3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess Windows 10 Always On VPN provides seamless and transparent, always on remote network access similar to DirectAccess. The mechanics of how it is delivered and managed are fundamentally different, as I discussed here. Some of these changes will no doubt present challenges to our way of thinking, especially in the terms of client provisioning. However, Always On VPN brings along with it some important and significant advantages too.

No More NLS

A Network Location Server (NLS) is used for inside/outside detection by DirectAccess clients. By design, the NLS is reachable by DirectAccess machines only when they are on the internal network. NLS availability is crucial. If the NLS is offline or unreachable for any reason at all, DirectAccess clients on the internal network will mistakenly believe they are outside the network. In this scenario, the client will attempt to establish a DirectAccess connection even though it is inside. This often fails, leaving the DirectAccess client in a state where it cannot connect to any internal resources by name until the NLS is brought back online.

Always On VPN eliminates the frailty of NLS by using the DNS connection suffix for trusted network detection. When a network connection is established, an Always On VPN connection will not be established if the DNS connection suffix matches what the administrator has defined as the internal trusted network.

Full Support for IPv4

DirectAccess uses IPv6 exclusively for communication between remote DirectAccess clients and the DirectAccess server. IPv6 translation technologies allow for communication to internal IPv4 hosts. While this works for the vast majority of scenarios, there are still many challenges with applications that do not support IPv6.

Always On VPN supports both IPv4 and IPv6, so application incompatibility issues will be a thing of the past! With full support for IPv4, the need for IPv6 transition and translation technologies is eliminated. This reduces protocol overhead and improves network performance.

Infrastructure Independent

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess Windows servers are required to implement DirectAccess. Always On VPN can be implemented using Windows servers as well, but it isn’t a hard requirement. Always On VPN is implemented entirely on the Windows 10 client, which means any third-party VPN device can be used on the back end, including Cisco, Checkpoint, Juniper, Palo Alto, Fortinet, SonicWALL, F5, strongSwan, OpenVPN, and others! This provides tremendous deployment flexibility, making it possible to mix and match backend infrastructure if required. For example, a Windows RRAS VPN server with Palo Alto and SonicWALL firewalls could all be implemented at the same time (using the Windows built-in VPN client). Importantly, making changes to VPN infrastructure is much less impactful and disruptive to clients in the field. VPN devices can be upgraded, replaced, and moved internally without requiring corresponding policy changes on the client.

Additional Information

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN 

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Always On VPN Device Tunnel Configuration Guidance Now Available

Always On VPN Device Tunnel Configuration Guidance Now AvailableWhen Always On VPN is configured for Windows 10, the VPN connection is established automatically when the user logs on to their device. This differs fundamentally from DirectAccess, where the connection is established by the machine, before the user logs on. This subtle but important difference has some important ramifications. For example, it means that a user cannot use Always On VPN until they’ve logged on to their device at least once while connected to the corporate network. DirectAccess doesn’t have this limitation, as a connection to an on-premises domain controller is available to authenticate a new user upon first logon.

Device Tunnel Support

To address this shortcoming with Always On VPN, and to provide better feature parity with DirectAccess, Microsoft introduced an update to Windows 10 in the recent Fall Creators update (v1709) that allows for the configuration of a device tunnel for Windows 10 Always On VPN. Once enabled, the device itself can automatically establish a secure remote connection before the user logs on. This enables scenarios such as device provisioning for new remote users without cached credentials. It also enables support for password reset using CTRL+ALT+DEL.

Manage Out

Device tunnel for Windows 10 Always On VPN also enables important manage out scenarios that DirectAccess administrators have come to rely upon. With a device tunnel configured, administrators can initiate connections to remote connected Always On VPN clients to provide remote management and support, without requiring a user to be logged on at the time.

Requirements

To support an Always On VPN device tunnel, the client must be running Windows 10 Enterprise or Education v1709 or later. The computer must be domain-joined and have a machine certificate installed. Device tunnel can only be configured using the built-in Windows 10 VPN client (no support for third-party clients) and the IKEv2 protocol must be used.

Caveat

When configuring a device tunnel, traffic filters can be implemented to restrict communication to only those internal resources required, such as domain controllers, Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) or System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) servers. However, when traffic filters are used, no inbound traffic to the client is allowed. If manage out is required over the device tunnel, traffic filters cannot be configured. Microsoft expects to remove this limitation in a future update.

Provisioning and Documentation

Configuring and provisioning a Windows 10 Always On VPN device tunnel is similar to the process for the Always On VPN connection itself. A VPN profileXML file is created and then deployed via a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution such as Microsoft Intune. Optionally, the VPN profileXML can be deployed using SCCM or PowerShell. Additional information about Windows 10 Always On VPN device tunnel configuration, including a sample profileXML and PowerShell script, can be found here.

Additional Resources

Configure a VPN Device Tunnel in Windows 10

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN

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