing resource has no smart agent to facilitate Optimal Source Selection.

No SCCM Support

Microsoft’s System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) is integral in the management, deployment, and security of connected enterprise devices as well as apps within the network. However, this Windows product doesn’t receive any support which is a major disadvantage.

Needs Manual Boundary Definition

Boundaries, according to Microsoft, are network-specific locations on enterprise intranets that can contain your PCs or other devices making them easier to manage. When using Delivery Optimization, boundaries aren’t automatic, you have to take time to manually define each boundary you want to be created.

Needs Substantial Boundary Configuration

It’s not enough to manually define the boundaries required either, you also need to make sure that each boundary is properly configured. This additional work can be automated so it’s a wonder why Delivery Optimization doesn’t come with boundary configuration pre-set.

5 Steps to Improving Network Efficiency with Delivery Optimization

Faced with hybrid work models and more employees working remotely, enterprises must be smart about network management. Here are the top 5 ways to improve network efficiency using Delivery Optimization, Configuration Manager, and Microsoft Connected Cache in 2022.

Improve Network Efficiency Step# 1. Remove Performance Bottlenecks

When it comes to network efficiency, congestion in the network is one of the major network problems that most enterprises face. There are many causes of bottlenecks in your network which you will need to remove in order to improve network efficiency. These range from:

a)     Network Overload

Network overload happens when you have numerous hosts within your broadcast domain. Delivery Optimization can aid in this particular case by allowing optimized cloud-managed downloads which reduce network pressure.

b)    Broadcast Storms

Broadcast storms occur when you receive more requests on the network than it can handle.

c)     Low Bandwidth

This occurs when there are too many people connected to the network at once. Delivery Optimization and Connected Cache are peer-to-peer cache technology and significantly help to lower the latency and minimize internet bandwidth.

d)    Not Enough Retransmitting Hubs

Failure to have sufficient retransmitting hubs slows down your network. Retransmitting hubs are necessary in order to make data transmission across the network easier.

e)     Multicasting

While created to help ease congestion, multicasting can in fact cause bottlenecks when two packets transferred simultaneously collide leading to congestion

f)      Old Hardware

Technology is changing so fast and hardware components need to be routinely upgraded otherwise servers, routers, and switches can inadvertently lead to network congestion

g)     Poor Configuration Management

When scripts are one-off or repetitive, they can introduce bugs that cause congestion. Thankfully Delivery Optimization and Configuration Manager can help to get rid of this issue.

h)    Foreign Adapter Broadcasts

When rogue adapters connect to your network, this can increase the network load leading to bottlenecks. A rogue adapter is any device that connects oftentimes illegally onto your network and exists like a parasite until it’s removed. These foreign devices also pose a security threat.

Fortunately, network monitoring tools like Configuration Manager make it possible to handle the life cycle of all the devices and configurations within your network. Such visibility can assist in identifying slow traffic and congestion so you can eliminate it.

And speaking of configurations…

Improve Network Efficiency Step# 2. Reconfigure Network Hardware

It doesn’t matter if it’s an installation of cumulative updates or new hardware, every element joining the company network must be properly configured. Failure to do so can lead to poor network efficiency.

When devices are incorrectly configured, they can’t communicate with their peers effectively. This will lead to routing problems and or increase latency.

Network administrators must ensure that each time a device is configured or reconfigured the network is tested to check network performance. Configuration Manager can be used to see whether the new configuration/reconfiguration is affecting the network negatively.

Improve Network Efficiency Step# 3. Educate Employees on Correct Network Usage

Now with more employees working remotely, it can be difficult to control what people do on the company network. However, it is pivotal to educate them on avoiding applications that are bandwidth-heavy and engaging in activities that consume a lot of data such as downloading movies, music videos, and other large files.

The more bandwidth employees are using in non-work-related activities, the less will be available for work slowing down the entire network. Configuration Manager can be used to curb non-work-related activities if necessary by blocking certain devices. 

Improve Network Efficiency Step# 4. Consider Creating a Guest Network

Have you ever thought of creating a separate guest network for people visiting your company?

You don’t want strangers and outsiders to be able to connect to your enterprise network. This is a major security threat. By creating a disparate guest network they will have their own distinct network to connect to.

In this way, guests’ activities don’t interfere with enterprise bandwidth and security threats are reduced.

Improve Network Efficiency Step# 5. Compress Network Traffic and Data

Every day, colossal amounts of data are transmitted across enterprise networks. More so now, in a world where virtual meetings are the order of the day. These data-heavy online activities necessitate data compression and compression of network traffic.

By compressing enterprise data, companies get more out of their internet packages. And with Windows components like Delivery Optimization, you get to stretch your data out more.

You see, Delivery Optimization extracts content from the cloud, stores it in a temporary cache, where peer PCs/devices can easily access said files in smaller, minute data-friendly sizes without having to download all the large files for each connected device.

Wrap up

2020 and 2021 have disrupted the way business is done. With more companies eager to try out hybrid work models that allow employees to work remotely with some days in the office, network administrators have their work cut out for them in terms of making sure networks are efficient and running at optimal round the clock.

And with so much uncertainty about when things will return to normal, enterprises need to get comfortable with the idea of remote work. Resources such as Delivery Optimization and Configuration Manager will prove to be more and more important in 2022 and beyond.

Relying on such Windows features, organizations can rest easy knowing that there are tools to help with improving network efficiency in a cost-effective manner.

Latest Updates for Windows 10 Driver Management

Microsoft has claimed that the main cause of Windows 10 or hardware failures has been the hardware drivers themselves. And this happens to be an area in which Microsoft has had no control.

In the past, Microsoft has given the driver update authority to the various hardware manufacturers. As a result of that, these manufacturers have retained the ability to directly push drivers to their users through the system update.

Given the number of issues that users have been facing, Microsoft has decided to make some adjustments to their driver update management policy. These updates will likely have a significant impact so let’s take a look and see what this means for us all.

Addressing the issues

In early 2020, Microsoft quietly went about the process of starting to address the driver issues that have been plaguing users. It started with the announcement that there was going to be an introduction of rolling out drivers in phases.

And this would differ from the past where all Windows 10 computers were receiving major and minor updates automatically via Windows Updates that were released on the same day for everyone. The idea with the phase system is to allow the pushing of updates to highly active devices from where Microsoft can then collect diagnostic data that helps to assess compatibility issues.

Also, Microsoft mentioned implementing a new policy where their hardware partners can now ask them to block Windows 10 feature upgrades on a PC running an incompatible driver. The widespread problems that arose from Microsoft being the only one doing the assessing and blocking necessitated this change in approach. By doing all of this, Microsoft can begin the process of resolving the countless headaches that we have been facing.

Driver installation

So to bring an answer to this issue, Microsoft made another announcement to the effect that they would be adjusting the automatic driver installation strategy for Windows 10 20H2 from November 2020.

This update is meant to provide users with a greater degree of control over the driver update and in this way you will have better stability. This new driver management model is going to give hardware manufacturers options, either automatic or manual.

This is what Microsoft has said regarding the adjustments that came in to effect on the 5th of November last year:

1. Automatic driver updates will automatically be installed on your machine either when you plug-in a peripheral device for the first time, or when a device manufacturer publishes a driver to Windows Update. In other words, there will be no change to the plug-and-play scenario when an automatic driver is available on Windows Update.

2. Manual driver updates can be installed manually on your machine if you specifically request them by navigating to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > View optional updates.

However, these changes will only affect devices that receive updates directly from Windows Update. So if you’re an IT professional who manages drivers for a business, then these adjustments won’t affect the way you operate.

Manual driver updates

According to Microsoft, the abovementioned adjustments should now enable you to see a clear distinction between automatic and manual updates in Windows Update. With the end goal being to create a total transformation of the management of drivers, something that began earlier in the year with the rolling out of updates in phases.

All this should give users greater control by redefining the servicing of manual drivers for machines running Windows 10, version 2004 and later. Previously, when a user would connect a peripheral device with an optional driver such as a camera to their machine for the first time, there would be an automatic installation of that driver. Instead, with the changes that Microsoft has implemented, you now have control over how you proceed.

Driver distribution

When you submit a driver to Windows Update, the Driver Delivery Options section will present you with two radio buttons: Automatic and Manual. Under the Automatic option, there are two further options:

  • Automatically delivered during Windows Upgrades – under this option, drivers are classified as a Dynamic Update. When upgrading the OS, this is where Windows will automatically preload drivers.
  • Automatically delivered to all applicable systems – when you select this option, the drivers will be downloaded and installed automatically on all applicable systems once they are released.

How to submit a driver to Windows Update

Publishing a driver to Windows Update will require the creation of a hardware submission. Once that is done you can then proceed with the steps given below:

1) Find the hardware submission with the driver that you want to distribute.

2) Head over to Distribution and select New shipping label.

3) Under shipping label, go to Details and enter a name for the shipping label in the space provided. It’s this name that will allow you to search for and organize your shipping labels.

4) In the Properties section you will need to fill in the following fields: Destination, Specify the partner (if any) that is allowed visibility into this request, and Driver Delivery Options.

5) Go to Targeting and choose the driver package that you want to publish.

6) At this point, Select PNPs is now available so you can go ahead and choose the hardware IDs that you want to target.

7) Enter each CHID into the text box and select Add CHID(s) if you would like to add them.

8) You can limit public disclosure of your Shipping Label in the Windows Update Catalog and WSUS Catalog, by checking the Limit Public Disclosure of this Shipping Label information box.

9) If your driver targets Windows 10 in S mode, then you will need to select both boxes.

10) Select Publish to send your request to Windows Update or Save if you don’t want to publish as yet.

Optional installation

The optional updates feature is now available to users that have upgraded to Windows 10 20H2. With this feature, the system will let you know of the availability of device drivers other than the ones that the PC is currently using. If you go to the View optional updates section, you’ll see where it says Driver updates. And if you click on it, it will display a list of all the device drivers that are available for the target PC. Essentially what you get with this feature is the ability to install specific drivers if and when necessary. Otherwise, automatic updates will keep your drivers updated.

To install any of these drivers, simply follow the steps below:

1) Press WinKey + I to launch the Settings app.

2) Go to Update & Security and click on Windows Update.

3) Over on the right side, you’ll see View Optional updates just under the Check for updates button. Click on it.

4) Under the Driver Updates section, you’re going to find a list with all of the available updates for the computer.

5) Check all the boxes corresponding to the device drivers that you want to install. Click Download and install.

Windows 10 October 2020 Update common problems — and the fixes | Windows  Central

Windows 10 will then immediately start downloading the chosen driver updates. Once the process is complete, the system will install the updates and prompt the users to Restart Windows.

Should you install optional updates?

As mentioned above, you can install optional device drivers if the need for them arises. For instance, when doing a clean install of Windows 10, some may find it preferable to manually install graphic drivers that you download from Intel and NVIDIA.

However, it’s important to note that Windows will still automatically install all mandatory updates, including security updates and non-optional cumulative updates. Therefore you don’t need to worry about automatic driver updates because this new approach won’t affect them. This is because they will continue to be installed via Windows Update when they are published by the manufacturer or when you connect the device.

So with optional updates, Microsoft has changed the system such that driver updates are no longer forced on you. You can select those that you want and block any that give you problems. Most users will probably be leveraging this functionality for those times when compatibility issues arise.

Potential issues

Microsoft’s new model for driver management aims at resolving the multitude of problems that users have been grappling with. However, this new model is not without its potential issues. As much as it may give users more control, it’s also going to present challenges for peripherals that don’t have automatic drivers readily available.

This is because not everyone may be aware that they need to go to Windows Update and manually download the necessary driver for the hardware to work. Without this, Windows will return a Driver Not Found error that may leave more than a few people stuck.

Since Microsoft is also going to be blocking users from applying OEM or manufacturer drivers if Windows can’t verify software publisher, this will probably lead to a few driver errors when Microsoft is unable to verify the drivers. If verification fails, there are two error messages that you’ll likely see with the first being “Windows can’t verify the publisher of this driver software” and the second “No signature was present in the subject”. Microsoft’s advice in these scenarios is that you contact the manufacturer and ask them to upload the driver with appropriate fixes.

Key differences

Under the View Optional updates link, users get to view the optional updates that they won’t receive automatically. Using this link will replace having to use Windows 10’s Device Manager controls to find optional updates.

With Microsoft making minor adjustments to how Windows 10 drivers arrive for Windows Update service users, it’s important to note that this change is more than just a simple user-interface modification.

Those using the newer version of Windows 10 will get updated drivers only when they search for them using the View optional update command. And they’ll be getting only the drivers that are already on the device without searching for new ones via the Windows Update service.

In Windows 10, version 1909 and earlier, Windows Update automatically distributes manual drivers when:

a) a device has no applicable drivers available in the Driver Store (raising a “driver not found” error), and there is no applicable Automatic driver

b) a device has only a generic driver in the Driver Store, which provides only basic device functionality, and there is no applicable Automatic driver

But for users of Windows 10, version 2004, Windows Update distributes only Automatic drivers for a system’s devices. When Manual drivers are available for devices on the computer, the Windows Update page in the Settings app displays View optional updates.

Time to enhance driver management

The challenges that we have all witnessed in recent years were in dire need of a solution. And a major one at that. The countless incompatibility issues that saw the trashing of Windows 10 were slowly but surely eroding the confidence that users have in the operating system.

Problems such as audio not working, system crashes, slow performance, etc, are significant issues that can severely hinder the productivity of a business. So it’s not really a surprise when we look at all the updates that Microsoft made to its driver management policy in 2020.

Security has improved and the new driver management model is a more stable platform that gives users greater control. And all of this you’ll get without having to worry about key updates being affected. Those are still performed automatically to ensure that your system remains as secure as possible. Undoubtedly, there are still a few bugs to iron out here and there, but the rapidly improving system is certainly enhancing the Windows 10 experience.

Windows 10 Registry tweak to disable Microsoft Edge Icon for MDT or ConfigMgr

The icon for Microsoft Edge is now placed by default in every user profile.
It is not placed in Public Desktop, but created for each user at logon (DOH!)

Thank god there is way to stop this behavior.

You can simple add the following registry key:
Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer
Value: DisableEdgeDesktopShortcutCreation
Data: 1
Type: REG_DWORD

If your using MDT (Microsoft Deployment Toolkit) or ConfigMgr (System Center Configuration Manager)
You can add the following oneliner task sequence step, to stop the creation of the Microsoft Edge icon.
Commandline: reg.exe add HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer /v DisableEdgeDesktopShortcutCreation /t REG_DWORD /d 1

In case your wondering what i have in the steps to disable Cortana, let me share them:

Registry tweaks for Build and Capture or Windows 10 Deployment task sequences

Disable Cortana Voice:
reg.exe add HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\OOBE /v DisableVoice /t REG_DWORD /d 1

Disable Cortana Search:
reg add “HKLM\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows\Windows Search” /v “AllowCortana” /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

Disable Cortana Search Box:
reg add “HKCU\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Search” /v “SearchboxTaskbarMode” /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

Smart Card device integration into Windows 10

All the joys of Windows 10….. now on 1709

Last week after upgrading Windows 10, I came a cross this nice new integration for Smart Cards. (tokens)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows 10 new has support for eTokens (SafeNet Tokens)
I was very pleased with this update, it will save me yet another application to install.
I’ve been using the SafeNet Application from Gemalto and it has served me well for several years. So time for a changes, the integrated Smart Card application in Windows 10 works perfect for me.

I am using the following it with:

and my tokens? I ALWAYS use digicert for codesigning certificates:)

ps. A new version of Access Director Enterprise is on its way, signed and released to web.

Stay tuned!