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

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

DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks Webinar

KEMP Technologies LoadMaster Load BalancerEnabling load balancing for DirectAccess deployments is crucial for eliminating single points of failure and ensuring the highest levels of availability for the remote access solution. In addition, enabling load balancing allows DirectAccess administrators to quickly and efficiently add capacity in the event more processing power is required.

DirectAccess includes support for load balancing using integrated Windows Network Load Balancing (NLB) and external load balancers (physical or virtual). External load balancers are the recommended choice as they provide superior throughput, more granular traffic distribution, and greater visibility. External load balancers also more scalable, with support for much larger DirectAccess server clusters, up to 32 nodes. NLB is formally limited to 8 nodes, but because it operates at layer 2 in the OSI model and relies on broadcast heartbeat messages, it is effectively limited to 4 nodes.

The KEMP Technologies LoadMaster load balancer is an excellent choice for load balancing the DirectAccess workload. To learn more about configuring the LoadMaster with DirectAccess, join me for a free live webinar on Tuesday, August 16 at 10:00AM PDT where I’ll discuss DirectAccess load balancing in detail. I will also be sharing valuable tips, tricks, and best practices for load balancing DirectAccess.

DirectAccess Load Balancing Tips and Tricks Webinar

Don’t miss out. Register today!

Additional Resources

DirectAccess Load Balancing Overview

Load Balancing DirectAccess with the KEMP Loadmaster Load Balancer

Maximize your investment in Windows 10 with DirectAccess and the KEMP LoadMaster Load Balancer

KEMP LoadMaster DirectAccess Deployment Guide

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