Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Organizations are rapidly deploying Windows server infrastructure with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. With traditional on-premises infrastructure now hosted in the cloud, DirectAccess is also being deployed there more commonly.

Supportability

Interestingly, Microsoft has expressly stated that DirectAccess is not formally supported on their own public cloud platform, Azure. However, there is no formal statement of non-support for DirectAccess hosted on other non-Microsoft public cloud platforms. With supportability for DirectAccess on AWS unclear, many companies are taking the approach that if it isn’t unsupported, then it must be supported. I’d suggest proceeding with caution, as Microsoft could issue formal guidance to the contrary in the future.

DirectAccess on AWS

Deploying DirectAccess on AWS is similar to deploying on premises, with a few notable exceptions, outlined below.

IP Addressing

It is recommended that an IP address be exclusively assigned to the DirectAccess server in AWS, as shown here.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Prerequisites Check

When first configuring DirectAccess, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“The server does not comply with some DirectAccess prerequisites. Resolve all issues before proceed with DirectAccess deployment.”

The warning message itself states that “One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

IP addressing for virtual machines are managed entirely by AWS. This means the DirectAccess server will have a DHCP-assigned address, even when an IP address is specified in AWS. Assigning static IP addresses in the guest virtual machine itself is also not supported. However, this warning message can safely be ignored.

No Support for Load Balancing

It is not possible to create load-balanced clusters of DirectAccess servers for redundancy or scalability on AWS. This is because enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires the IP address of the DirectAccess server be changed in the operating system, which is not supported on AWS. To eliminate single points of failure in the DirectAccess architecture or to add additional capacity, multisite must be enabled. Each additional DirectAccess server must be provisioned as an individual entry point.

Network Topology

DirectAccess servers on AWS can be provisioned with one or two network interfaces. Using two network interfaces is recommended, with the external network interface of the DirectAccess server residing in a dedicated perimeter/DMZ network. The external network interface must use either the Public or Private Windows firewall profile. DirectAccess will not work if the external interface uses the Domain profile. For the Public and Private profile to be enabled, domain controllers must not be reachable from the perimeter/DMZ network. Ensure the perimeter/DMZ network cannot access the internal network by restricting network access in EC2 using a Security Group, or on the VPC using a Network Access Control List (ACL) or custom route table settings.

External Connectivity

A public IPv4 address must be associated with the DirectAccess server in AWS. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest way is to assign a public IPv4 address to the virtual machine (VM). However, a public IP address can only be assigned to the VM when it is deployed initially and cannot be added later. Alternatively, an Elastic IP can be provisioned and assigned to the DirectAccess server at any time.

An ACL must also be configured for the public IP that restricts access from the Internet to only inbound TCP port 443. To provide additional protection, consider deploying an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) appliance like the Citrix NetScaler or F5 BIG-IP to enforce client certificate authentication for DirectAccess clients.

Network Location Server (NLS)

If an organization is hosting all of its Windows infrastructure in AWS and all clients will be remote, Network Location Server (NLS) availability becomes much less critical than with traditional on-premises deployments. For cloud-only deployments, hosting the NLS on the DirectAccess server is a viable option. It eliminates the need for dedicated NLS, reducing costs and administrative overhead. If multisite is configured, ensure that the NLS is not using a self-signed certificate, as this is unsupported.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

However, for hybrid cloud deployments where on-premises DirectAccess clients share the same internal network with cloud-hosted DirectAccess servers, it is recommended that the NLS be deployed on dedicated, highly available servers following the guidance outlined here and here.

Client Provisioning

All supported DirectAccess clients will work with DirectAccess on AWS. If the domain infrastructure is hosted exclusively in AWS, provisioning clients can be performed using Offline Domain Join (ODJ). Provisioning DirectAccess clients using ODJ is only supported in Windows 8.x/10. Windows 7 clients cannot be provisioned using ODJ and must be joined to the domain using another form of remote network connectivity such as VPN.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Server Software Support for Azure Virtual Machines

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Offline Domain Join (ODJ)

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with F5 BIG-IP

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler WebinarIntroduction

The Network Location Server (NLS) is a crucial DirectAccess supporting infrastructure component. It is secure web server that DirectAccess clients use to determine if they are inside or outside of the corporate network.

NLS Availability

The NLS should be highly available. If this service is not available, DirectAccess clients on the internal network will think they are outside and attempt to establish a DirectAccess connection. Typically, this results in the DirectAccess client not being able to reach internal resources by hostname. Full connectivity for DirectAccess clients on the internal network will not be restored until the NLS is online.

It is recommended that the NLS be deployed in a load-balanced cluster for high availability. However, this requires deploying multiple servers, adding more cost, complexity, and management overhead to the solution.

NLS and Citrix NetScaler

Configuring the Citrix NetScaler to serve as the NLS is an attractive alternative to deploying additional servers for this role. Using the NetScaler for the NLS reduces costs by leveraging existing infrastructure. In addition, the NetScaler requires less servicing than a typical Windows server, and is often itself already highly available.

Configure Citrix NetScaler

To configure the NetScaler to serve as a DirectAccess NLS, open the NetScaler management console, expand AppExpert, and then select Actions. Click Add, provide a descriptive name for the responder action, and then enter the following in the Expression field and click Create.

"HTTP/1.0 200 OK" +"\r\n\r\n" + "DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS)" + "\r\n"

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Select Policies, click Add, and then provide a descriptive name for the responder policy. Enter HTTP.REQ.IS_VALID in the Expression field and click Create.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Expand Traffic Management, expand Load Balancing and select Services. Click Add, provide a descriptive name for the service, choose New Server, and enter the IPv4 loopback address 127.0.0.1. Select SSL for the Protocol, enter a random port number for the Port and then click More.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Uncheck the box next to Health Monitoring and click Ok and Done.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Select Virtual Servers and click Add. Provide a descriptive name for the virtual server, select SSL for the Protocol, enter an IP address for the virtual server and click Ok.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Under Services and Service Groups click No Load Balancing Virtual Server Service Binding.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Click to select a service, choose the service created previously and click Ok, Bind and Ok.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Under Certificates click No Server Certificate.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Click to select a server certificate, choose the SSL certificate to be used by the NLS and click Ok, Bind, and Ok.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Under Advanced click Policies, and then click the + icon. From the Choose Policy drown-list choose Responder and click Continue. Click to select a Policy Binding and choose the responder policy created previously. Click Ok, Bind, and Done.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Testing NLS Functionality

Open a web browser on a client connected to the internal network and browse to the NLS URL. Ensure that there are no certificate errors and that the NetScaler is responding with the configured web page.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Summary

The Network Location Server (NLS) is an important, and often overlooked, supporting infrastructure component for DirectAccess. It is used by DirectAccess clients to determine their network location. If it is unavailable for any reason it can be very disruptive. Ensuring that the NLS is highly available is critical. Configuring the NLS on the Citrix NetScaler can be a cost-effective alternative to deploying additional servers, while at the same time reducing the chance of an outage due to NLS failure.

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.

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