5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPNAs I’ve written about previously, Microsoft is no longer investing in DirectAccess going forward. There will be no new features or functionality added to the product in the future. Microsoft is now investing in Always On VPN in Windows 10, with new features being released with each semi-annual update of the operating system. But as Microsoft continues to make the push toward Always On VPN over DirectAccess, many administrators have asked about the ramifications of this shift in focus for enterprise remote access. Here are a few points to consider.

It’s the same thing, only different.

Always On VPN provides the same seamless, transparent, always on experience as DirectAccess. Under the covers, the mechanics of how that’s accomplished changes a bit, but fundamentally the user experience is exactly the same. Once a user logs on to their device, a VPN connection is established automatically and the user will have secure remote access to corporate resources.

The connection is still secure.

Where DirectAccess uses IPsec and Connection Security Rules (CSRs) to establish its secure tunnels, Always On VPN uses traditional client-based VPN protocols such as IKEv2, SSTP, L2TP, and PPTP. Both DirectAccess and Always On VPN use certificates for authentication. However, where DirectAccess uses machine certificates to authenticate the computer, Always On VPN leverages user certificates to authenticate the user.

(Note: Machine certificates will be required for Always On VPN when using the optional device tunnel configuration. I will publish more details about this configuration option in a future article.)

Provisioning and managing clients is different.

The administrative experience for Always On VPN is much different than it is with DirectAccess. Where DirectAccess made use of Active Directory and group policy for managing client and server settings, Always On VPN clients must be provisioned using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution such as Microsoft Intune, or any third-party MDM platform. Optionally, Always On VPN clients can be provisioned using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), or manually using PowerShell.

Security is enhanced.

Always On VPN has the potential to provide much more security and protection than DirectAccess. Always On VPN supports traffic filtering, allowing administrators to restrict remote client communication by IP address, protocol, port, or application. By contrast, DirectAccess allows full access to the internal network after user logon with no native capability to restrict access. In addition, Always On VPN supports integration with Azure Active Directory, which enables conditional access and multifactor authentication scenarios.

It’s built for the future.

Always On VPN also provides support for modern authentication mechanisms like Windows Hello for Business. In addition, Windows Information Protection (WIP) integration is supported to provide essential protection for enterprise data.

Summary

Microsoft set the bar pretty high with DirectAccess. Users love the seamless and transparent access it provides, and administrators reap the benefit of improved systems management for field based devices. Always On VPN provides those same benefits, with additional improvements in security and protection. If you’d like more information about Always On VPN, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Information

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

Since the introduction of Windows Server 2012 in September of 2012, no new features or functionality have been added to DirectAccess. In Windows Server 2016, the only real change aside from bug fixes for DirectAccess is the removal of Network Access Protection (NAP) integration support.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccessFigure 1. Remote Access Setup wizard with NAP integration option in Windows Server 2012/R2.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

Figure 2. Remote Access Setup wizard without NAP integration option in Windows Server 2016.

DirectAccess Roadmap

It’s clear to see that Microsoft is no longer investing in DirectAccess, and in fact their field sales teams have been communicating this to customers for quite some time now. Microsoft has been actively encouraging organizations who are considering a DirectAccess solution to instead implement client-based VPN with Windows 10.

Always On VPN

New features introduced in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update allow IT administrators to configure automatic VPN connection profiles. This Always On VPN connection provides a DirectAccess-like experience using traditional remote access VPN protocols such as IKEv2, SSTP, and L2TP/IPsec. It comes with some additional benefits as well.

  • Conditional access and device compliance with system health checks
  • Windows Hello for Business and Azure multifactor authentication
  • Windows Information Protection (WIP) integration
  • Traffic filters to restrict VPN network access
  • Application-trigger VPN connections

DirectAccess Deprecated?

There has been rampant speculation that Microsoft plans to deprecate and retire DirectAccess. While that may in fact be true, Microsoft has yet to make a formal end-of-life announcement. There’s no reason DirectAccess and VPN couldn’t co-exist, so it’s not a certainty Microsoft will do this. However, there’s also no need to have multiple remote access solutions, and it is abundantly clear that the future for Microsoft remote access is Always On VPN and not DirectAccess.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

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

Always On VPN Advantages and Disadvantages

Windows 10 Always On VPN has some important advantages over DirectAccess. It has some crucial limitations as well.

Advantages

  • Always On VPN supports non-Enterprise Windows 10 client SKUs (Windows 10 Home and Professional)
  • Always On VPN includes support for granular network access control
  • Always On VPN can use both IPv4 and IPv6
  • Always On VPN is infrastructure independent. In addition to supporting Windows RRAS, any third-party network device can be used such as Cisco, Checkpoint, Juniper, Palo Alto, SonicWALL, Fortinet, Sophos, and many more

Disadvantages

  • Always On VPN works only with Windows 10. It is not supported for Windows 7
  • Always On VPN cannot be managed natively using Active Directory and group policy. It must be configured and managed using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Microsoft Intune, or PowerShell

DirectAccess or Always On VPN?

Should you deploy DirectAccess today or implement Always On VPN with Windows 10 instead? That depends on a number of factors. It’s important to understand that DirectAccess is fully supported in Windows Server 2016 and will likely be for many years to come. If DirectAccess meets your needs today, you can deploy it with confidence that it will still have a long support life. If you have reservations about the future viability of DirectAccess, and if you meet all of the requirements to support Always On VPN with Windows 10, then perhaps that’s a better choice. If you’d like to discuss your remote access options in more detail, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Resources

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

DirectAccess vs. VPN

Always On VPN Deployment Guide for Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

%d bloggers like this: