Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Introduction

DirectAccess Now a Supported Workload in Microsoft AzureMany organizations are preparing to implement DirectAccess on Microsoft’s public cloud infrastructure. Deploying DirectAccess in Azure is fundamentally no different than implementing it on premises, with a few important exceptions (see below). This article provides essential guidance for administrators to configure this unique workload in Azure.

Important Note: There has been much confusion regarding the supportability of DirectAccess in Azure. Historically it has not been supported. Recently, it appeared briefly that Microsoft reversed their earlier decision and was in fact going to support it. However, the Microsoft Server Software Suport for Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines document has once again been revised to indicate that DirectAccess is indeed no longer formally supported on Azure. More details can be found here.

Azure Configuration

The following is guidance for configuring network interfaces, IP address assignments, public DNS, and network security groups for deploying DirectAccess in Azure.

Virtual Machine

Deploy a virtual machine in Azure with sufficient resources to meet expected demand. A minimum of two CPU cores should be provisioned. A VM with 4 cores is recommended. Premium storage on SSD is optional, as DirectAccess is not a disk intensive workload.

Network Interfaces

It is recommended that an Azure VM with a single network interface be provisioned for the DirectAccess role. This differs from on-premises deployments where two network interfaces are preferred because deploying VMs in Azure with two NICs is prohibitively difficult. At the time of this writing, Azure VMs with multiple network interfaces can only be provisioned using PowerShell, Azure CLI, or resource manager templates. In addition, Azure VMs with multiple NICs cannot belong to the same resource group as other VMs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, not all Azure VMs support multiple NICs.

Internal IP Address

Static IP address assignment is recommended for the DirectAccess VM in Azure. By default, Azure VMs are initially provisioned using dynamic IP addresses, so this change must be made after the VM has been provisioned. To assign a static internal IP address to an Azure VM, open the Azure management portal and perform the following steps:

  1. Click Virtual machines.
  2. Select the DirectAccess server VM.
  3. Click Network Interfaces.
  4. Click on the network interface assigned to the VM.
  5. Under Settings click IP configurations.
  6. Click Ipconfig1.
  7. In the Private IP address settings section choose Static for the assignment method.
  8. Enter an IP address for the VM.
  9. Click Save.

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Public IP Address

The DirectAccess VM in Azure must have a public IP address assigned to it to allow remote client connectivity. To assign a public IP address to an Azure VM, open the Azure management portal and perform the following steps:

  1. Click Virtual machines.
  2. Select the DirectAccess server VM.
  3. Click Network Interfaces.
  4. Click on the network interface assigned to the VM.
  5. Under Settings click IP configurations.
  6. Click Ipconfig1.
  7. In the Public IP address settings section click Enabled.
  8. Click Configure required settings.
  9. Click Create New and provide a descriptive name for the public IP address.
  10. Choose an address assignment method.
  11. Click Ok and Save.

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Public DNS

If the static IP address assignment method was chosen for the public IP address, create an A resource record in public DNS that resolves to this address. If the dynamic IP address assignment method was chosen, create a CNAME record in public DNS that maps to the public hostname for the DirectAccess server. To assign a public hostname to the VM in Azure, open the Azure management portal and perform the following steps:

  1. Click Virtual machines.
  2. Select the DirectAccess server VM.
  3. Click Overview.
  4. Click Public IP address/DNS name label.Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure
  5. Under Settings click Configuration.
  6. Choose an assignment method (static or dynamic).
  7. Enter a DNS name label.
  8. Click Save.

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Note: The subject of the SSL certificate used for the DirectAccess IP-HTTPS listener must match the name of the public DNS record (A or CNAME) entered previously. The SSL certificate does not need to match the Azure DNS name label entered here.

Network Security Group

A network security group must be configured to allow IP-HTTPS traffic inbound to the DirectAccess server on the public IP address. To make the required changes to the network security group, open the Azure management portal and perform the following steps:

  1. Click Virtual machines.
  2. Select the DirectAccess server VM.
  3. Click Network interfaces.
  4. Click on the network interface assigned to the VM.
  5. Under Settings click Network security group.
  6. Click the network security group assigned to the network interface.
  7. Click Inbound security rules.
  8. Click Add and provide a descriptive name for the new rule.
  9. Click Any for Source.
  10. From the Service drop-down list choose HTTPS.
  11. Click Allow for Action.
  12. Click Ok.

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Note: It is recommended that the default-allow-rdp rule be removed if it is not needed. At a minimum, scope the rule to allow RDP only from trusted hosts and/or networks.

DirectAccess Configuration

When performing the initial configuration of DirectAccess using the Remote Access Management console, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.”

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

This message can safely be ignored because Azure infrastructure handles all IP address assignment for hosted VMs.

The public name of the DirectAccess server entered in the Remote Access Management console must resolve to the public IP address assigned to the Azure VM, as described previously.

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Additional Considerations

When deploying DirectAccess in Azure, the following limitations should be considered.

Load Balancing

It is not possible to enable load balancing using Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) or an external load balancer. Enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires changing static IP address assignments in the Windows operating system directly, which is not supported in Azure. This is because IP addresses are assigned dynamically in Azure, even when the option to use static IP address assignment is chosen in the Azure management portal. Static IP address assignment for Azure virtual machines are functionally similar to using DHCP reservations on premises.

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure

Note: Technically speaking, the DirectAccess server in Azure could be placed behind a third-party external load balancer for the purposes of performing SSL offload or IP-HTTPS preauthentication, as outlined here and here. However, load balancing cannot be enabled in the Remote Access Management console and only a single DirectAccess server per entry point can be deployed.

Manage Out

DirectAccess manage out using native IPv6 or ISATAP is not supported in Azure. At the time of this writing, Azure does not support IPv6 addressing for Azure VMs. In addition, ISATAP does not work due to limitations imposed by the underlying Azure network infrastructure.

Summary

For organizations moving infrastructure to Microsoft’s public cloud, formal support for the DirectAccess workload in Azure is welcome news. Implementing DirectAccess in Azure is similar to on-premises with a few crucial limitations. By following the guidelines outlined in this article, administrators can configure DirectAccess in Azure to meet their secure remote access needs with a minimum of trouble.

Additional Resources

Implementing DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016
Fundamentals of Microsoft Azure 2nd Edition
Microsoft Azure Security Infrastructure
DirectAccess Multisite with Azure Traffic Manager
DirectAccess Consulting Services

DirectAccess Load Balancing Video

DirectAccess Load Balancing VideoConfiguring load balancing in DirectAccess is essential for eliminating single points of failure and ensuring the highest level of availability for the solution. The process of enabling load balancing for DirectAccess can be confusing though, as it involves the reassignment of IP addresses from the first server to the virtual IP address (VIP) for the cluster.

In this video I demonstrate how to enable DirectAccess load balancing and explain in detail how IP address assignment works for both Network Load Balancing (NLB) and external load balancers (ELB).

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler Webinar

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler Webinar

Updated 5/2/2016: The webinar recording is now available online here.

Join me on Tuesday, April 26 at 11:00AM EDT for a live webinar to learn more about integrating the Citrix NetScaler Application Delivery Controller (ADC) with Microsoft DirectAccess. During the webinar, which will be hosted by Petri IT Knowledgebase, you will learn how to leverage the NetScaler to enhance and extend native high availability and redundancy capabilities included with DirectAccess.

Eliminating single points of failure is crucial for enterprise DirectAccess deployments. DirectAccess includes technologies such as load balancing for high availability and multisite for geographic redundancy, but they are somewhat limited. DirectAccess supports integration with third-party solutions like NetScaler to address these fundamental limitations.

DirectAccess Multisite Geographic Redundancy with Microsoft Azure Traffic ManagerNetScaler is an excellent platform that can be configured to improve upon native DirectAccess high availability and redundancy features. It provides superior load balancing compared to native Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB), with more throughput and better traffic visibility, while at the same time reducing resource utilization on the DirectAccess server.

For multisite DirectAccess deployments, the NetScaler can be configured to provide enhanced geographic redundancy, providing more intelligent entry point selection for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients and granular traffic control such as weighted request distribution and active/passive site failover.

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler WebinarIn addition, the NetScaler can be configured to serve as the DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS), providing essential high availability for this critical service and reducing supporting infrastructure requirements.

Click here to view the recorded webinar.

Configuring Multicast NLB for DirectAccess

Introduction

DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 includes support for load balancing using either Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) or an external physical or virtual load balancer. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but NLB is commonly deployed due to its cost (free!) and relative ease of configuration. NLB has three operation modes – Unicast, Multicast, and IGMP Multicast. It may become necessary to change the NLB operation mode depending on the environment where DirectAccess is deployed. This article describes when and how to make those changes.

Default Configuration

When NLB is first configured, the default cluster operation mode is set to Unicast. In this configuration, all nodes in the NLB cluster share the same MAC address. The NLB kernel mode driver prevents the switch from learning the MAC address for any node in the cluster by masking it on the wire. When a frame is delivered to the switch where the NLB cluster resides, without a MAC address to switch port mapping the frame is delivered to all ports on the switch. This induces switch flooding and is by design. It is required for all nodes in the cluster to “see” all traffic. The NLB driver then determines which node will handle the request.

NLB on Hyper-V

Unicast NLB typically works without issue in most physical environments. However, enabling NLB when the DirectAccess server is running on a virtual machine requires some additional configuration. For Hyper-V, the only thing that is required is to enable MAC Address Spoofing on the virtual network adapter as I discussed here. No other changes are required.

NLB on VMWare

For VMware environments, it will be necessary to change the cluster operation mode from unicast to multicast. This is because the VMware hypervisor proactively informs the virtual switch of the virtual machine’s MAC address on startup and during other virtual networking events. When this occurs, all traffic for the NLB Virtual IP Address (VIP) will be delivered to a single node in the cluster. In multicast operation mode, all nodes in the NLB cluster retain their original MAC address and a unique MAC address is assigned to the cluster VIP. As such, there’s no need to prevent the switch from learning the virtual machine’s MAC address.

Configuring Multicast NLB

To enable Multicast NLB, first enable load balancing for DirectAccess using the Remote Access Management console as usual. DO NOT perform the initial configuration of NLB outside of the Remote Access Management console! Before adding another member to the array, open the Network Load Balancing Manager, right-click the cluster and choose Cluster Properties. Select the Cluster Parameters tab and change the Cluster operation mode to Multicast.

Configuring Multicast NLB for DirectAccess

When opening the Network Load Balancing Manager locally on the DirectAccess server, you may receive the following error message:

“Running NLB Manager on a system with all networks bound to NLB might
not work as expected. If all interfaces are set to run NLB in “unicast”
mode, NLB manager will fail to connect to hosts.”

Configuring Multicast NLB for DirectAccess

If you encounter this error message it will be necessary to run the NLB Manager on another host. You can install the NLB Manager on a Windows Server 2012 R2 system by using the following PowerShell command.

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-NLB

Optionally you can download and install the Windows Remote Server Administration Tools (RSAT) on a Windows desktop client and manage NLB remotely.

Once this change has been made you can add additional DirectAccess servers to the array using the Remote Access Management console.

Additional Configuration

If you cannot communicate with the cluster VIP from a remote subnet, but can connect to it while on the same subnet, it might be necessary to configure static ARP entries on any routers for the subnet where the NLB cluster resides. Often this is required because routers will reject responses to ARP requests that are from a host with a unicast IP address but have a multicast MAC address.

DirectAccess and the Free Kemp Technologies LoadMaster

Kemp Technologies Load BalancersBeginning 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.

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for Kemp LoadMaster Load BalancersFor 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.

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for Kemp LoadMaster Load BalancersA few months ago I had the opportunity to work with the folks at KEMP Technologies to document the use of their LoadMaster load balancers for Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess deployments. DirectAccess has several critical single points of failure which can benefit from the use of a load balancer. Typically Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) is used in these scenarios, but NLB suffers from some serious limitations and lacks essential capabilities required to fully address these requirements. The use of an external third-party load balancer can provide better load distribution and more granular traffic control, while at the same time improving availability with intelligent service health checks.

Working with the LoadMaster was a great experience. Installation was quick and simple, and their web-based management console is intuitive and easy to use. The LoadMaster includes essential features that are required for load balancing DirectAccess servers, and advanced capabilities that can be leveraged to enhance geographic redundancy for multisite deployments.

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

KEMP offers the widest platform coverage with their solutions, including dedicated hardware appliances, virtual appliances for multiple hypervisors including Hyper-V, cloud-based including Microsoft Azure, as well as bare metal support for installation on your own hardware. You can download a fully functional free trial here.

You can view and download the Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Deployment Guide for the KEMP LoadMaster load balancing solution here.

Additional Resources

Video: Enable Load Balancing for DirectAccess

Configure KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer for DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS)

DirectAccess Single NIC Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess and the Free KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Webinar Recording: DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks

Webinar Recording: DirectAccess Multisite with Windows 10 and KEMP LoadMaster GEO

Webinar Recording: Maximize Your Investment in Windows 10 with DirectAccess and the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book

 

DirectAccess Configuration Load Error after Enabling NLB in Hyper-V

When the Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess server is deployed on a virtual machine running in Microsoft Hyper-V, a complete loss of network connectivity immediately after enabling Network Load Balancing (NLB) may occur. In addition, the Remote Access Management console may report the following error .

Configuration Load Error
Settings for <da_hostname> cannot be retrieved.
Domain controller <dc_hostname> cannot be reached for localhost.
Try to reload the configuration.

DirectAccess Configuration Load Error after Enabling NLB in Hyper-V

This issue may be caused by incorrect virtual network adapter settings on the Hyper-V host. To resolve this issue, open the Hyper-V management console, right-click the DirectAccess guest virtual machine and choose Settings. Expand the virtual network adapter and select Advanced Features, then select the option to Enable MAC address spoofing. Repeat these steps for each virtual network adapter assigned to the DirectAccess server virtual machine. Apply the settings and restart the DirectAccess server.

DirectAccess Configuration Load Error after Enabling NLB in Hyper-V

Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess Video Training Course Now Available

I’m pleased to announce that my Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess video training course is now available from TrainSignal! The course covers planning, installing, and configuring DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 in a variety of different deployment scenarios. Here’s the course outline:

Lesson 1 – Introduction
Lesson 2 – DirectAccess Overview
Lesson 3 – Planning for DirectAccess
Lesson 4 – Configuring DirectAccess (Simplified Deployment)
Lesson 5 – Configuring DirectAccess (Complex Deployment)
Lesson 6 – Configuring DirectAccess (Multi-site Deployment)
Lesson 7 – Enabling Support for Windows 7 DirectAccess Clients
Lesson 8 – Enabling High Availability with Network Load Balancing
Lesson 9 – DirectAccess Monitoring and Reporting
Lesson 10 – DirectAccess Troubleshooting
Lesson 11 – Enabling Legacy Remote Access VPN

Special thanks goes to my friend and fellow MVP Jordan Krause who served as the technical reviewer for this series and provided valuable input and feedback during the production of the course. Before you implement DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012, be sure to sign up for a subscription at Trainsignal.com and not only will you receive this great DirectAccess training course, you’ll have access to the entire TrainSignal library of content for just $49.00 per month!

TrainSignal Windows Server 2012 DirectAcess Video Training Course

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