Always On VPN Options for Azure Deployments

Always On VPN Options for Azure DeploymentsOrganizations everywhere are rapidly adopting Microsoft Azure public cloud infrastructure to extend or replace their existing datacenter. As traditional on-premises workloads are migrated to the cloud, customers are looking for options to host VPN services there as well.

Windows Server

Windows Server with the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) installed is a popular choice for on-premises Always On VPN deployments. Intuitively it would make sense to deploy Windows Server and RRAS in Azure as well. However, at the time of this writing, RRAS is not a supported workload on Windows Server in Azure.

Always On VPN Options for Azure Deployments

Reference: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/2721672/microsoft-server-software-support-for-microsoft-azure-virtual-machines/

Although explicitly unsupported, it is possible to deploy Windows Server and RRAS in Azure for Always On VPN. In my experience it works well and can be an option for organizations willing to forgo formal support by Microsoft.

Azure Gateway

Options for supporting Always On VPN connections using native Azure VPN infrastructure depend on the type of VPN gateway chosen.

VPN Gateway

The Azure VPN Gateway can be configured to support client-based (point-to-site) VPN. With some additional configuration it can be used to support Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. Azure VPN gateway supports both IKEv2 and SSTP VPN protocols for client connections. The Azure VPN gateway has some limitations though. Consider the following:

  • A route-based VPN gateway is required
  • A maximum of 1000 concurrent IKEv2 connections are supported when using the VpnGw3 or VpnGw3AZ SKUs (2000 supported in active/active mode)
  • A maximum of 128 concurrent SSTP connections are supported on all gateway SKUs (256 supported in active/active mode)

Virtual WAN

Azure Virtual WAN is the future of remote connectivity for Azure. It includes support for client-based VPN (currently in public preview at the time of this writing), but only supports IKEv2 and OpenVPN VPN protocols for client connections. SSTP is not supported at all. Further, OpenVPN is not supported for Windows 10 Always On VPN, leaving IKEv2 as the only option, which poses some potential operational challenges. Virtual WAN offer much better scalability though, supporting up to 10,000 concurrent client-based VPN connections.

Virtual Appliance

The most supportable option for hosting VPN services in Azure for Windows 10 Always On VPN is to deploy a third-party Network Virtual Appliance (NVA). They are available from a variety of vendors including Cisco, Check Point, Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet, and many others. To support Windows 10 Always On VPN, the NVA vendor must either support IKEv2 for client-based VPN connections or have a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) VPN plug-in client available from the Microsoft store. Click here to learn more about Always On VPN and third-party VPN devices.

Note: Be careful when choosing an NVA as some vendors support IKEv2 only for site-to-site VPN, but not client-based VPN!

Hybrid Deployments

For organizations with hybrid cloud deployments (infrastructure hosted on-premises and in Azure), there are several options for choosing the best location to deploy VPN services. In general, it is recommended that client VPN connections be established nearest the resources accessed by remote clients. However, having VPN servers hosted both on-premises and in Azure is fully supported. In this scenario Azure Traffic Manager can be configured to intelligently route VPN connections for remote clients.

NetMotion Mobility

The NetMotion Mobility purpose-built enterprise VPN is a popular replacement for Microsoft DirectAccess. It is also an excellent alternative for enterprise organizations considering a migration to Always On VPN. It is a software-based solution that can be deployed on Windows Server and is fully supported running in Microsoft Azure. It offers many advanced features and capabilities not included in other remote access solutions.

Summary

Administrators have many options for deploying VPN servers in Azure to support Windows 10 Always On VPN. Windows Server and RRAS is the simplest and most cost-effective option, but it is not formally supported by Microsoft. Azure VPN gateway is an interesting alternative but lacks enough capacity for larger deployments. Azure Virtual WAN is another option but has limited protocol support. Deploying an NVA is a good choice, and NetMotion Mobility is an excellent alternative to both DirectAccess and Always On VPN that is software-based and fully supported in Azure.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN and Third-Party VPN Devices

Windows 10 Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Windows 10 Always On VPN IKEv2 Features and Limitations

Windows 10 Always On VPN Multisite with Azure Traffic Manager

Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Microsoft Azure

 

Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility With DirectAccess approaching the end of its useful lifetime, many organizations are considering alternative solutions to provide seamless, transparent, always on remote connectivity for their field-based workers. Microsoft is positioning Windows 10 Always On VPN as the replacement for DirectAccess. While it provides many new features that were missing from DirectAccess, it has its own unique limitations and shortcomings.

NetMotion Mobility Purpose-Built Enterprise VPN

NetMotion Mobility Purpose-Built Enterprise VPN Advanced Features

NetMotion Mobility

Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility NetMotion Mobility is an excellent alternative to DirectAccess and Always On VPN, and it has many advantages over both native Microsoft offerings. NetMotion Mobility offers better security and performance. It provides deep visibility with broad client support, and the solution is easier to support than DirectAccess.

Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

If you’d like to learn more about how NetMotion Mobility compares with DirectAccess, you will find detailed comparison information in my Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess article series on the NetMotion blog.

Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess – Security
Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess – Performance
Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess – Visibility
Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess – Supported Clients
Comparing NetMotion Mobility and DirectAccess – Support

NetMotion Mobility in Action

Watch the following videos to see NetMotion Mobility in action.

NetMotion Mobility Demonstration Video
NetMotion Mobility and Skype for Business Demonstration Video

DirectAccess Alternative

NetMotion Mobility is a premium remote access solution with many of the same characteristics as DirectAccess; seamless, transparent, and always on. It is feature rich with numerous compelling benefits over native Microsoft remote access technologies. Organizations seeking a solution to replace Microsoft DirectAccess would benefit greatly from NetMotion Mobility.

Learn More

If you’d like to learn more about NetMotion Mobility, or if you’d like to evaluate their solution, fill out the form below and I’ll respond with more information.

 

What is the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

Always On VPN Device Tunnel Configuration Guidance Now AvailableDirectAccess has been around for many years, and with Microsoft now moving in the direction of Always On VPN, I’m often asked “What’s the difference between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?” Fundamentally they both provide seamless and transparent, always on remote access. However, Always On VPN has a number of advantages over DirectAccess in terms of security, authentication and management, performance, and supportability.

Security

DirectAccess provides full network connectivity when a client is connected remotely. It lacks any native features to control access on a granular basis. It is possible to restrict access to internal resources by placing a firewall between the DirectAccess server and the LAN, but the policy would apply to all connected clients.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for granular traffic filtering. Where DirectAccess provides access to all internal resources when connected, Always On VPN allows administrators to restrict client access to internal resources in a variety of ways. In addition, traffic filter policies can be applied on a per-user or group basis. For example, users in accounting can be granted access only to their department servers. The same could be done for HR, finance, IT, and others.

Authentication and Management

DirectAccess includes support for strong user authentication with smart cards and one-time password (OTP) solutions. However, there is no provision to grant access based on device configuration or health, as that feature was removed in Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10. In addition, DirectAccess requires that clients and servers be joined to a domain, as all configuration settings are managed using Active Directory group policy.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for modern authentication and management, which results in better overall security. Always On VPN clients can be joined to an Azure Active Directory and conditional access can also be enabled. Modern authentication support using Azure MFA and Windows Hello for Business is also supported. Always On VPN is managed using Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions such as Microsoft Intune.

Performance

DirectAccess uses IPsec with IPv6, which must be encapsulated in TLS to be routed over the public IPv4 Internet. IPv6 traffic is then translated to IPv4 on the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess performance is often acceptable when clients have reliable, high quality Internet connections. However, if connection quality is fair to poor, the high protocol overhead of DirectAccess with its multiple layers of encapsulation and translation often yields poor performance.

The protocol of choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments is IKEv2. It offers the best security and performance when compared to TLS-based protocols. In addition, Always On VPN does not rely exclusively on IPv6 as DirectAccess does. This reduces the many layers of encapsulation and eliminates the need for complex IPv6 transition and translation technologies, further improving performance over DirectAccess.

Supportability

DirectAccess is a Microsoft-proprietary solution that must be deployed using Windows Server and Active Directory. It also requires a Network Location Server (NLS) for clients to determine if they are inside or outside the network. NLS availability is crucial and ensuring that it is always reachable by internal clients can pose challenges, especially in very large organizations.

Windows 10 Always On VPN supporting infrastructure is much less complex than DirectAccess. There’s no requirement for a NLS, which means fewer servers to provision, manage, and monitor. In addition, Always On VPN is completely infrastructure independent and can be deployed using third-party VPN servers such as Cisco, Checkpoint, SonicWALL, Palo Alto, and more.

Summary

Windows 10 Always On VPN is the way of the future. It provides better overall security than DirectAccess, it performs better, and it is easier to manage and support.

Here’s a quick summary of some important aspects of VPN, DirectAccess, and Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Traditional VPN DirectAccess Always On VPN
Seamless and Transparent No Yes Yes
Automatic Connection Options None Always on Always on, app triggered
Protocol Support IPv4 and IPv6 IPv6 Only IPv4 and IPv6
Traffic Filtering No No Yes
Azure AD Integration No No Yes
Modern Management Yes No (group policy only) Yes (MDM)
Clients must be domain-joined? No Yes No
Requires Microsoft Infrastructure No Yes No
Supports Windows 7 Yes Yes Windows 10 only

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

If you are interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN, consider registering for one of my hands-on training classes. More details here.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

5 Important Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Windows 10 Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

Learn more about NetMotion Mobility by registering for my free live webinar here!

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccessAs I outlined in a recent blog post, there has been much speculation surrounding the end of life for Microsoft DirectAccess. This is not surprising, as Microsoft has not made any investments in DirectAccess since the introduction of Windows Server 2012. Recently, Microsoft began promoting its Always On VPN solution as an alternative for DirectAccess. While DirectAccess has not been formally deprecated, Microsoft is actively encouraging organizations considering DirectAccess to deploy Always On VPN instead, as indicated here.

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to Microsoft DirectAccess

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/remote/remote-access/vpn/vpn-top#advanced-vpn-connectivity

DirectAccess Alternatives

It’s important to state that, at the time of this writing, DirectAccess is still fully supported in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 and will be for quite some time. However, the future for DirectAccess is definitely limited, and customers should start considering alternative remote access solutions.

Always On VPN

Microsoft is positioning Always On VPN as the replacement for DirectAccess. Always On VPN offers some important new capabilities missing from DirectAccess. For example, Always On VPN supports all Windows 10 client SKUs, not just Enterprise and Education as DirectAccess does. Always On VPN includes important security enhancements such as conditional access with system health checks, access control list (ACL) enforcement per device and per application, and more.

Always On VPN Limitations

But Always On VPN has some serious limitations too. For example, Always On VPN works only with Windows 10. Windows 7 is not supported at all. Managing and supporting Always On VPN has its own challenges. It cannot be managed using Active Directory and group policy in the traditional way. You must use System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Intune, or PowerShell to configure and manage VPN clients.

NetMotion Mobility

I’m excited to announce I’ve recently partnered with NetMotion to provide their secure remote access solutions to organizations looking for alternatives to DirectAccess and Always On VPN. NetMotion Mobility provides the same seamless and transparent, always on remote access with some additional important features not included in DirectAccess and Always On VPN.

Broad Client Support – NetMotion Mobility can provide DirectAccess-like remote access for all versions and SKUs of Windows as well as Mac, iOS (iPhone and iPad), and Android.

Enhanced Security – NetMotion Mobility includes fine-grained policy enforcement to restrict network access based on a wide range of parameters including IP address, protocol, port, application, time of day, location, and type of network (e.g. wired, Wi-Fi, wireless, etc.). NetMotion Mobility also includes integrated Network Access Control (NAC) to validate device configuration prior to connecting, ensuring the highest level of security for remote endpoints. More details here and here.

Improved Performance – NetMotion Mobility client to server communication is optimized to improve reliability and performance. Network traffic is compressed and prioritized to ensure optimum performance for critical applications. Session persistence allows mobile workers to remain connected during times of poor connectivity or when roaming between different networks. More details here.

Greater Visibility – NetMotion Mobility provides a wealth of detailed information to perform analysis and troubleshooting for remote connections. Performance and diagnostic information is logged in real-time and provides administrators with crucial data and insight to quickly identify and resolve connectivity issues. More details here.

Better Supportability – NetMotion Mobility is supported by dedicated, highly trained support engineers with deep product experience. NetMotion support is not tiered. The support engineer who answers the phone will handle the case until resolution.

Learn More about NetMotion

NetMotion Mobility is a truly comprehensive remote access solution and an excellent alternative to DirectAccess. To learn more about NetMotion Mobility and to see it in action, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you. You can also register for my upcoming free live webinar here.

Additional Information

Webinar: Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

NetMotion and DirectAccess Comparison Whitepaper

NetMotion and Skype for Business demonstration video

NetMotion Website

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