Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load BalancingLoad balancing Windows Server Network Policy Servers (NPS) is straightforward in most deployment scenarios. Most VPN servers, including Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) servers allow the administrator to configure multiple NPS servers for redundancy and scalability. In addition, most solutions support weighted distribution, allowing administrators to distribute requests evenly between multiple NPS servers (round robin load balancing) or to distribute them in order of priority (active/passive failover).

The Case for NPS Load Balancing

Placing NPS servers behind a dedicated network load balancing appliance is not typically required. However, there are some deployment scenarios where doing so can provide important advantages.

Deployment Flexibility

Having NPS servers fronted by a network load balancer allows the administrator to configure a single, virtual IP address and hostname for the NPS service. This provides deployment flexibility by allowing administrators to add or remove NPS servers without having to reconfigure VPN servers, network firewalls, or VPN clients. This can be beneficial when deploying Windows updates, migrating NPS servers to different subnets, adding more NPS servers to increase capacity, or performing rolling upgrades of NPS servers.

Traffic Shaping

Dedicated network load balancers allow for more granular control and of NPS traffic. For example, NPS routing decisions can be based on real server availability, ensuring that authentication requests are never sent to an NPS server that is offline or unavailable for any reason. In addition, NPS traffic can be distributed based on server load, ensuring the most efficient use of NPS resources. Finally, most load balancers also support fixed or weighted distribution, enabling active/passive failover scenarios if required.

Traffic Visibility

Using a network load balancer for NPS also provides better visibility for NPS authentication traffic. Most load balancers feature robust graphical displays of network utilization for the virtual server/service as well as backend servers. This information can be used to ensure enough capacity is provided and to monitor and plan for additional resources when network traffic increases.

Configuration

Before placing NPS servers behind a network load balancer, the NPS server certificate must be specially prepared to support this unique deployment scenario. Specifically, the NPS server certificate must be configured with the Subject name of the cluster, and the Subject Alternative Name field must include both the cluster name and the individual server’s hostname.

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing

Create Certificate Template

Perform the following steps to create a certificate template in AD CS to support NPS load balancing.

  1. Open the Certificate Templates management console (certtmpl.msc) on the certification authority (CA) server or a management workstation with remote administration tool installed.
  2. Right-click the RAS and IAS Servers default certificate template and choose Duplicate.
  3. Select the Compatibility tab.
    1. Select Windows Server 2008 or a later version from the Certification Authority drop-down list.
    2. Select Windows Vista/Server 2008 or a later version from the Certificate recipient drop-down list.
  4. Select the General tab.
    1. Enter a descriptive name in the Template display name field.
    2. Choose an appropriate Validity period and Renewal period.
    3. Do NOT select the option to Publish certificate in Active Directory.
  5. Select the Cryptography tab.
    1. Chose Key Storage Provider from the Provider Category drop-down list.
    2. Enter 2048 in the Minimum key size field.
    3. Select SHA256 from the Request hash drop-down list.
  6. Select the Subject Name tab.
    1. Select the option to Supply in the request.
  7. Select the Security tab.
    1. Highlight RAS and IAS Servers and click Remove.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Enter the security group name containing all NPS servers.
    4. Check the Read and Enroll boxes in the Allow column in the Permissions for [group name] field.
  8. Click Ok.

Perform the steps below to publish the new certificate template in AD CS.

  1. Open the Certification Authority management console (certsrv.msc) on the certification authority (CA) server or a management workstation with remote administration tool installed.
  2. Expand Certification Authority (hostname).
  3. Right-click Certificate Templates and choose New and Certificate Template to Issue.
  4. Select the certificate template created previously.
  5. Click Ok.

Request Certificate on NPS Server

Perform the following steps to request a certificate for the NPS server.

  1. Open the Certificates management console (certlm.msc) on the NPS server.
  2. Expand the Personal folder.
  3. Right-click Certificates and choose All Tasks and Request New Certificate.
  4. Click Next.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Select the NPS server certificate template and click More information is required to enroll for this certificate link.
  7. Select the Subject tab.
    1.  Select Common name from the Type drop-down list in the Subject name section.
    2. Enter the cluster fully-qualified hostname (FQDN) in the Value field.
    3. Click Add.
    4. Select DNS from the Type drop-down list in the Alternative name section.
    5. Enter the cluster FQDN in the Value field.
    6. Click Add.
    7. Enter the NPS server’s FQDN in the Value field.
    8. Click Add.
      Always On VPN and Network Policy Server (NPS) Load Balancing
  8. Select the General tab.
    1. Enter a descriptive name in the Friendly name field.
  9. Click Ok.
  10. Click Enroll.

Load Balancer Configuration

Configure the load balancer to load balance UDP ports 1812 (authentication) and 1813 (accounting). Optionally, to ensure that authentication and accounting requests go to the same NPS server, enable source IP persistence according to the vendor’s guidance. For the KEMP LoadMaster load balancer, the feature is called “port following”. On the F5 BIG-IP it is called a “persistence profile”, and on the Citrix NetScaler it is called a “persistency group”.

Additional Information

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster

Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes in U.S. and Europe

Always On VPN ProfileXML Editing and Formatting with Visual Studio Code

Always On VPN ProfileXML Editing and Formatting with Visual Studio CodeWindows 10 Always On VPN is designed to be implemented and managed using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) platform such as Microsoft Intune. With Intune specifically, there is an option to configure an Always On VPN profile in the UI. However, it provides only limited support and does not include all settings and options required for many deployments. Crucially, IKEv2 advanced security settings cannot be configured using the Intune portal. Also, there is currently no option for configuring a device tunnel with Intune. In these scenarios the administrator must manually create a ProfileXML file and provision it using Intune, System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), or PowerShell.

ProfileXML

ProfileXML includes all settings that define the Always On VPN connection. The options and settings available are documented in the VPNv2 Configuration Service Provider (CSP) reference on Microsoft’s web site. ProfileXML is formatted using elements and settings within those elements. The formatting and syntax are critical to ensuring proper operation. Any error in syntax or formatting can result in an error, such as those described here.

XML Readability

Formatting is also important for readability, which is often helpful when reviewing configuration settings or troubleshooting syntax errors. For example, an element may be defined correctly but may be nested wrong. Often XML files are created with all text being left-justified, or with everything on a single line, making the content difficult to read. Using a file editor that recognizes XML files can be beneficial.

Visual Studio Code

To create, edit, and review ProfileXML it is recommended that a proper editing tool be used. I recommend using Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code. It is free, and it is especially helpful when editing XML files. Visual Studio Code can be downloaded here.

XML Tools VS Code Plug-In

To further enhance Visual Studio Code’s XML editing and formatting capabilities I recommend installing the XML Tools plug-in. This tool extends the native features of VS code for handling XML files. One important thing it adds is a formatting feature that will make your ProfileXML much easier to manage. The XML Tools plug-in for VS Code can be downloaded here.

XML Formatting

Once the XML Tools plug-in for VS code has been installed, formatting XML for readability is straightforward. Simply right-click anywhere in the document and choose Format Document.

Always On VPN ProfileXML Editing and Formatting with Visual Studio CodeOnce complete, the XML document will be formatted with proper indenting and nesting of elements, as shown here.

Always On VPN ProfileXML Editing and Formatting with Visual Studio CodeSummary

Formatting and syntax must be strictly adhered to when creating a ProfileXML file for Windows 10 Always On VPN. Using Visual Studio Code with the XML Tools plug-in allow the administrator to create and edit XML with proper formatting, which greatly improves readability and allows for streamlined configuration review and troubleshooting.

Acknowledgements

Special thanks to Colin, an avid reader of the articles on this web site for this tip. Thanks, Colin! 🙂

Additional Information

Always On VPN and DirectAccess Scripts and Sample Files on GitHub

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Always On VPN Device Tunnel Step-by-Step Configuration using PowerShell

Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes in 2019

Always On VPN Unable to Create Profile General Error

Always On VPN Unable to Create Profile General ErrorWhen configuring a Windows 10 Always On VPN profile connection using the Microsoft-provided MakeProfile.ps1 PowerShell script or my PowerShell Always On VPN deployment script, the creation of a new connection may fail and the administrator may encounter the following error message.

Unable to create [connection name] profile: A general error occurred that is not covered by a more specific error code.

Always On VPN Unable to Create Profile General Error

This error message is, of course, terribly ambiguous and provides no real actionable information for the administrator to resolve the problem with. This makes troubleshooting this error somewhat challenging.

Probable Cause

In my experience, this error message is almost always related to a syntax error in ProfileXML. For example, to generate the error message above, my XML file included the following error.

Always On VPN Unable to Create Profile General Error

In this example, the setting should be True or False. The setting “foo” is unrecognized and causes the ambiguous error message. It can also happen if mutually exclusive configuration settings are defined. For example, it can occur if the DisableClassBasedDefaultRoutes element is set to true when the RoutingPolicyType element is set to ForceTunneling.

Error Resolution

The only way to resolve this error is to ensure there are no configuration errors for any defined elements in ProfileXML. Review the file carefully for errors such as typos or elements that are out of place. Refer to the VPNv2 Configuration Service Provider (CSP) ProfileXML XSD for detailed syntax examples. In addition, I have some sample ProfileXML configuration files that can be used for reference on my GitHub page.

XML Format Validation

To ensure ProfileXML is properly formatted, it is recommended that an XML editor be used when generating or editing the configuration file. This will ensure that all defined elements are well-formed, and that all tags are properly closed. Use caution though, because some XML editors (including some popular online formatting tools) will insert XML version and encoding information at the beginning of the file. This information must be removed from ProfileXML prior to deployment.

Additional Information

Windows 10 VPNv2 Configuration Service Provider (CSP) Reference

Windows 10 VPNv2 Configuration Service Provider (CSP) ProfileXML XSD Native Profile Examples

Windows 10 Always On VPN PowerShell Scripts and Sample ProfileXML Configuration Files on GitHub

Free Online XML Formatter

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes for 2019

Always On VPN and Third Party VPN Devices

Always On VPN and Third Party VPN DevicesOne of the most important advantages Windows 10 Always On VPN has over DirectAccess is infrastructure independence. That is, Always On VPN does not rely exclusively on a Windows Server infrastructure to support Always On VPN connections. Always On VPN will work with many third-party firewalls and VPN devices, as long as they meet some basic requirements.

Advantages

Third-party firewalls or VPN devices offer some important advantages over Windows Servers running the Routing and Remote Access Services (RRAS), both in terms of security and performance.

Security

Dedicated security devices (physical or virtual) provide better security than a common Windows server. They commonly run specialized, security-hardened operating systems that are highly secure and resistant to attack. In addition, these solutions typically allow the administrator to define policy to restrict access to internal resources and do so in a centralized way. This is often easier to implement and manage than using traffic filters on the client side. They often include advanced security features such as URL filtering and malware inspection to better protect remote clients. Some solutions include Hardware Security Module (HSM) integration to further enhance security.

Performance

Purpose-built solutions often provide better throughput and performance than do Windows Servers by virtue of their proprietary operating systems. This allows for better network throughput and the ability to support many more connections per device.

Disadvantages

The main drawbacks for using a third-party device are cost and administrative overhead. Third-party solutions must be acquired, for which there is typically a non-trivial cost associated. They often need additional per-user licensing. In addition, many of these solutions require specialized skill sets to implement, manage, and support which could further increase the overall cost of the solution.

Interoperability Requirements

Any firewall or VPN device can be used for Always On VPN as long as they support the Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) VPN protocol for remote access connections. Most modern firewalls today support IKEv2, but some (such as the Sophos XG firewall) do not. Check with your vendor to validate support.

Native Client

If the firewall or VPN device supports IKEv2 for remote access connections, the native Windows VPN provider can be used to establish an Always On VPN connection. The native provider is used when the Always On VPN ProfileXML is configured using the NativeProfile element.

Plug-In VPN Client

One crucial drawback to using IKEv2 is that it is commonly blocked by firewalls. Many third-party VPN vendors offer a plug-in client that enables support for TLS-based transport, which is more firewall friendly than IKEv2. Plug-in VPN providers are available in the Microsoft store.

Below is a current list of available third-party plug-in providers for Windows 10. Notably absent from this list is Cisco. Hopefully they will add support for a plug-in client soon. 🙂

  • Check Point Capsule
  • F5 Access
  • Fortinet Forticlient
  • Palo Alto GlobalProtect
  • Pulse Secure
  • SonicWall Mobile Connect

Always On VPN and Third Party VPN Devices

Note: Win32 VPN client applications from third-party vendors are not supported with Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Additional Information

What is the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

Always On VPN and DirectAccess Scripts and Sample Files on GitHub

Always On VPN and DirectAccess Scripts and Sample Files on GitHubIf you’re looking for specialized configuration scripts for Windows 10 Always On VPN, Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS), or DirectAccess then have a look at my GitHub page! There I’ve uploaded a few tools I’ve created (with the help of my good friend Jeff Hicks!) along with some sample ProfileXML files. Here’s a sample of what you’ll find there today.

Always On VPN

This repository includes PowerShell scripts and sample ProfileXML files used for configuring Windows 10 Always On VPN. These scripts have been adopted from those provided by Microsoft and modified to work with a separate XML file. These scripts can be used for local testing and for deploying Always On VPN connections using System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). The ProfileXML files can be helpful for those administrators looking for real world configuration examples.

https://github.com/richardhicks/aovpn

SstpOffload

This repository includes a PowerShell script to enable TLS offload for Windows Server RRAS Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) VPN connections when the public SSL certificate can’t be installed on the RRAS server. TLS offload for SSTP can be enabled in scenarios where better security, performance, and scalability are desired.

https://github.com/richardhicks/sstpoffload

DirectAccess

This repository includes the PowerShell script Move-DaInboxAccountingDatabase which can be used to move the DirectAccess inbox accounting database files. The default location of the database files is on the C: drive, and many administrators have encountered disk space issues, especially in large scale deployments. This script will relocate the database files to the location of your choice.

https://github.com/richardhicks/directaccess

More to Come!

Be sure to check my GitHub site for more PowerShell script and sample files on a regular basis. Or better yet, give me a follow! I’ll be sure to post more as time goes on. In addition, I’ll be going through my older articles where I’ve provided PowerShell code samples and will include them in the repository too.

Standard Disclaimer

All the sample files and PowerShell scripts I’ve shared on GitHub are provided as-is. Although they’ve been thoroughly tested, I can’t be certain I’ve accommodated every deployment scenario. Please use caution when running these scripts on production machines.

Additional Information

Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes 2019

Jeff Hicks’ Blog

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP FallbackA while back I wrote about the various VPN protocols supported for Windows 10 Always On VPN. The two most common are Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) and Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). The article covers in detail each protocol’s advantages and disadvantages. To summarize, IKEv2 provides the best security (when configured correctly!) and SSTP is firewall-friendly ensuring ubiquitous access. Ideally an Always On VPN connection will attempt to use the more secure IKEv2 first, then fallback to SSTP only when IKEv2 is unavailable. Unfortunately, Always On VPN connections do not work this way today.

IKEv2 and SSTP

IKEv2 and SSTP are not mutually exclusive. When using Windows Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) as the VPN server, both protocols can be configured and enabled for VPN clients. To allow VPN clients to automatically select a protocol, the NativeProtocolType element in ProfileXML can be set to Automatic.

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

IKEv2 with SSTP Fallback?

In theory, with the NativeProtocolType set to Automatic, the Windows 10 client would first attempt to establish an IKEv2 connection, then fall back to SSTP if IKEv2 is not available. In practice, this is not the case.

SSTP Preferred over IKEv2

In operation, setting the NativeProtocolType to Automatic results in the Windows 10 client attempting to establish a VPN connection using SSTP first! If the SSTP connection fails, only then will IKEv2 be used. The only scenario in which I can imagine SSTP failing and IKEv2 being successful would be if SSTP is not supported by the VPN server. Sadly, this scenario may result in failed connections due to a bug in the way ProfileXML settings are processed. Details here.

VPN Strategy

The initial VPN protocol selection behavior is dictated by the VpnStrategy setting of the Always On VPN connection in the rasphone.pbk file. This file can be found under C:\Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Network\Connections\Pbk. The documentation on the Microsoft website is terribly outdated and does not include the following important VpnStrategy settings pertinent to Windows 10 Always On VPN connections.

  • 5 = Only SSTP is attempted
  • 6 = SSTP is attempted first
  • 7 = Only IKEv2 is attempted
  • 8 = IKEv2 is attempted first
  • 14 = IKEv2 is attempted followed by SSTP

Always On VPN Default Behavior

For Always On VPN, when the NativeProtocolType is set to Automatic in ProfileXML, VpnStrategy is set to 6 by default, which means the connection will attempt to use SSTP first. If it fails, IKEv2 will be attempted.

Always On VPN IKEv2 and SSTP Fallback

If the NativeProtocolType in ProfileXML is set to IKEv2, VpnStrategy is set to 7 and only IKEv2 is used. A connection using SSTP is never attempted.

Workaround

Setting the VpnStrategy to 8 or 14 will force the client to attempt an IKEv2 connection first. However, this setting is dynamically updated by Windows and is subject to change. For example, if an IKEv2 connection fails and SSTP is successful, Windows will then set the VpnStrategy to 6 and all subsequent VPN connection attempts will use SSTP first. Because of this it will be necessary to update the VpnStrategy setting each time prior to establishing a VPN connection. This will require some clever scripting and perhaps automation using a scheduled task based on an event trigger. I will leave that custom configuration as an exercise for the reader. If you’ve developed something to address this challenge, please feel free to share in the comments below. 🙂

Additional Information

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server RRAS

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Always On VPN Hands-On Training Calendar for 2019

This year I’ll once again be bringing my popular Windows 10 Always On VPN hands-on training classes to various cities throughout the U.S. and Europe. These three-day training classes feature comprehensive, in-depth training for designing, implementing, and supporting an Always On VPN deployment in the enterprise. More details and a course syllabus can be found here.

The following dates and locations will be featured in 2019.

  • February 26-28, 2019 – Los Angeles or San Francisco, CA (location based on demand)
  • March 26-28, 2019 – Atlanta, GA
  • April 16-18, 2019 – Chicago, IL
  • May 21-23, 2019 – New York, NY
  • June 3-5, 2019 – Bern, Switzerland
    • Note: This session will be hosted by RealStuff. Class details and registration here.
  • September 10-12, 2019 – Dallas, TX
  • December 10-12, 2019 – Portland, OR

Group discounts are available. Private training sessions for large organizations are available upon request. Dates and times subject to change.

Space is limited, so don’t wait. Enter your name and email below and selection a training location to reserve your spot today!

Always On VPN IKEv2 Connection Failure Error Code 800

Always On VPN administrators may encounter a scenario in which Windows 10 clients are unable to establish an IKEv2 VPN connection to a Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) server or a third-party VPN device under the following conditions.

  1. The VPN connection is configured using ProfileXML.
  2. ProfileXML includes the <CryptographySuite> element.
  3. The VPN server is configured to use a custom IPsec policy.
  4. The VPN server supports only IKEv2.
  5. The <NativeProtocolType> in ProfileXML is set to Automatic.

When these specific conditions are met, the client will be unable to connect to the VPN server using IKEv2. The error message states:

The remote connection was not made because the attempted VPN tunnels failed. The VPN server might be unreachable. If this connection is attempting to use an L2TP/IPsec tunnel, the security parameters required for IPsec negotiation might not be configured properly.

Always On VPN IKEv2 VPN Connection Failure Error Code 800

In addition, the event log will include an error message from the RasClient source with event ID 20227 that includes the following error message.

The user [username] dialed a connection named [connection name] which has failed. The error code returned on failure is 800.

Always On VPN IKEv2 VPN Connection Failure Error Code 800

A manually configured VPN connection using IKEv2 will connect successfully under these same conditions, however.

IKEv2 Error Code 800

Error code 800 translates to ERROR_AUTOMATIC_VPN_FAILED, which is somewhat ambiguous. The error description is:

Unable to establish the VPN connection. The VPN server may be unreachable, or security parameters may not be configured properly for this connection.

Digging Deeper

A network trace of the IKEv2 VPN connection reveals the true source of the problem, which is a failure of the client and server to successfully negotiate an IKEv2 security association (SA). During the SA initiation process, the parameters offered by the client are unacceptable to the server, resulting in a NO_PROPOSAL_CHOSEN notification being returned by the server.

Always On VPN IKEv2 VPN Connection Failure Error Code 800

Custom Cryptography Settings Ignored

It appears that the Always On VPN connection ignores the custom cryptography settings defined in the CryptographySuite element in ProfileXML. However, this only occurs when the NativeProtocolType is set to Automatic. Presumably, this is a bug. 🙂

Workaround

As a workaround, set the NativeProtocolType to IKEv2. When NativeProtocolType is set to IKEv2, the VPN connection recognizes the IKEv2 parameters defined in the CryptographySuite element and the VPN connection will be established successfully.

Additional Information

Always On VPN IKEv2 Security Configuration

Always On VPN Certificate Requirements for IKEv2

Always On VPN IKEv2 Load Balancing with the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

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