Always On VPN Load Balancing for RRAS in Azure

Always On VPN Load Balancing for RRAS in AzurePreviously I wrote about Always On VPN options for Microsoft Azure deployments. In that post I indicated that running Windows Server with the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) role for VPN was an option to be considered, even though it is not a formally supported workload. Despite the lack of support by Microsoft, deploying RRAS in Azure works well and is quite popular. In fact, I recently published some configuration guidance for RRAS in Azure.

Load Balancing Options for RRAS

Multiple RRAS servers can be deployed in Azure to provide failover/redundancy or to increase capacity. While Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) can be used on-premises for RRAS load balancing, NLB is not supported and doesn’t work in Azure. With that, there are several options for load balancing RRAS in Azure. They include DNS round robin, Azure Traffic Manager, the native Azure load balancer, Azure Application Gateway, or a dedicated load balancing virtual appliance.

DNS Round Robin

The easiest way to provide load balancing for RRAS in Azure is to use round robin DNS. However, using this method has some serious limitations. Simple DNS round robin can lead to connection attempts to a server that is offline. In addition, this method doesn’t accurately balance the load and often results in uneven distribution of client connections.

Azure Traffic Manager

Using Azure Traffic Manager is another alternative for load balancing RRAS in Azure. In this scenario each VPN server will have its own public IP address and FQDN for which Azure Traffic Manager will intelligently distribute traffic. Details on configuring Azure Traffic Manager for Always On VPN can be found here.

Azure Load Balancer

The native Azure load balancer can be configured to provide load balancing for RRAS in Azure. However, it has some serious limitations. Consider the following.

  • Supports Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) only.
  • Basic health check functionality (port probe only).
  • Limited visibility.
  • Does not work with IKEv2.
  • Does not support TLS offload for SSTP.

More information about the Azure Load Balancer can be found here.

Azure Application Gateway

The Azure Application Gateway can be used for load balancing RRAS SSTP VPN connections where advanced capabilities such as enhanced health checks and TLS offload are required. More information about the Azure Application Gateway can be found here.

Load Balancing Appliance

Using a dedicated Application Delivery Controller (ADC), or load balancer is a very effective way to eliminate single points of failure for Always On VPN deployments hosted in Azure. ADCs provide many advanced features and capabilities to ensure full support for all RRAS VPN protocols. In addition, ADCs offer much better visibility and granular control over VPN connections. There are many solutions available as virtual appliances in the Azure marketplace that can be deployed to provide RRAS load balancing in Azure.

Summary

Deploying Windows Server RRAS in Azure for Always On VPN can be a cost-effective solution for many organizations. Although not a formally supported workload, I’ve deployed it numerous times and it works quite well. Consider using a dedicated ADC to increase scalability or provide failover and redundancy for RRAS in Azure whenever possible.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Options for Azure Deployments

Windows 10 Always On VPN and RRAS in Microsoft Azure

Windows 10 Always On VPN with Microsoft Azure Gateway

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP and NLB Clustering

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP and NLB ClusteringDirectAccess connections are bidirectional, allowing administrators to remotely connect to clients and manage them when they are out of the office. DirectAccess clients use IPv6 exclusively, so any communication initiated from the internal network to remote DirectAccess clients must also use IPv6. If IPv6 is not deployed natively on the internal network, the Intrasite Automatic Tunnel Addressing Protocol (ISATAP) IPv6 transition technology can be used to enable manage out.

ISATAP Supportability

According to Microsoft’s support guidelines for DirectAccess, using ISATAP for manage out is only supported for single server deployments. ISATAP is not supported when deployed in a multisite or load-balanced environment.

Not supported” is not the same as “doesn’t work” though. For example, ISATAP can easily be deployed in single site DirectAccess deployments where load balancing is provided using Network Load Balancing (NLB).

ISATAP Configuration

To do this, you must first create DNS A resource records for the internal IPv4 address for each DirectAccess server as well as the internal virtual IP address (VIP) assigned to the cluster.

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP and NLB Clustering

Note: Do NOT use the name ISATAP. This name is included in the DNS query block list on most DNS servers and will not resolve unless it is removed. Removing it is not recommended either, as it will result in ALL IPv6-enabled hosts on the network configuring an ISATAP tunnel adapter.

Once the DNS records have been added, you can configure a single computer for manage out by opening an elevated PowerShell command window and running the following command:

Set-NetIsatapConfiguration -State Enabled -Router [ISATAP FQDN] -PassThru

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP and NLB Clustering

Once complete, an ISATAP tunnel adapter network interface with a unicast IPv6 address will appear in the output of ipconfig.exe, as shown here.

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP and NLB Clustering

Running the Get-NetRoute -AddressFamily IPv6 PowerShell command will show routes to the client IPv6 prefixes assigned to each DirectAccess server.

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP and NLB Clustering

Finally, verify network connectivity from the manage out host to the remote DirectAccess client.

Note: There is a known issue with some versions of Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 that may prevent manage out using ISATAP from working correctly. There’s a simple workaround, however. More details can be found here.

Group Policy Deployment

If you have more than a few systems on which to enable ISATAP manage out, using Active Directory Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to distribute these settings is a much better idea. You can find guidance for creating GPOs for ISATAP manage out here.

DirectAccess Client Firewall Configuration

Simply enabling ISATAP on a server or workstation isn’t all that’s required to perform remote management on DirectAccess clients. The Windows firewall running on the DirectAccess client computer must also be configured to securely allow remote administration traffic from the internal network. Guidance for configuring the Windows firewall on DirectAccess clients for ISATAP manage out can be found here.

ISATAP Manage Out for Multisite and ELB

The configuration guidance in this post will not work if DirectAccess multisite is enabled or external load balancers (ELB) are used. However, ISATAP can still be used. For more information about enabling ISATAP manage out with external load balancers and/or multisite deployments, fill out the form below and I’ll provide you with more details.

Summary

Once ISATAP is enabled for manage out, administrators on the internal network can remotely manage DirectAccess clients wherever they happen to be. Native Windows remote administration tools such as Remote Desktop, Windows Remote Assistance, and the Computer Management MMC can be used to manage remote DirectAccess clients. In addition, enterprise administration tools such as PowerShell remoting and System Center Configuration Manger (SCCM) Remote Control can also be used. Further, third-party remote administration tools such as VNC, TeamViewer, LogMeIn, GoToMyPC, Bomgar, and many others will also work with DirectAccess ISATAP manage out.

Additional Information

ISATAP Recommendations for DirectAccess Deployments

DirectAccess Manage Out with ISATAP Fails on Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 

DirectAccess Client Firewall Rule Configuration for ISATAP Manage Out

DirectAccess Manage Out and System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM)

Contact Me

Interested in learning more about ISATAP manage out for multisite and external load balancer deployments? Fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

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

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