DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler Webinar

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler Webinar

Updated 5/2/2016: The webinar recording is now available online here.

Join me on Tuesday, April 26 at 11:00AM EDT for a live webinar to learn more about integrating the Citrix NetScaler Application Delivery Controller (ADC) with Microsoft DirectAccess. During the webinar, which will be hosted by Petri IT Knowledgebase, you will learn how to leverage the NetScaler to enhance and extend native high availability and redundancy capabilities included with DirectAccess.

Eliminating single points of failure is crucial for enterprise DirectAccess deployments. DirectAccess includes technologies such as load balancing for high availability and multisite for geographic redundancy, but they are somewhat limited. DirectAccess supports integration with third-party solutions like NetScaler to address these fundamental limitations.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic ManagerNetScaler is an excellent platform that can be configured to improve upon native DirectAccess high availability and redundancy features. It provides superior load balancing compared to native Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB), with more throughput and better traffic visibility, while at the same time reducing resource utilization on the DirectAccess server.

For multisite DirectAccess deployments, the NetScaler can be configured to provide enhanced geographic redundancy, providing more intelligent entry point selection for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients and granular traffic control such as weighted request distribution and active/passive site failover.

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler WebinarIn addition, the NetScaler can be configured to serve as the DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS), providing essential high availability for this critical service and reducing supporting infrastructure requirements.

Click here to view the recorded webinar.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Introduction

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic ManagerTo provide geographic redundancy, DirectAccess can be deployed in a multisite configuration. In this scenario, Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points in the enterprise and will automatically select the nearest available entry point to connect to. The nearest entry point is defined as the one that responds the quickest. When a Windows 8.x or Windows 10 client attempts to establish DirectAccess connectivity, an HTTP GET is sent to all entry points and the client will select the one with the shortest Round Trip Time (RTT) for the request.

Note: Windows 7 clients can be provisioned when DirectAccess is configured for multisite access, but they must be assigned to an individual entry point.

Challenges

There are a number of challenges that come with the default multisite configuration. Choosing an entry point based solely on network latency is rather simplistic and can often produce unexpected results. It also lacks support for granular traffic distribution or active/passive configuration.

GSLB

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic ManagerFor the best experience, DirectAccess can be configured to use a Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) solution to enhance transparent site selection and failover for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. Commonly this is implemented using an on-premises appliance (Citrix NetScaler, F5 Global Traffic Manager, Kemp LoadMaster, A10 Thunder, etc.). These solutions offer exceptional control over DirectAccess traffic distribution, but they add expense and complexity.

Azure Traffic Manager

Azure Traffic Manager is a cloud-based GSLB solution that is a simple and cost-effective alternative to dedicated on-premises appliances. While it does not offer all of the features that GSLB appliances provide, it does provide better traffic distribution options than the default configuration. Importantly, it enables active/passive failover, which is a common requirement not supported natively with DirectAccess.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Traffic Manager Configuration

In the Azure portal (the new one, not the old one!) click New, Networking, and then Traffic Manager profile.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Provide a name and select a Routing method.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Routing method options are Performance, Weighted and Priority.

  • Performance. Select this option to enable clients to connect to the entry point with the lowest network latency.
  • Weighted. Select this option to enable clients to prefer some entry points more than others. Assign a weight value of 1 to 1000 for each entry point. Higher values have more preference. Values for entry points can be the same, if desired.
  • Priority. Select this option to enable clients to connect to a primary entry point, then fail over to a secondary or tertiary entry point in the event of an outage. Assign a priority value of 1 to 1000 for each entry point. Lower values take precedence. Each entry point must be assigned a unique priority value.

Click Create when finished. Next click Settings for the new traffic manager profile and click Configuration. Change Protocol to HTTPS, Port to 443, and Path to /IPHTTPS. Click Save when finished.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Next click Endpoints and click Add. Select External endpoint from the drop down list, provide a descriptive name, and then enter the Fully-Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) of the first DirectAccess entry point. When using the Performance routing method, choose a location that best represents the geography where the DirectAccess entry point is located. When using the Weighted or Priority routing methods, specify an appropriate value accordingly. Click Ok when finished. Repeat these steps for each entry point in the organization.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

DirectAccess Configuration

In the Remote Access Management console, highlight DirectAccess and VPN below Configuration in the navigation tree and then click Configure Multisite Settings below Multisite Deployment in the Tasks pane. Click Global Load Balancing and choose Yes, use global load balancing. Enter the FQDN of the Azure Traffic Manager profile and click Next, and then click Commit.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

Note: An SSL certificate with a subject name matching that of the GSLB FQDN is not required.

In some cases, the management console may report that global load balancing addresses cannot be identified automatically for some or all entry points.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic Manager

If this occurs, it will be necessary to run the Set-DAEntryPoint PowerShell cmdlet to assign GLSB IP addresses to each entry point. The GSLB IP address is the public IPv4 address that the entry point public hostname resolves to.

Set-DAEntryPoint -Name [entrypoint_name] -GslbIP [external_ip_address]

For example:

Set-DAEntryPoint -Name "US West" -GslbIP 203.0.113.195
Set-DAEntryPoint -Name "US East" -GslbIP 198.51.100.21

Summary

DirectAccess includes native functionality to enable geographic load balancing for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. The site selection process used by DirectAccess clients in this scenario is basic, and has the potential to yield unexpected results. Azure Traffic Manager is a simple, cost-effective alternative to dedicated on-premises GSLB appliances. It can be integrated with DirectAccess to address some of the shortcomings with the native entry point selection process.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

Does Windows 10 Professional Support DirectAccess?

This is a question I’ve received on more than one occasion. For some reason there seems to be a persistent rumor on the Internet that Windows 10 Professional is now a supported client for DirectAccess. I’m not sure where this rumor got started, but I’ll put it to rest right now – Windows 10 Professional is NOT a supported DirectAccess client! DirectAccess still requires Enterprise edition (with two exceptions) to take advantage of DirectAccess for secure remote access.

Supported DirectAccess Clients

The following is a complete list (as of this writing) of client operating systems that support DirectAccess.

  • Windows 10 Enterprise
  • Windows 10 Education
  • Windows 8.1 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Enterprise
  • Windows 7 Ultimate

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

If you are running a version of Windows that is not Enterprise edition (with the exception of Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 10 Education) DirectAccess will not work. Be careful, because you can still provision non-Enterprise SKUs such as Windows 10 Professional for DirectAccess. All of the DirectAccess settings will be applied without issue and everything will look perfectly normal, but DirectAccess won’t work. The telltale sign on Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients is that you won’t be able to start the Network Connectivity Assistant (NCA) service (NcaSvc). When you attempt to do so you will receive the following error message:

Failed to start service 'Network Connectivity Assistant (NcaSvc)'

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

Identify OS Version

You can verify the operating system SKU by looking at the output of systeminfo.exe or by going to the control panel under System and Security and clicking System.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

Upgrade from Windows 10 Professional to Enterprise

A new feature introduced in Windows 10 allows you to easily upgrade the product SKU without having to perform an in place upgrade or reinstall the entire operating system from scratch. So, if you have Windows 10 Enterprise licenses and you want to upgrade a Windows 10 Professional device to Enterprise (for example you want to enable your new Surface Pro 4 to use DirectAccess!) you can simply provide the enterprise product license key in Windows 10 to upgrade. You can provide a new product key by navigating to Start | Settings | Update & Security | Activation | Change Product Key, or run changepk.exe from the Run dialog box or the command line.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

Enter your Windows 10 Enterprise product key and then click Start Upgrade.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

After the system reboots it will have been upgraded to Enterprise edition and now work as a DirectAccess client.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Professional
Summary

With Windows 10, it’s easy to upgrade from Professional to Enterprise edition by simply providing the Enterprise edition product key. This works great if you have just a few machines to upgrade, but if you are planning to upgrade many machines I would recommend creating a deployment package using the Windows Imaging and Configuration Designer (ICD), which is included with the Windows 10 Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) and can be downloaded here. Once you’ve upgraded your Windows 10 Professional devices to Windows 10 Enterprise you can begin provisioning them for DirectAccess!

DirectAccess consulting services now available! Click here for more details!

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Introduction

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Windows Server Core is an operating system configuration option that does not include a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Server Core was first introduced with Windows Server 2008 and originally included only a limited number of supported roles. With each subsequent release, Microsoft continues to add support for additional roles on Server Core. Beginning with Windows Server 2012, the Routing and Remote Access (RRAS) role, which includes DirectAccess, is a supported workload on Server Core.

Advantages of Server Core

There are a number of important advantages that come with running DirectAccess on Server Core. Server Core has a greatly reduced attack surface compared to the full GUI version, which is positive from a security perspective. Server Core also features a dramatically reduced footprint, consuming less RAM and disk space. System startup times are faster, and this refactored installation option also reduces servicing requirements (patching), eliminating many reboots and increasing availability and overall system uptime.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Figure 1 – Windows Server 2012 R2 Core Desktop (Yes, that’s it!)

Server Core Configuration

DirectAccess is a workload that lends itself well to running on Server Core, and I highly recommend leveraging this configuration whenever possible. Based on my experience, I suggest performing initial configuration and testing of the DirectAccess solution with the GUI installed, and then removing the GUI just before placing the DirectAccess server in to production. Removing the GUI can be accomplished by executing the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart

Once the server has been converted to Server Core, all administration must be performed at the command line on the server, or remotely from a management server or workstation using the command line or GUI administration tools. You can install the Remote Access Management console on any Windows Server 2012 R2 server using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-RemoteAccess

Optionally you can download and install the Windows Server Remote Administrations Tools (RSAT) on a Windows client workstation, if desired.

Minimal Server Interface Configuration

If you prefer to be able to manage the DirectAccess server locally using the GUI, consider enabling the Minimal Server Interface. Minimal Server Interface is a configuration option that lies between Server Core and the full GUI interface. It features some of the benefits of Server Core, while at the same time providing local access to GUI management tools such as the Remote Access Management console. You can configure Minimal Server Interface using the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell -Restart

You can access the Remote Access Management console by entering RaMgmtUI.exe from the command line.

Revert to Full GUI

If at any point in the future you require the GUI for some reason, re-installing it can be accomplished using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –Restart

Summary

With the Unified Remote Access role supported on Windows Server Core, consider implementing DirectAccess using this option to improve the security and increase the availability of your remote access solution. You’ll find that almost all ongoing server maintenance and support can be accomplished remotely using GUI tools, or locally using PowerShell. And if you ever need the GUI again, you can always add it back if necessary!

3 Important Things You Need to Know about Windows 10 and DirectAccess

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better TogetherDirectAccess has been with us for quite some time know, having been originally introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2, later enhanced with Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) 2010, and finally integrated in to the base operating system in Windows Server 2012 R2. Client support for DirectAccess begins with Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate), and also includes Windows 8.x (Enterprise) and Windows 10 (Enterprise or Education).

Although Windows 7 clients are supported for DirectAccess, Windows 10 is highly preferred. Here are three important things you need to know about using Windows 10 with DirectAccess.

  1. Windows 10 Provides Improved Performance and Scalability – Windows 10 includes support for null encryption when using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol. This eliminates the needless double-encryption performed by Windows 7 clients, and dramatically reduces the protocol overhead for clients connecting behind port-restricted firewalls. DirectAccess servers can support many more concurrent IP-HTTPS sessions with Windows 10, and it has the added benefit of making the more secure perimeter/DMZ deployment behind an edge security device performing NAT much more attractive.
  2. Windows 10 Supports Geographic Redundancy – Windows 10 includes full support for DirectAccess multisite deployments. Where Windows 7 clients had to be assigned to a single entry point, Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points in the organization. They are able to automatically select the nearest entry point on startup, and transparently failover to another site if the current site becomes unavailable.
  3. Windows 10 Features an Enhanced Management Experience – From a troubleshooting and support perspective, Windows 10 makes things much easier. The DirectAccess connectivity assistant, an optional component for Windows 7, is now fully integrated with the Windows 10 UI. PowerShell is greatly improved and now includes many native DirectAccess configuration and troubleshooting commands.

As you can see, there are a number of significant advantages for using Windows 10 with DirectAccess. Windows 10 now supports all of the enterprise features of DirectAccess, including geographic redundancy and performance and scalability improvements. Windows 10 is also easier to troubleshoot and manage. If you’re still supporting Windows 7, DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 can certainly support them. However, without a doubt the best experience, both from an administrator’s and the end user’s perspective, is with Windows 10. Just one more reason to begin planning your migration to Windows 10 with DirectAccess today!

Need assistance with implementing  DirectAccess with Windows 10? I can help! More details here.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

Introduction

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better Together

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 was made available for sale to the public on October 26, 2015. The latest in a line of powerful and flexible tablets from Microsoft, the Surface Pro 4 features a full version of the Windows 10 desktop client operating system and includes more available power, memory, and storage than previous editions. Significant improvements were also made to the keyboard and pen. The Surface Pro 4 is designed to be an all-in-one laptop replacement, enabling users to carry a single device for all of their needs.

Surface Pro 4 and the Enterprise

Microsoft is pushing the Surface Pro 4 heavily to large enterprise organizations by expanding the resale business channel and offering the device through companies like Dell and HP. In fact, Microsoft has made the Surface Pro 4 available through more than 5000 business resellers in 30 global markets. This new enterprise sales initiative strives to deliver world class service and support for enterprise customers adopting the new Surface Pro 4, and includes a new warranty offer and a business device trade-in program designed to promote the adoption of Surface and Windows 10 in the enterprise.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

In addition, Microsoft will have a training program for IT management and support professionals as well as new Windows users that will help streamline the deployment of the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10. Organizations are rapidly adopting the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10, as Microsoft has already signed on a number of high-profile companies in the retail, financial services, education, and public sector verticals. Today, Microsoft has deployed Windows 10 to over 110 million devices since it was released in late October 2015, making it the most rapidly adopted operating system in their history.

Enterprise Requirements

One of the primary motivating factors for enterprise organizations migrating to the Surface Pro 4 is cost reduction. The Surface Pro 4 functions as both a full PC and a tablet, eliminating the need for users to carry two devices. More importantly, it eliminates the need for IT to procure, manage, and support two different hardware and software platforms (for example a Windows-based laptop and an iPad). Additionally, IT organizations can leverage their existing Windows systems management infrastructure and expertise to deploy and maintain their Surface devices.

DirectAccess and the Surface Pro 4

For organizations seeking to maximize their investment in the Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10, implementing a secure remote access solution using Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess is essential. DirectAccess provides seamless and transparent, always on secure remote corporate network connectivity for managed (domain-joined) Windows clients. DirectAccess enables streamlined access to on-premises application and data, improving end user productivity and reducing help desk costs. DirectAccess connectivity is bi-directional, making possible new and compelling management scenarios for field-based assets. DirectAccess clients can be managed the same way, regardless if they are inside or outside of the corporate network. DirectAccess ensures that clients are better managed, consistently maintained, and fully monitored.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

Windows 10 and DirectAccess

The Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 provides full support for all enterprise features of DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2, including automatic site selection and transparent fail over for multisite deployments, as well as scalability and performance improvements. In addition, supportability for Windows 10 clients is much improved with DirectAccess GUI integration and full PowerShell support. Additional information about how DirectAccess and Windows 10 are better together, click here.

Additional Cost Savings

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

DirectAccess does not require any additional software to be installed on the client, and does not incur per user licensing to implement. Another benefit is that DirectAccess can easily be deployed on most popular hypervisors such as Hyper-V and VMware, eliminating the need for expensive proprietary hardware-based remote access solutions and taking full advantage of current investments in virtual infrastructure. Additionally, existing Windows systems management skill sets can be leveraged to support a DirectAccess implementation, eliminating the need for expensive dedicated administrators.

Note: Windows 10 Enterprise edition is required to support DirectAccess, and it is assumed that large organizations will be deploying Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 Enterprise.

Summary

The Surface Pro 4 is the thinnest, lightest, and most powerful Surface tablet ever. It features Windows 10, and it can run the full version of Office and any other applications you need. The Surface Pro 4 is aimed squarely at large enterprises, governments, and schools. Not coincidentally, these verticals are also excellent uses cases for DirectAccess. DirectAccess is the perfect complement to the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10 in the enterprise, as it helps organizations address the unique pain points of large scale enterprise adoption of Windows devices. DirectAccess allows the Surface Pro 4 to be much more effectively managed, while at the same time significantly improving the end user experience.

To realize the full potential of your Windows 10 and Surface Pro 4 deployment, consider a DirectAccess consulting engagement. By leveraging our experience you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that you have deployed DirectAccess in the most optimal, flexible, secure, and highly available manner possible. For more information about a DirectAccess consulting engagement, click here.

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