DirectAccess on the Microsoft Surface Pro

At Microsoft TechEd North America 2013 I had the privilege of (finally!) acquiring both a Microsoft Surface RT and a Surface Pro. I’d been wavering back and forth on which one to purchase for many months. As it turned out, my indecision (and admittedly some procrastination!) paid off. As you are probably aware, Microsoft was offering the Surface RT 64GB for $99.00 USD and the Surface Pro 128GB for $399.00 USD to TechEd attendees and third-party speakers. Needless to say I purchased both! I love the Surface RT for general Internet use like web browsing, e-mail, etc. The battery life is great and having Office apps is tremendously productive. However, as a technology geek I really like the power and flexibility that the Surface Pro offers. Since it is a full-fledged PC, I can install whatever software I like on it.

Being able to join a domain and enable DirectAccess would, of course, be the icing on the cake. The Surface Pro comes pre-installed with Windows 8 Professional, which means I can join a domain but unfortunately it doesn’t support DirectAccess. My plan was to wipe the device and reload Windows 8 Enterprise when I returned from the conference. As luck would have it, I ran in to my good friend and fellow Microsoft MVP Jordan Krause, and I was surprised to find that he had already upgraded his Surface Pro to Windows 8 Enterprise, joined it to his domain, and had enabled DirectAccess right there at TechEd! How did he do this so quickly? It turns out that it is as simple as mounting the Windows 8 Enterprise ISO and performing an in-place upgrade by launching setup.exe. And no, contrary to what some have said, you can’t simply input your Windows 8 Enterprise license key and magically turn Windows 8 Professional in to Windows 8 Enterprise. It will of course activate, but it will still be Windows 8 Professional unless and until you perform the actual upgrade to Windows 8 Enterprise using the installation media.

So, upon returning home from TechEd I promptly upgraded my Surface Pro to Windows 8 Enterprise using the steps Jordan outlined here. Worked like a charm! I was able to join my lab domain and successfully establish DirectAccess connectivity on the Surface Pro. I did encounter a few issues when I attempted to refresh the device, however. To reset the device, I clicked Settings on the charms menu (swipe-in on the right or Window Key+C) and clicked Change PC Settings. Next I selected General and chose the option to Refresh your PC without affecting your files and received the following error message:

Insert media. Some files are missing. Your Windows installation or
recovery media will provide these files.

Insert Media on the Surface Pro

Selecting the option to Remove everything and reinstall Windows yielded the same error. Fortunately it was easy enough to resolve. To begin, I created a folder on the C: drive called WinRec. Next, I mounted the Windows 8 Enterprise ISO, navigated to the \Sources folder and copied install.wim to C:\WinRec. Finally, I opened an elevated command prompt and executed the following command to register this file as a recovery image:

reagentc.exe /setosimage /path C:\WinRec /target C:\Windows /index 1

Now when I select the option to Refresh your PC without affecting your files or Remove everything and reinstall Windows the process continues normally. Once the process is complete, there will be a few drivers missing which you can download here. After that everything was good to go! Obviously the solution I’ve described here is only really effective for one-off deployments of Windows 8 Enterprise on the Surface Pro. If you’re considering an enterprise-wide deployment, have a look at the Surface Pro Enterprise Deployment Guide [PDF], which includes detailed, prescriptive guidance for deploying Windows 8 Enterprise on the Surface Pro.

DirectAccess and the Microsoft Surface Pro

With the recent release of the Microsoft Surface Pro, many people have been asking me about DirectAccess connectivity for these devices. One of the requirements for DirectAccess connectivity is that the device be joined to a domain, a capability that the Surface RT lacked. Although the Surface Pro runs the full version of Windows 8, it is Windows 8 Professional. Sadly, DirectAccess connectivity is only supported for Windows 8 Enterprise edition clients, along with Windows 7 Enterprise and Ultimate editions.

Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess Client Requirements

So, if you have just purchased a new Microsoft Surface Pro and are hoping to configure it as a DirectAccess client, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. In my opinion, the lack of DirectAccess support for Windows 8 and Windows 7 Professional is a serious flaw, especially when you consider all of the great use cases you can imagine when you have a full featured tablet with always-on, secure remote network connectivity. It’s a shame, really. Let’s hope this changes in the future!

Update: Read my post on how to install Windows 8 Enterprise and configure DirectAccess on the Microsoft Surface Pro here.

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