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

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

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