Beginning with Windows Server 2012, DirectAccess includes native support for external load balancers. Where high availability is required (which is most deployments!) the use of an external load balancer (physical or virtual) has many advantages over Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB).
While NLB is easy to configure, it is not without serious drawbacks. NLB relies on network broadcasts, which limits its effectiveness in some environments. In addition, NLB supports only a single load distribution mode, which is round robin. NLB also lacks a convenient monitoring interface.
A dedicated load balancing solution provides more robust load balancing and better, more granular traffic control than NLB. Along with this greater control comes increased traffic visibility, with most solutions providing details and insight in to node health, status, and performance. Many solutions also offer Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) support, which enhances geographic redundancy and offers improvements when performing automatic site selection in multisite deployments.
Often the barrier to adoption for a dedicated external load balancer is cost. Many of the leading solutions are incredibly powerful and feature-rich, but come with a substantial price tag. The Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancers solution is an excellent, cost-effective alternative and works quite well providing load balancing support for DirectAccess. And to make things even more interesting, they recently announced a completely FREE version of their commercial load balancing product.
The Free Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancer is fully functional and supported for use in production environments. It provides full layer 4-7 support and includes reverse proxy, edge security, web application firewall (WAF) functionality, and GSLB. It can be installed on most major virtualization platforms including Microsoft Hyper-V, VMware, and more. The free LoadMaster is also available in Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancer on the Microsoft Azure Public Cloud Platform, as well as the VMware and Amazon public cloud platforms.
The free LoadMaster does have some restrictions, however. For example, you cannot create high availability clusters of LoadMasters. Also, the free LoadMaster is limited in terms of network throughput (20Mbps) and SSL/TLS transaction per second (50, using 2048 bit keys). There is also a limit on the number of virtual servers you can create (1000). The free LoadMaster must also have access to the Internet as it must be able to call home to validate its license every 30 days. You can find a complete model comparison matrix between the free and commercial Kemp LoadMasters Kemp LoadMaster Comparison Chart.
As the free version of the Kemp LoadMaster does not support clustering, technically you still have a single point of failure. However, it can still deliver a net improvement in stability and uptime, as the LoadMaster is a purpose-built platform that requires much less servicing and maintenance than a typical Windows server.
For detailed information about configuring the Kemp LoadMaster to provide load balancing services for DirectAccess, be sure to download the DirectAccess Deployment Guide for Kemp LoadMaster Load Balancers. And if you end up liking the free Kemp LoadMaster load balancer (and I’m confident you will!) you can always upgrade to the full commercial release at any time.
For more information about the free Kemp LoadMaster load balancer, click Free Kemp LoadMaster Load Balancer.