DirectAccess vs. VPN

Introduction

DirectAccess vs. VPNMany IT professionals mistakenly believe that DirectAccess is just another VPN solution. While there are some similarities between these technologies, both in terms of the underlying technology and function, there are some significant differences between the two. If you’re comparing DirectAccess to VPN, here are some essential points to consider.

VPN

Virtual Private Networking (VPN) has been around for ages. VPN is a mature, well understood technology that has been widely deployed, and today remains the de facto standard for providing secure remote access. VPN has broad client support, on both traditional computing platforms and mobile operating systems. VPNs today include support for modern protocols and integrate with numerous multifactor authentication platforms.

VPN Challenges

There are some serious drawbacks to implementing traditional client-based VPN. VPN connections are user initiated and therefore optional. It is up to the user to decide if and when they connect to the corporate network. Many VPNs require additional software to work, which must be deployed and maintained. Establishing connections is potentially problematic too, as some VPN protocols aren’t firewall friendly and don’t work in many locations.

DirectAccess vs. VPNFrom a security perspective, because anyone can attempt a connection to the VPN from any client, strong authentication becomes an essential requirement. Integrating multifactor authentication makes the implementation more complex and difficult to support. It often requires additional hardware, licensing, and support costs.

VPNs can be costly to implement and support. They typically require expensive proprietary hardware and dedicated management skill sets. Many VPN solutions also have additional licensing costs associated with them. Scaling a VPN solution requires additional investments in hardware devices, adding to the overall cost of the solution.

DirectAccess

DirectAccess is a relative newcomer to the world of secure remote access. First introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2, DirectAccess differs fundamentally from VPN by virtue of its seamless and transparent, always-on connection. DirectAccess connections are established by the machine, not the user. They are secure and authenticated, and are established automatically whenever the DirectAccess client has an active Internet connection. DirectAccess connections are also bidirectional, which is an important distinction. The ability to “manage out” to remote connected DirectAccess clients enables compelling new uses cases for IT administrators.

Addressing VPN Pain Points with DirectAccess

DirectAccess vs. VPNDirectAccess connections are inherently more secure than VPN. Unlike VPN, DirectAccess clients must be joined to the domain and, in most configurations, they must also have a certificate issued by the organization’s private, internal Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). This essentially serves as a type of multifactor authentication for the connecting device, resulting in a much higher level of assurance for remote connections. DirectAccess can also support integration with many existing multifactor authentication providers to provide strong authentication for the user, if desired.

DirectAccess is very firewall friendly and works anywhere the user has an active Internet connection. It requires no additional software to be installed, and the seamless and transparent nature of DirectAccess makes it much easier to use than VPN. All of this improves end user productivity and reduces associated management overhead for the solution.

DirectAccess is a more cost-effective alternative to VPN. DirectAccess can be deployed on existing infrastructure (physical or virtual) and does not require proprietary hardware. This makes it much easier and far less expensive to add additional capacity, if required. DirectAccess can also be managed using existing systems management tools and Windows administration skills and does not have any per-user licensing requirements, which results in additional cost savings over VPN.

DirectAccess Limitations and Drawbacks

DirectAccess is not a comprehensive remote access solution. It is designed for managed (domain-joined) Windows clients only. In addition, DirectAccess clients must be provisioned with the Enterprise edition SKU. Also, there are a few cases in which applications may not be compatible with DirectAccess. In addition, there is no support for DirectAccess on non-managed Windows machines, non-Enterprise SKUs, or any devices using non-Windows operating systems, so a VPN might still be required.

DirectAccess vs. VPN

DirectAccess or VPN?

You might be asking yourself, “DirectAccess or VPN?” Why not both? After all, DirectAccess and VPN aren’t mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, quite complimentary. DirectAccess can be used to provide secure remote access and enhanced management for Windows laptops managed by IT, while VPN can be deployed for non-managed devices. While you may not be able to entirely eliminate VPN with DirectAccess, it will certainly allow you to decrease the number of existing VPN licenses and reduce your investment in proprietary hardware, management tools, and dedicated administrators, all of which translates in to reduced capital investment and operational costs.

Summary

DirectAccess is not simply another VPN solution. While it does provide secure remote corporate network connectivity, it does so more securely and more cost effectively than traditional VPN does. DirectAccess is unrivaled in its security and ease of use, dramatically improving end user productivity and reducing associated infrastructure and support costs. DirectAccess can be deployed on current physical and virtual infrastructure, and can be managed using existing Windows systems management tools and skill sets.

DirectAccess Consulting ServicesIf you’d like to learn more about how DirectAccess can benefit your organization, or you would like some assistance with a DirectAccess proof of concept implementation, consider a DirectAccess consulting engagement today. I’m here to help plan, design, implement, and support DirectAccess and ensure the best chance of success for your deployment.

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.

DirectAccess Consulting Services Now Available

Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA)For the last five years I’ve been helping organizations large and small deploy DirectAccess. During that time I have amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience with this unique technology. DirectAccess is not trivial to install, configure, or troubleshoot. Also, it’s easy to make mistakes in the planning and design phase that can turn in to serious issues later in the deployment. To make matters worse, many organizations are deploying DirectAccess for the first time, and without essential guidance they are prone to making common mistakes or choosing configuration options that are less than optimal both in terms of supportability and performance.

Having deployed DirectAccess for some of the largest companies in the world, there isn’t much I haven’t already encountered. If you are looking for the best chance of success for your DirectAccess deployment, consider a consulting engagement with me. I can provide assistance with all facets of DirectAccess implementation including planning and design, installation, configuration, and troubleshooting. Consulting services at reasonable rates are available for all types of DirectAccess work including:

  • New DirectAccess installations
  • Migration from previous versions of DirectAccess
  • Upgrade or expansion of existing DirectAccess deployment
  • Enterprise planning and design for large-scale, multisite DirectAccess deployments
  • DirectAccess high availability (local and geographic)
  • Manage-out for DirectAccess with external hardware load balancers and/or multisite configuration
  • Multisite DirectAccess with geographic redundancy for Windows 7 clients
  • Existing DirectAccess design review and security assessment
  • Windows Server 2012 R2 client-based VPN configuration
  • DirectAccess client connectivity troubleshooting
  • DirectAccess training

Additionally, consulting services are available for a variety of security solutions as well as on-premises and cloud networking technologies such as:

  • Azure networking and infrastructure
  • Cross-premises connectivity to Azure
  • Certificate services (PKI)
  • IP address management
  • ISA Server and Forefront Threat Management Gateway (TMG) migration

All services can be performed on-site or remotely. If you are interested in obtaining my services, drop me a note at rich@richardhicks.com for more details.

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