Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Organizations are rapidly deploying Windows server infrastructure with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. With traditional on-premises infrastructure now hosted in the cloud, DirectAccess is also being deployed there more commonly.

Supportability

Interestingly, Microsoft has expressly stated that DirectAccess is not formally supported on their own public cloud platform, Azure. However, there is no formal statement of non-support for DirectAccess hosted on other non-Microsoft public cloud platforms. With supportability for DirectAccess on AWS unclear, many companies are taking the approach that if it isn’t unsupported, then it must be supported. I’d suggest proceeding with caution, as Microsoft could issue formal guidance to the contrary in the future.

DirectAccess on AWS

Deploying DirectAccess on AWS is similar to deploying on premises, with a few notable exceptions, outlined below.

IP Addressing

It is recommended that an IP address be exclusively assigned to the DirectAccess server in AWS, as shown here.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Prerequisites Check

When first configuring DirectAccess, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“The server does not comply with some DirectAccess prerequisites. Resolve all issues before proceed with DirectAccess deployment.”

The warning message itself states that “One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

IP addressing for virtual machines are managed entirely by AWS. This means the DirectAccess server will have a DHCP-assigned address, even when an IP address is specified in AWS. Assigning static IP addresses in the guest virtual machine itself is also not supported. However, this warning message can safely be ignored.

No Support for Load Balancing

It is not possible to create load-balanced clusters of DirectAccess servers for redundancy or scalability on AWS. This is because enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires the IP address of the DirectAccess server be changed in the operating system, which is not supported on AWS. To eliminate single points of failure in the DirectAccess architecture or to add additional capacity, multisite must be enabled. Each additional DirectAccess server must be provisioned as an individual entry point.

Network Topology

DirectAccess servers on AWS can be provisioned with one or two network interfaces. Using two network interfaces is recommended, with the external network interface of the DirectAccess server residing in a dedicated perimeter/DMZ network. The external network interface must use either the Public or Private Windows firewall profile. DirectAccess will not work if the external interface uses the Domain profile. For the Public and Private profile to be enabled, domain controllers must not be reachable from the perimeter/DMZ network. Ensure the perimeter/DMZ network cannot access the internal network by restricting network access in EC2 using a Security Group, or on the VPC using a Network Access Control List (ACL) or custom route table settings.

External Connectivity

A public IPv4 address must be associated with the DirectAccess server in AWS. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest way is to assign a public IPv4 address to the virtual machine (VM). However, a public IP address can only be assigned to the VM when it is deployed initially and cannot be added later. Alternatively, an Elastic IP can be provisioned and assigned to the DirectAccess server at any time.

An ACL must also be configured for the public IP that restricts access from the Internet to only inbound TCP port 443. To provide additional protection, consider deploying an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) appliance like the Citrix NetScaler or F5 BIG-IP to enforce client certificate authentication for DirectAccess clients.

Network Location Server (NLS)

If an organization is hosting all of its Windows infrastructure in AWS and all clients will be remote, Network Location Server (NLS) availability becomes much less critical than with traditional on-premises deployments. For cloud-only deployments, hosting the NLS on the DirectAccess server is a viable option. It eliminates the need for dedicated NLS, reducing costs and administrative overhead. If multisite is configured, ensure that the NLS is not using a self-signed certificate, as this is unsupported.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

However, for hybrid cloud deployments where on-premises DirectAccess clients share the same internal network with cloud-hosted DirectAccess servers, it is recommended that the NLS be deployed on dedicated, highly available servers following the guidance outlined here and here.

Client Provisioning

All supported DirectAccess clients will work with DirectAccess on AWS. If the domain infrastructure is hosted exclusively in AWS, provisioning clients can be performed using Offline Domain Join (ODJ). Provisioning DirectAccess clients using ODJ is only supported in Windows 8.x/10. Windows 7 clients cannot be provisioned using ODJ and must be joined to the domain using another form of remote network connectivity such as VPN.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Server Software Support for Azure Virtual Machines

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Offline Domain Join (ODJ)

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with F5 BIG-IP

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

DirectAccess No Longer Supported on Windows Server in AzureMicrosoft has historically not supported DirectAccess running on Windows Server in the Microsoft Azure public cloud. In the past, this was due to limitations imposed by the underlying cloud infrastructure, as I documented here. When Microsoft moved from the old service manager model (classic) to the newer resource manager infrastructure, many of the issues that prevented the DirectAccess workload from being stable were resolved. There are still some fundamental limitations to deploying DirectAccess in Azure as I documented here, but for the most part it was a workable solution. In fact, Microsoft even updated their support statement for DirectAccess on Azure, quietly removing it from the unsupported roles list in July 2016.

Sadly, Microsoft has reversed their decision on the support of DirectAccess in Azure. As many of you have noticed or commented on some of my posts, Microsoft recently added clarification on support for remote access on Windows Server in Azure, explicitly indicating that DirectAccess was not included in Remote Access support.

Reference: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/2721672

You’ll be glad to know that DirectAccess is indeed supported in Amazon’s public cloud infrastructure, Amazon Web Services (AWS). I’ll be drafting some guidance for deploying DirectAccess in AWS soon. Stay tuned!

Additional Resources

Azure Resource Manager vs. Classic Deployment: Understand Deployment Models and the State of your Resources

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Implementing DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 Book

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book Now Available

I am very excited to announce that my new DirectAccess book, Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 from Apress media, is now shipping! The book is available on popular online sites like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Springer.com, Apress.com, and others. The book is also available in electronic formats such as Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, as well as a variety of subscription formats including Safari, Books24x7, and SpringerLink.

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

This book contains detailed and prescriptive guidance for the planning, design, implementation, and support of a DirectAccess remote access solution on Windows Server 2016. It also includes valuable insight, tips, tricks, and best practice recommendations gained from my many years of deploying DirectAccess for some of the largest organizations in the world.

Current DirectAccess administrators will also find this book helpful, as the majority of content is still applicable to DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. In addition, the book also includes essential information on the design and deployment of highly available and geographically redundant DirectAccess deployments.

Troubleshooting DirectAccess can be a daunting task, so I’ve dedicated an entire chapter in the book to this topic. For those responsible for the maintenance and support of DirectAccess in their organization, this chapter alone will be worth the investment.

Be sure to order your copy today!

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Pre-Order

Update: My new DirectAccess book is now available for purchase. Details here.

I am pleased to announce that my new book, Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 from Apress Media, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

This book contains detailed and prescriptive guidance for the planning, design, implementation, and support of a DirectAccess remote access solution on Windows Server 2016. It also includes valuable insight, tips, tricks, and best practice recommendations gained from my many years of deploying DirectAccess for some of the largest organizations in the world.

Current DirectAccess administrators will also find this book helpful, as the majority of content is still applicable to DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. In addition, the book also includes essential information on the design and deployment of highly available and geographically redundant DirectAccess deployments.

Troubleshooting DirectAccess can be a daunting task, so I’ve dedicated an entire chapter in the book to this topic. For those responsible for the maintenance and support of DirectAccess in their organization, this chapter alone will be worth the investment.

Be sure to reserve your copy today!

Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services

A while back I wrote about configuring Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure. Running DirectAccess in Azure suffered from a few complications, and ultimately it is not supported. That doesn’t mean Azure wouldn’t be useful to stand up a test environment with which to evaluate DirectAccess, however. That’s not the case for DirectAccess running on Amazon though. DirectAccess is a fully supported workload running in the Amazon public cloud. Recently Amazon released a whitepaper demonstrating the use of Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess running on AWS. Although this first whitepaper documents the use of DirectAccess in single-NIC mode supporting only Windows 8 clients, look for future whitepapers to cover topics like support for Windows 7 clients and high availability using Amazon Elastic Load Balancing (ELB). For more information, visit the Amazon whitepapers site and select the Partner Whitepapers tab.

Configure Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAcess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Or, if you prefer, you can download the document directly here.

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