Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to External Load Balancer


Introduction

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to External Load BalancerMultiple DirectAccess servers can be deployed in a load-balanced cluster to eliminate single crucial points of failure and to provide scalability for the remote access solution. Load balancing can be enabled using the integrated Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) or an external physical or virtual load balancer.

NLB Drawbacks and Limitations

NLB is often deployed because it is simple and inexpensive. However, NLB suffers from some serious drawbacks that limit its effectiveness in all but the smallest deployments. For example, NLB uses network broadcasts to communicate cluster heartbeat information. Each node in the cluster sends out a heartbeat message every second, which generates a lot of additional network traffic on the link and reduces performance as more nodes are added. Scalability is limited with NLB too, as only 8 nodes are supported, although the practical limit is 4 nodes. Further, NLB supports only round-robin connection distribution.

External Load Balancer

A better alternative is to implement a dedicated physical or virtual load balancing appliance. A purpose-built load balancer provides additional security, greater scalability (up to 32 nodes per cluster), improved performance, and fine-grained traffic control.

Migrate from NLB to ELB

It is possible to migrate to an external load balancer (ELB) after NLB has already been configured. To do this, follow the guidance provided in my latest blog post on the KEMP Technologies blog entitled “Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers”.

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to External Load Balancer

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Deployment Guide for KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

Migrating DirectAccess from NLB to KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

Load Balancing DirectAccess with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancers

DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks Webinar with KEMP Technologies

DirectAccess Single NIC Load Balancing with KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

Configuring the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer for DirectAccess NLS

Enable DirectAccess Load Balancing Video

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Pre-Order

Update: My new DirectAccess book is now available for purchase. Details here.

I am pleased to announce that my new book, Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 from Apress Media, is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com!

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

This book contains detailed and prescriptive guidance for the planning, design, implementation, and support of a DirectAccess remote access solution on Windows Server 2016. It also includes valuable insight, tips, tricks, and best practice recommendations gained from my many years of deploying DirectAccess for some of the largest organizations in the world.

Current DirectAccess administrators will also find this book helpful, as the majority of content is still applicable to DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. In addition, the book also includes essential information on the design and deployment of highly available and geographically redundant DirectAccess deployments.

Troubleshooting DirectAccess can be a daunting task, so I’ve dedicated an entire chapter in the book to this topic. For those responsible for the maintenance and support of DirectAccess in their organization, this chapter alone will be worth the investment.

Be sure to reserve your copy today!

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).

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.

3 Important Things You Need to Know about Windows 10 and DirectAccess

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better TogetherDirectAccess has been with us for quite some time know, having been originally introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2, later enhanced with Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) 2010, and finally integrated in to the base operating system in Windows Server 2012 R2. Client support for DirectAccess begins with Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate), and also includes Windows 8.x (Enterprise) and Windows 10 (Enterprise or Education).

Although Windows 7 clients are supported for DirectAccess, Windows 10 is highly preferred. Here are three important things you need to know about using Windows 10 with DirectAccess.

  1. Windows 10 Provides Improved Performance and Scalability – Windows 10 includes support for null encryption when using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol. This eliminates the needless double-encryption performed by Windows 7 clients, and dramatically reduces the protocol overhead for clients connecting behind port-restricted firewalls. DirectAccess servers can support many more concurrent IP-HTTPS sessions with Windows 10, and it has the added benefit of making the more secure perimeter/DMZ deployment behind an edge security device performing NAT much more attractive.
  2. Windows 10 Supports Geographic Redundancy – Windows 10 includes full support for DirectAccess multisite deployments. Where Windows 7 clients had to be assigned to a single entry point, Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points in the organization. They are able to automatically select the nearest entry point on startup, and transparently failover to another site if the current site becomes unavailable.
  3. Windows 10 Features an Enhanced Management Experience – From a troubleshooting and support perspective, Windows 10 makes things much easier. The DirectAccess connectivity assistant, an optional component for Windows 7, is now fully integrated with the Windows 10 UI. PowerShell is greatly improved and now includes many native DirectAccess configuration and troubleshooting commands.

As you can see, there are a number of significant advantages for using Windows 10 with DirectAccess. Windows 10 now supports all of the enterprise features of DirectAccess, including geographic redundancy and performance and scalability improvements. Windows 10 is also easier to troubleshoot and manage. If you’re still supporting Windows 7, DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 can certainly support them. However, without a doubt the best experience, both from an administrator’s and the end user’s perspective, is with Windows 10. Just one more reason to begin planning your migration to Windows 10 with DirectAccess today!

Need assistance with implementing  DirectAccess with Windows 10? I can help! More details here.

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.

WEBINAR: Maximize Your Investment in Windows 10 with DirectAccess and the Kemp LoadMaster

Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load BalancerWith the recent release of Microsoft’s Windows 10 client operating system, many organizations are now planning their migration to Windows 10 from previous versions. For those organizations looking to maximize their investment in Windows 10, many are considering the deployment of DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better TogetherDirectAccess and Windows 10 are much better together. Windows 10 includes full support for all of the important enterprise features of DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2, including geographic redundancy, transparent site selection, and IP-HTTPS performance improvements. The Kemp LoadMaster load balancer can be used to extend and enhance the native high availability features of DirectAccess, and it can be used to reduce supporting infrastructure requirements.

To learn more about maximizing your investment in Windows 10 with DirectAccess and the Kemp LoadMaster load balancer, be sure to attend our upcoming webinar on Thursday, October 15 when I’ll discuss in detail and demonstrate the advantages of Windows 10 and the Kemp LoadMaster load balancer.

You can register for the Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess and Kemp Technologies LoadMaster webinar here.

Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancer

Configuring Multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Instances

DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 supports many different deployment configurations. It can be deployed with a single server, multiple servers in a single location, multiple servers in multiple locations, edge facing, in a perimeter or DMZ network, etc.

Global Settings

There are a number of important DirectAccess settings that are global in scope and apply to all DirectAccess clients, such as certificate authentication, force tunneling, one-time password, and many more. For example, if you configure DirectAccess to use Kerberos Proxy instead of certificates for authentication, Windows 7 clients are not supported. In this scenario it is advantageous to have a second parallel DirectAccess deployment configured specifically for Windows 7 clients. This allows Windows 8 clients to take advantage of the performance gains afforded by Kerberos Proxy, while at the same time providing an avenue of support for Windows 7 clients.

Parallel Deployments

To the surprise of many, it is indeed possible to deploy DirectAccess more than once in an organization. I’ve been helping customers deploy DirectAccess for nearly five years now, and I’ve done this on more than a few occasions. In fact, there are some additional important uses cases that having more than one DirectAccess deployment can address.

Common Use Cases

QA and Testing – Having a separate DirectAccess deployment to perform testing and quality assurance can be quite helpful. Here you can validate configuration changes and verify updates without potential negative impact on the production deployment.

Delegated Administration – DirectAccess provides support for geographic redundancy, allowing administrators to create DirectAccess entry points in many different locations. DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 lacks support for delegated administration though, and in some cases it may make more sense to have multiple separate deployments as opposed to a single, multisite deployment. For example, many organizations are divided in to different business units internally and may operate autonomously. They may also have different configuration requirements, which can be better addressed using individual DirectAccess implementations.

Migration – If you have currently deployed DirectAccess using Windows Server 2008 R2 with or without Forefront UAG 2010, migrating to Windows Server 2012 R2 can be challenging because a direct, in-place upgrade is not supported. You can, however, deploy DirectAccess using Windows Server 2012 R2 in parallel to your existing deployment and simply migrate users to the new solution by moving the DirectAccess client computer accounts to a new security group assigned to the new deployment.

Major Configuration Changes – This strategy is also useful for scenarios where implementing changes to the DirectAccess configuration would be disruptive for remote users. For example, changing from a single site to a multisite configuration would typically require that all DirectAccess clients be on the LAN or connect remotely out-of-band to receive group policy settings changes after multisite is first configured. In addition, parallel deployments can significantly ease the pain of transitioning to a new root CA if required.

Unique Client Requirements – Having a separate deployment may be required to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each client operating system. For example, Windows 10 clients do not support Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) integration. NAP is a global setting in DirectAccess and applies to all clients. If you still require NAP integration and endpoint validation using NAP for Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, another DirectAccess deployment will be required to support Windows 10 clients.

Requirements

To support multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess deployments in the same organization, the following is required:

Unique IP Addresses – It probably goes without saying, but each DirectAccess deployment must have unique internal and external IPv4 addresses.

Distinct Public Hostname – The public hostname used for each deployment must also be unique. Multi-SAN certificates have limited support for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS (public hostname must be the first entry in the list), so consider using a wildcard certificate or obtain certificates individually for each deployment.

Group Policy Objects – You must use unique Active Directory Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to support multiple DirectAccess deployments in a single organization. You have the option to specify a unique GPO when you configure DirectAccess for the first time by clicking the Change link next to GPO Settings on the Remote Access Review screen.

Configuring Multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Instances

Enter a distinct name for both the client and server GPOs. Click Ok and then click Apply to apply the DirectAccess settings for this deployment.

Configuring Multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Instances

Windows 7 DirectAccess Connectivity Assistant (DCA) GPOs – If the DirectAccess Connectivity Assistant (DCA) v2.0 has been deployed for Windows 7 clients, separate GPOs containing the DCA client settings for each individual deployment will have to be configured. Each DirectAccess deployment will have unique Dynamic Tunnel Endpoint (DTE) IPv6 addresses which are used by the DCA to confirm corporate network connectivity. The rest of the DCA settings can be the same, if desired.

Supporting Infrastructure

The rest of the supporting infrastructure (AD DS, PKI, NLS, etc.) can be shared between the individual DirectAccess deployments without issue. Once you’ve deployed multiple DirectAccess deployments, make sure that DirectAccess clients DO NOT belong to more than one DirectAccess client security group to prevent connectivity issues.

Migration Process

Moving DirectAccess client computers from the old security group to the new one is all that’s required to migrate clients from one DirectAccess deployment to another. Client machines will need to be restarted to pick up the new security group membership, at which time they will also get the DirectAccess client settings for the new deployment. This works seamlessly when clients are on the internal network. It works well for clients that are outside the network too, for the most part. Because clients must be restarted to get the new settings, it can take some time before all clients finally moved over. To speed up this process it is recommended that DirectAccess client settings GPOs be targeted at a specific OUs created for the migration process. A staging OU is created for clients in the old deployment and a production OU is created for clients to be assigned to the new deployment. DirectAccess client settings GPOs are then targeted at those OUs accordingly. Migrating then only requires moving a DirectAccess client from the old OU to the new one. Since OU assignment does not require a reboot, clients can be migrated much more quickly using this method.

Summary

DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2 supports many different deployment models. For a given DirectAccess deployment model, some settings are global in scope and may not provide the flexibility required by some organizations. To address these challenges, consider a parallel deployment of DirectAccess. This will enable you to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each client operating system, or allow you to meet the often disparate configuration requirements that a single deployment cannot support.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

With last week’s release of Windows 10, many organizations who chose to skip Windows 8 are now beginning to deploy Windows 10. To maximize investment in Windows 10, DirectAccess can be leveraged to provide employees with seamless and transparent, always on, secure remote corporate network connectivity. DirectAccess has been around for many years, and today the most popular DirectAccess client is Windows 7. However, Windows 10 provides better support for DirectAccess features that enhance performance and availability, while at the same making it easier to implement and support. Windows 10 opens up many new and compelling deployment scenarios for small businesses to large scale enterprises.

Full Support for Geographic Redundancy

Without a doubt the most important DirectAccess feature Windows 10 supports is automatic entry point selection and transparent failover for multisite deployments. DirectAccess multisite deployment provides essential geographic redundancy for organizations with multiple physical locations. Windows 7 has only minimal support for multisite deployment, with clients required to be assigned to a single entry point. Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points and will intelligently select the closest entry point when establishing a DirectAccess connection. If the entry point becomes unavailable during the connection, Windows 10 clients will transparently connect to another entry point automatically.

Better Scalability and Performance

Windows 10, like Windows 8 before it, includes support for IP-HTTPS null encryption. This feature greatly improves scalability on the DirectAccess server by eliminating the needless double encryption that Windows 7 clients perform. This reduces resource consumption on the server and enables the server to support many more DirectAccess client connections.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Enhanced Supportability

Many will also appreciate Windows 10’s built-in DirectAccess connectivity status indicator. No longer will administrators have to deploy, manage, and maintain additional software to provide this essential functionality.

To access DirectAccess information in Windows 10, press Window Key + I, click Network & Internet, and then click the DirectAccess tab. Here you will find vital details about DirectAccess configuration and status such as connection state, currently connected entry point, and a site selection drop down box (if manual site selection is enabled by an administrator). In addition you can generate and collect log information for troubleshooting purposes.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Native PowerShell Support

Anyone tasked with troubleshooting DirectAccess configuration and connectivity issues will appreciate the native PowerShell integration with DirectAccess in Windows 10. With just a few commands a wealth of information about DirectAccess configuration and connectivity status can be obtained.

Need to quickly determine if a Windows 10 client has been provisioned for DirectAccess successfully?

Get-DAClientExperienceConfiguration

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Has the Windows 10 client connected successfully? If not, why?

Get-DAConnectionStatus

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Need to identify the Network Location Server (NLS) the client is configured to use?

Get-NCSIPolicyConfiguration

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

Looking for DirectAccess multisite entry point details and connection status?

Get-DAEntryPointTableItem

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

PKI Optional (But Recommended)

Finally, when Windows 10 (and Windows 8.x) clients are supported exclusively a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) is optional. Here instead the Kerberos Proxy is leveraged to perform DirectAccess client authentication, which reduces infrastructure requirements by eliminating the need for a PKI. However, this configuration offers only limited support for DirectAccess features. For example, a PKI is still required if any Windows 7 clients are deployed. Also, PKI is required to support features such as one-time password (OTP) authentication, Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) integration, load balancing (integrated or external), force tunneling, and multisite configuration.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together

For optimum security and maximum deployment flexibility it is recommended that PKI be used to manage certificates for all DirectAccess deployments including those supporting only Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients.

Summary

DirectAccess and Windows 10 are much better together. Windows 10 provides full support for the geographic load balancing features of DirectAccess and at the same time offers improved scalability and performance. Windows 10 also makes supporting and troubleshooting DirectAccess clients much easier. And for smaller deployments, Windows 10 can lower the barrier to entry for organizations considering DirectAccess by eliminating the need for a full PKI deployment.

Additional Resources

Video: DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Action
DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2 Video Training Course
DirectAccess Consulting Services

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Introduction

For a DirectAccess deployment, the Network Location Server (NLS) is an infrastructure component that allows DirectAccess clients to determine if they are inside or outside of the corporate network. If the DirectAccess client can successfully connect to the NLS, it is on the internal network and DirectAccess is not used. If the NLS cannot be contacted, the client is outside of the network and will attempt to establish remote corporate network connectivity using DirectAccess.

High Availability

It is recommended that the NLS be made highly available by deploying at least two servers in a load balanced configuration to avoid potential service disruptions for DirectAccess clients inside the corporate network. While this approach is sufficient for networks that are contained in a single physical location, it does present some challenges for large organizations with internal networks that span multiple physical locations.

NLS Challenges

For DirectAccess, only a single NLS URL can be configured per DirectAccess deployment, as shown here.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

If a WAN outage occurs on an internal network that spans multiple physical locations, internal DirectAccess clients in locations other than where the NLS resides will mistakenly believe they are outside of the corporate network. This can lead to degraded performance and potential loss of connectivity. NLS reliability can still be improved when the internal network spans multiple physical locations by deploying NLS at each physical location and configuring clients to use a local NLS. This will keep traffic off of the WAN and prevent service disruptions in the event of a WAN outage.

Redundant NLS

There are several strategies that can be used to configure internal DirectAccess clients to use a local NLS, including DNS round robin, a network load balancer, or Active Directory Group Policy. Using DNS or a load balancer requires only a single NLS URL. Using Active Directory Group Policy requires a unique NLS URL per physical location.

DNS

The simplest way to enable DirectAccess clients to use a local NLS is to use DNS round robin and take advantage of subnet prioritization. To do this, create an “A” resource record in DNS that resolves to the IPv4 address for each NLS. On the DNS server, open the DNS Manager, right-click the DNS server and choose Properties. Click the Advanced tab and select the options to Enable round robin and Enable netmask ordering.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

This will ensure that name resolution requests for the NLS FQDN will be returned with the nearest NLS. More information about DNS netmask ordering can be found here.

Load Balancer

A Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) solution can also be employed to route requests to a local NLS. Examples include F5 Global Traffic Manager (GTM) and Kemp Technologies LoadMaster GEO. Prescriptive guidance for configuring the Kemp LoadMaster for this scenario can be found here.

Group Policy

This method involves creating unique NLS URLs per site and overriding the default DirectAccess client configuration using Active Directory Group Policy. Separate Group Policy Objects (GPOs) are created and linked to Active Directory Sites to assign a local NLS to internal DirectAccess clients. To accomplish this, create a new GPO for each location where NLS will reside. Edit the GPO and navigate to Computer Configuration/Policies/Administrative Templates/Network/Network Connectivity Status Indicator. Double-click Specify domain location determination URL, choose Enabled, and then enter the URL that corresponds to the NLS for that location.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

In the Remote Access Management Console, edit the Infrastructure Server Setup (Step 3) and add the FQDN for each NLS. Do not specify a DNS server. This effectively creates a Name Resolution Policy Table (NRPT) exemption so the NLS cannot be reached when the DirectAccess client is connected remotely.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

In the Group Policy Management Console right-click on Sites and choose Show Sites.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Select each Active Directory site where NLS will reside.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Link the GPOs for each NLS to the corresponding site, then right-click the linked GPO and choose Enforced.

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Note: Do not install the NLS on a domain controller! By design, the NLS is not reachable remotely by DirectAccess clients. This can lead to potential authentication issues and may prevent DirectAccess clients from connecting successfully.

Client Testing

To confirm that a client computer has been configured to use a local NLS, verify the currently associated Active Directory site by issuing the following command on the DirectAccess client computer:

nltest /dsgetsite

Next, confirm the setting of the NLS by issuing the following command:

Get-NCSIPolicyConfiguration

As a reference, here are examples from two DirectAccess clients in two different internal physical locations:

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

DirectAccess NLS Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Summary

The limitation of a single Network Location Server (NLS) URL for a DirectAccess deployment presents some challenges for DirectAccess architects seeking to eliminate single points of failure in their design. Using the techniques described in this article, administrators can ensure that DirectAccess clients will always connect to a local NLS, eliminating potential failure points and improving the overall reliability of the solution.

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