DirectAccess and Always On VPN with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Certificates

DirectAccess and Always On VPN with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) CertificatesTo enhance security when provisioning certificates for DirectAccess (computer) or Windows 10 Always On VPN (user) it is recommended that private keys be stored on a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) on the client device. A TPM is a dedicated security processor included in nearly all modern computers. It provides essential hardware protection to ensure the highest levels of integrity for digital certificates and is used to generate, store, and restrict the use of cryptographic keys. It also includes advanced security and protection features such as key isolation, non-exportability, and anti-hammering to prevent brute-force attacks.

To ensure that private keys are created and stored on a TPM, the certificate template must be configured to use the Microsoft Platform Crypto Provider. Follow the steps below to configure a certificate template required to use a TPM.

  1. Open the Certificate Templates management console (certtmpl.msc) and duplicate an existing certificate template. For example, if creating a certificate for DirectAccess, duplicate the Workstation Authentication certificate template. For Always On VPN, duplicate the User certificate template.
  2. On the Compatibility tab, ensure the Certification Authority and Certificate recipient compatibility settings are set to a minimum of Windows Server 2008 and Windows Vista/Server 2008, respectively.DirectAccess and Always On VPN with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Certificates
  3. Select the Cryptography tab.
  4. Choose Key Storage Provider from the Provider Category drop down list.
  5. Choose the option Requests must use one of the following providers and select Microsoft Platform Crypto Provider.DirectAccess and Always On VPN with Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Certificates

Note: If Microsoft Platform Crypto Provider does not appear in the list above, got to the Request Handling tab and uncheck the option Allow private key to be exported.

Complete the remaining certificate configuration tasks (template display name, subject name, security settings, etc.) and publish the certificate template. Client machines configured to use this template will now have a certificate with private key fully protected by the TPM.

Additional Resources

Trusted Platform Module (TPM) Fundamentals

DirectAccess and Always On VPN Certificate Auto Enrollment

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

NetMotion MobilityOne of the many advantages NetMotion Mobility offers is that it requires no proprietary hardware to deliver its advanced capabilities and performance. It is a software solution that can be installed on any physical or virtual Windows server. This provides great deployment flexibility by allowing administrators to deploy this remote access solution on their existing virtual infrastructure, which is much less costly than investing in dedicated hardware or virtual appliances.

Cloud Deployment

As customers begin moving their traditional on-premises infrastructure to the cloud, it’s good to know that NetMotion Mobility is fully supported in popular public cloud platforms such as Microsoft Azure. Installing and configuring Mobility on a server in Azure requires a few important changes to a standard Azure VM deployment however. Below is detailed guidance for installing and configuring NetMotion Mobility on a Windows Server 2016 virtual machine hosted in the Microsoft Azure public cloud.

Azure Networking Configuration

Before installing the NetMotion Mobility software, follow the steps below to configure the Azure VM with a static public IP address and enable IP forwarding on the internal network interface.

  1. In the Azure management portal, select the NetMotion Mobility virtual machine and click Networking.
  2. Click on the public-facing network interface.
  3. In the Settings section click IP configurations.
  4. In the IP configurations section click on the IP configuration for the network interface.
  5. In the Public IP address setting section click Enabled for the Public IP address.
  6. Click Configure required settings for the IP address.
  7. Click Create New.
  8. Enter a descriptive name and select Static as the assignment method.
    Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure
  9. Click OK
  10. Click Save.Deploying NetMotion Mobility in AzureNote: The process of saving the network interface configuration takes a few minutes. Be patient!
  11. Note the public IP address, as this will be used later during the Mobility configuration.
  12. Close the IP address configuration blade.
  13. In the IP forwarding settings section click Enabled for IP forwarding.Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure
  14. Click Save.

NetMotion Mobility Installation

Proceed with the installation of NetMotion Mobility. When prompted for the external address, enter the public IP address created previously.

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

Next choose the option to Use pool of virtual IP addresses. Click Add and enter the starting and ending IP addresses, subnet prefix length, and default gateway and click OK.

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

Complete the remaining NetMotion Mobility configuration as required.

Azure Routing Table

A user defined routing table must be configured to ensure that NetMotion Mobility client traffic is routed correctly in Azure. Follow the steps below to complete the configuration.

  1. In the Azure management portal click New.
  2. In the Search the Marketplace field enter route table.
  3. In the results section click Route table.
  4. Click Create.
  5. Enter a descriptive name and select a subscription, resource group, and location.
  6. Click Create.

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

Once the deployment has completed successfully, click Go to resource in the notifications list.

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

Follow the steps below to add a route to the route table.

  1. In the Settings sections click Routes.
  2. Click Add.
  3. Enter a descriptive name.
  4. In the Address prefix field enter the subnet used by mobility clients defined earlier.
  5. Select Virtual appliance as the Next hop type.
  6. Enter the IP address of the NetMotion Mobility server’s internal network interface.
  7. Click OK.Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure
  8. Click Subnets.
  9. Click Associate.
  10. Click Choose a virtual network and select the network where the NetMotion Mobility gateway resides.
  11. Click Choose a subnet and select the subnet where the NetMotion Mobility gateway’s internal network interface resides.
  12. Click OK.

Note: If clients connecting to the NetMotion Mobility server need to access resources on-premises via a site-to-site gateway, be sure to associate the route table with the Azure gateway subnet.

Azure Network Security Group

A network security group must be configured to allow inbound UDP port 5008 to allow external clients to reach the NetMotion Mobility gateway server. Follow the steps below to create and assign a network security group.

  1. In the Azure management portal click New.
  2. In the Search the Marketplace field enter network security group.
  3. In the results section click Network security group.
  4. Click Create.
  5. Enter a descriptive name and select a subscription, resource group, and location.
  6. Click Create.

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

Once the deployment has completed successfully, click Go to resource in the notifications list.

Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure

Follow the steps below to configure the network security group.

  1. In the Settings section click Inbound security rules.
  2. Click Add.
  3. Enter 5008 in the Destination port ranges field.
  4. Select UDP for the protocol.
  5. Select Allow for the action.
  6. Enter a descriptive name.
  7. Click OK.
    Deploying NetMotion Mobility in Azure
  8. Click Network Interfaces.
  9. Click Associate.
  10. Select the external network interface of the NetMotion Mobility gateway server.

Summary

After completing the steps above, install the client software and configure it to use the static public IP address created previously. Alternatively, configure a DNS record to point to the public IP address and specify the Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN) instead of the IP address itself.

Additional Resources

Enabling Secure Remote Administration for the NetMotion Mobility Console

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to Microsoft DirectAccess

NetMotion Mobility and Microsoft DirectAccess Comparison Whitepaper

NetMotion and Microsoft DirectAccess On-Demand Webinar

What is the Difference Between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?

Always On VPN Device Tunnel Configuration Guidance Now AvailableDirectAccess has been around for many years, and with Microsoft now moving in the direction of Always On VPN, I’m often asked “What’s the difference between DirectAccess and Always On VPN?” Fundamentally they both provide seamless and transparent, always on remote access. However, Always On VPN has a number of advantages over DirectAccess in terms of security, authentication and management, performance, and supportability.

Security

DirectAccess provides full network connectivity when a client is connected remotely. It lacks any native features to control access on a granular basis. It is possible to restrict access to internal resources by placing a firewall between the DirectAccess server and the LAN, but the policy would apply to all connected clients.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for granular traffic filtering. Where DirectAccess provides access to all internal resources when connected, Always On VPN allows administrators to restrict client access to internal resources in a variety of ways. In addition, traffic filter policies can be applied on a per-user or group basis. For example, users in accounting can be granted access only to their department servers. The same could be done for HR, finance, IT, and others.

Authentication and Management

DirectAccess includes support for strong user authentication with smart cards and one-time password (OTP) solutions. However, there is no provision to grant access based on device configuration or health, as that feature was removed in Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10. In addition, DirectAccess requires that clients and servers be joined to a domain, as all configuration settings are managed using Active Directory group policy.

Windows 10 Always On VPN includes support for modern authentication and management, which results in better overall security. Always On VPN clients can be joined to an Azure Active Directory and conditional access can also be enabled. Modern authentication support using Azure MFA and Windows Hello for Business is also supported. Always On VPN is managed using Mobile Device Management (MDM) solutions such as Microsoft Intune.

Performance

DirectAccess uses IPsec with IPv6, which must be encapsulated in TLS to be routed over the public IPv4 Internet. IPv6 traffic is then translated to IPv4 on the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess performance is often acceptable when clients have reliable, high quality Internet connections. However, if connection quality is fair to poor, the high protocol overhead of DirectAccess with its multiple layers of encapsulation and translation often yields poor performance.

The protocol of choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments is IKEv2. It offers the best security and performance when compared to TLS-based protocols. In addition, Always On VPN does not rely exclusively on IPv6 as DirectAccess does. This reduces the many layers of encapsulation and eliminates the need for complex IPv6 transition and translation technologies, further improving performance over DirectAccess.

Supportability

DirectAccess is a Microsoft-proprietary solution that must be deployed using Windows Server and Active Directory. It also requires a Network Location Server (NLS) for clients to determine if they are inside or outside the network. NLS availability is crucial and ensuring that it is always reachable by internal clients can pose challenges, especially in very large organizations.

Windows 10 Always On VPN supporting infrastructure is much less complex than DirectAccess. There’s no requirement for a NLS, which means fewer servers to provision, manage, and monitor. In addition, Always On VPN is completely infrastructure independent and can be deployed using third-party VPN servers such as Cisco, Checkpoint, SonicWALL, Palo Alto, and more.

Summary

Windows 10 Always On VPN is the way of the future. It provides better overall security than DirectAccess, it performs better, and it is easier to manage and support.

Here’s a quick summary of some important aspects of VPN, DirectAccess, and Windows 10 Always On VPN.

Traditional VPN DirectAccess Always On VPN
Seamless and Transparent No Yes Yes
Automatic Connection Options None Always on Always on, app triggered
Protocol Support IPv4 and IPv6 IPv6 Only IPv4 and IPv6
Traffic Filtering No No Yes
Azure AD Integration No No Yes
Modern Management Yes No (group policy only) Yes (MDM)
Clients must be domain-joined? No Yes No
Requires Microsoft Infrastructure No Yes No
Supports Windows 7 Yes Yes Windows 10 only

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

If you are interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN, consider registering for one of my hands-on training classes. More details here.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

5 Important Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Windows 10 Always On VPN

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)Windows 10 Always On VPN is infrastructure independent and can be implemented using third-party VPN devices. It is not necessary to deploy any Windows servers at all to support an Always On VPN solution. However, in a recent blog post I outlined some compelling reasons to consider using Windows Server 2016’s Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) feature to terminate VPN connections. RRAS supports both modern and legacy VPN protocols, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of which protocols to support will be determined by many factors, but it is important to understand the capabilities of each to make an informed decision.

RRAS VPN Protocols

Windows RRAS supports the following VPN protocols.

  • Internet Key Exchange version 2 (IKEv2) – RFC7296
  • Secure Sockets Tunneling Protocol (SSTP) – Microsoft
  • Layer Two Tunneling Protocol over IPsec (L2TP/IPsec) – RFC2661
  • Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) – RFC2637

There are pros and cons associated with each of these VPN protocols. Here’s a breakdown of each.

IKEv2

This IPsec-based VPN protocol is the preferred choice for most deployments. IKEv2 provides the best security and performance, with native features that enhance mobility. This latest version of IKE (v2) features streamlined messaging during connection establishment and enhanced session management that reduce protocol overhead and improve performance.

Advantages: Best security and performance.
Disadvantages: Firewalls may block required UDP ports.

SSTP

SSTP is an excellent alternative to IKEv2. It uses industry standard Transport Layer Security (TLS), making it widely accessible from most locations. It provides good security out of the box, but can be improved upon with additional configuration. SSTP lends itself well to load balancing, making it much easier to scale out than IKEv2. Optionally, TLS can be offloaded to an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) to reduce resource utilization on the RRAS server and further improve performance.

Advantages: Easy to configure with firewall friendly access.
Disadvantages: Not as secure IKEv2.

L2TP

While technically supported for Always On VPN, L2TP is a legacy VPN protocol that offers no real advantages over IKEv2. Its use is unnecessary and should be avoided.

Advantages: None.
Disadvantages: Firewalls may block required UDP ports.

PPTP

PPTP is considered an obsolete VPN protocol with many known security vulnerabilities. Its use should be avoided at all costs.

Advantages: None.
Disadvantages: Insecure.

Summary

Implementation best practices dictate that IKEv2 and SSTP be enabled to support Windows 10 Always On VPN connections when using Windows Server 2016 RRAS. The use of L2TP/IPsec and PPTP should be avoided. The combination of IKEv2 and SSTP will provide the best security and availability for remote workers. Clients that can establish IKEv2 VPN connections can take advantages of the security and performance benefits it provides. SSTP can be enabled as a fallback for clients that are unable to establish an IKEv2 connection due to restricted firewall access.

Always On VPN Hands-On Training

Interested in learning more about Windows 10 Always On VPN? Hands-on training classes are now forming. More details here.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions about Microsoft’s PPTP Implementation

Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Services (RRAS)

Windows 10 Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know about Always On VPN 

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over DirectAccess 

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training Classes

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel ConfigurationIn its default configuration, NetMotion Mobility connections are established at the user level. In most cases this level of access is sufficient, but there are some common uses cases that require VPN connectivity before the user logs on. Examples include provisioning a new device to a user who has never logged on before, or to allow support engineers to connect to a remote device without requiring a user to log in first.

Infrastructure Requirements

To support NetMotion Mobility’s “unattended mode” (device tunnel) it will be necessary to deploy a Windows Server 2016 (or 2012R2) Network Policy Server (NPS). In addition, an internal private certification authority (CA) will be required to issue certificates to the NPS server and all NetMotion Mobility client computers.

Client Certificate Requirements

A certificate with the Client Authentication Enhanced Key Usage (EKU) must be provisioned to the local computer certificate store on all NetMotion Mobility clients that require a device tunnel (figure 1). The subject name on the certificate must match the fully qualified domain name of the client computer (figure 2). It is recommended that certificate auto enrollment be used to streamline the provisioning process.

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Figure 1. Computer certificate with Client Authentication EKU.

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Figure 2. Computer certificate with subject name matching the client computer’s hostname.

NPS Server Certificate Requirements

A certificate with the Server Authentication EKU must be provisioned to the local computer certificate store on the NPS server (figure 3). The subject name on the certificate must match the fully qualified domain name of the NPS server (figure 4).

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Figure 3. Computer certificate with Server Authentication EKU.

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Figure 4. Computer certificate with subject name matching the NPS server’s hostname.

NPS Server Configuration

Next install the NPS server role by running the following PowerShell command.

Install-WindowsFeature NPAS -IncludeMamagementTools

Once complete, open the NPS server management console and perform the following steps.

Note: Below is a highly simplified NPS configuration designed for a single use case. It is provided for demonstration purposes only. The NPS server may be used by more than one network access server (NAS) so the example policies included below may not work in every deployment.

  1. Expand RADIUS Clients and Servers.
  2. Right-click RADIUS clients and choose New.
  3. Select the option to Enable this RADIUS client.
  4. Enter a friendly name.
  5. Enter the IP address or hostname of the NetMotion gateway server.
  6. Click Verify to validate the hostname or IP address.
  7. Select Manual to enter a shared secret, or select Generate to create one automatically.
  8. Copy the shared secret as it will be required when configure the NetMotion Mobility gateway server later.
  9. Click OK.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  10. Expand Policies.
  11. Right-click Network Policies and choose New.
  12. Enter a descriptive name for the new policy.
  13. Select Type of network access server and choose Unspecified.
  14. Click Next.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  15. Click Add.
  16. Select Client IPv4 Address.
  17. Click Add.
  18. Enter the internal IPv4 address of the NetMotion Mobility gateway server.
  19. Click OK.
  20. Click Next.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  21. Select Access granted.
  22. Click Next.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  23. Click Add.
  24. Choose Microsoft: Protected EAP (PEAP).
  25. Click OK.
  26. Select Microsoft: Protected EAP (PEAP).
  27. Click Edit.
  28. Choose the appropriate certificate in the Certificate issued to drop down list.
  29. Select Secure password (EAP-MSCHAP v2).
  30. Click Remove.
  31. Click Add.
  32. Choose Smart Card or other certificate.
  33. Click OK.
  34. Select Smart Card or other certificate.
  35. Click Edit.
  36. Choose the appropriate certificate in the Certificate issued to drop down list.
  37. Click OK.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  38. Uncheck all options beneath Less secure authentication methods.
  39. Click Next three times.
  40. Click Finish.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Mobility Server Configuration

Open the NetMotion Mobility management console and perform the following steps.

  1. In the drop-down menu click Configure.
  2. Click Authentication Settings.
  3. Click New.
  4. Enter a descriptive name for the new authentication profile.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Expand Authentication.
  7. Select Mode.
  8. Select Unattended Mode Authentication Setting Override.
  9. From the Authentication mode drop-down box choose Unattended.
  10. Click Apply.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  11. Expand RADIUS: Device Authentication.
  12. Select Servers.
  13. Select [Profile Name] Authentication Setting Override.
  14. Click Add.
  15. Enter the IP address of the NPS server.
  16. Enter the port (default is 1812).
  17. Enter the shared secret.
  18. Click OK.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration
  19. In the drop-down menu click Configure.
  20. Click Client Settings.
  21. Expand Device Settings.
  22. Select the device group to enable unattended mode for.
  23. Expand Authentication.
  24. Select Settings Profile.
  25. Select [Device Group Name] Group Settings Override.
  26. In the Profile drop-down menu choose the authentication profile created previously.
  27. Click Apply.
    NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Validation Testing

If everything is configured correctly, the NetMotion Mobility client will now indicate that the user and the device have been authenticated.

NetMotion Mobility Device Tunnel Configuration

Summary

Enabling unattended mode with NetMotion Mobility provides feature parity with DirectAccess machine tunnel and Windows 10 Always On VPN device tunnel. It ensures that domain connectivity is available before the user logs on. This allows users to log on remotely without cached credentials. It also allows administrators to continue working seamlessly on a remote computer after a reboot without having a user present to log on.

Additional Resources

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

 

DirectAccess and FIPS Compliant Algorithms for Encryption

DirectAccess administrators may be required to enable Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS) compliant algorithms for encryption, hashing, and signing on DirectAccess servers to meet certain regulatory and compliance requirements.

DirectAccess and FIPS Compliant Algorithms for Encryption

Performance Impact

Be advised that enabling this setting will disable support for null cipher suites for the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. This will result in the double encryption of all DirectAccess client communication, which will increase resource consumption on DirectAccess servers. This leads to reduced scalability and degraded performance for all DirectAccess clients, including Windows 8.x and Windows 10.

If enabling FIPS compliant cannot be avoided, additional compute capacity (CPU and memory) should be provisioned. For best results, add additional servers to distribute the workload and improve performance for DirectAccess clients.

Always On VPN

If you’re looking for better security and performance, consider migrating to Windows 10 Always On VPN. Always On VPN fully supports FIPS compliant algorithms without the negative performance impact associated with DirectAccess. If you’d like to learn more about security and Always On VPN, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Resources

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN 

3 Important Advantages of Always On VPN over DirectAccess 

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPN

5 Things DirectAccess Administrators Should Know About Always On VPNWindows 10 Always On VPN hands-on training classes now forming. Details here.

As I’ve written about previously, Microsoft is no longer investing in DirectAccess going forward. There will be no new features or functionality added to the product in the future. Microsoft is now investing in Always On VPN in Windows 10, with new features being released with each semi-annual update of the operating system. But as Microsoft continues to make the push toward Always On VPN over DirectAccess, many administrators have asked about the ramifications of this shift in focus for enterprise remote access. Here are a few points to consider.

It’s the same thing, only different.

Always On VPN provides the same seamless, transparent, always on experience as DirectAccess. Under the covers, the mechanics of how that’s accomplished changes a bit, but fundamentally the user experience is exactly the same. Once a user logs on to their device, a VPN connection is established automatically and the user will have secure remote access to corporate resources.

The connection is still secure.

Where DirectAccess uses IPsec and Connection Security Rules (CSRs) to establish its secure tunnels, Always On VPN uses traditional client-based VPN protocols such as IKEv2, SSTP, L2TP, and PPTP. Both DirectAccess and Always On VPN use certificates for authentication. However, where DirectAccess uses machine certificates to authenticate the computer, Always On VPN leverages user certificates to authenticate the user.

(Note: Machine certificates will be required for Always On VPN when using the optional device tunnel configuration. I will publish more details about this configuration option in a future article.)

Provisioning and managing clients is different.

The administrative experience for Always On VPN is much different than it is with DirectAccess. Where DirectAccess made use of Active Directory and group policy for managing client and server settings, Always On VPN clients must be provisioned using a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution such as Microsoft Intune, or any third-party MDM platform. Optionally, Always On VPN clients can be provisioned using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), or manually using PowerShell.

Security is enhanced.

Always On VPN has the potential to provide much more security and protection than DirectAccess. Always On VPN supports traffic filtering, allowing administrators to restrict remote client communication by IP address, protocol, port, or application. By contrast, DirectAccess allows full access to the internal network after user logon with no native capability to restrict access. In addition, Always On VPN supports integration with Azure Active Directory, which enables conditional access and multifactor authentication scenarios.

It’s built for the future.

Always On VPN also provides support for modern authentication mechanisms like Windows Hello for Business. In addition, Windows Information Protection (WIP) integration is supported to provide essential protection for enterprise data.

Summary

Microsoft set the bar pretty high with DirectAccess. Users love the seamless and transparent access it provides, and administrators reap the benefit of improved systems management for field based devices. Always On VPN provides those same benefits, with additional improvements in security and protection. If you’d like more information about Always On VPN, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Information

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

3 Important Advantages of Windows 10 Always On VPN over Microsoft DirectAccess

Windows 10 Always On VPN Hands-On Training

DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility Webinar

Update: You can view the on-demand recording of this webinar here.

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 CoreFor many years, DirectAccess has been the gold standard for enterprise remote access. Its seamless and transparent operation improves productivity for mobile workers, and since it is always on, administrators enjoy improved visibility and management for their field-based assets.

As incredible as DirectAccess is, it is not without its limitations. For example, DirectAccess works only with Windows Enterprise edition clients that are joined to the domain. Professional Edition and non-domain joined machines are not supported. It also lacks many of the security features enterprise organizations require, such as device health checks and granular network access. In addition, DirectAccess communication is complex, with many different layers of encapsulation, authentication, and encryption. High protocol overhead can lead to poor performance over high latency or low bandwidth connections.

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccessNetMotion Mobility is a secure remote access solution that is an excellent alternative to DirectAccess. It provides the same seamless, transparent, always on remote connectivity that DirectAccess provides, while at the same time offering much more in terms of features and capabilities. It supports a much broader range of clients, includes native Network Access Control (NAC) and application filtering, and offers enhanced performance.

To learn more about NetMotion Mobility, join me on Wednesday, September 20 at 10:00AM PDT for a free live webinar with NetMotion. I’ll provide an overview of NetMotion Mobility and how it compares with DirectAccess. I’ll also demonstrate how it can help overcome some of the inherent limitations of DirectAccess too. Register today!

DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility Webinar

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 CoreDeploying DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 core is recommended to ensure the highest level of security and availability for the remote access solution. Server core is a stripped-down, command-line only version of Windows that removes many features unnecessary to support common server workloads. It’s reduced attack surface improves security, and this leaner version of the Windows OS requires less maintenance (patching), resulting in fewer reboots which increases overall availability. It has a smaller disk and memory footprint too which results in quicker system restarts, when required.

Removing the GUI

Historically I’ve recommended that DirectAccess administrators deploy Windows server with the full GUI first, then remove it later after validation testing is complete. Prior to placing it in production, the GUI can be removed by running the following PowerShell command.

Uninstall-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra -Restart

This works flawlessly in Windows Server 2012 and Windows Server 2012 R2. However, when running this command on a Windows Server 2016 server you will receive the following error message.

Uninstall-WindowsFeature : ArgumentNotValid: The role, role service, or feature name is not valid:
‘Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra’. The name was not found.

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

Changes in Windows Server 2016

This happens because Microsoft quietly removed the option to switch back and forth between the full GUI version and the core version of Windows beginning with Windows Server 2016.

DirectAccess on Windows Server 2016 Core

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/get-started/getting-started-with-server-core

It is still recommended that DirectAccess be deployed on server core to provide the most secure and reliable experience. However, since it is no longer possible to switch from GUI to core, it must be deployed in serve core configuration upon initial installation.

Additional Information

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Configure Windows Server Core to use PowerShell by Default

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

Learn more about NetMotion Mobility by registering for my free live webinar here!

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccessAs I outlined in a recent blog post, there has been much speculation surrounding the end of life for Microsoft DirectAccess. This is not surprising, as Microsoft has not made any investments in DirectAccess since the introduction of Windows Server 2012. Recently, Microsoft began promoting its Always On VPN solution as an alternative for DirectAccess. While DirectAccess has not been formally deprecated, Microsoft is actively encouraging organizations considering DirectAccess to deploy Always On VPN instead, as indicated here.

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to Microsoft DirectAccess

Source: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-server/remote/remote-access/vpn/vpn-top#advanced-vpn-connectivity

DirectAccess Alternatives

It’s important to state that, at the time of this writing, DirectAccess is still fully supported in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016 and will be for quite some time. However, the future for DirectAccess is definitely limited, and customers should start considering alternative remote access solutions.

Always On VPN

Microsoft is positioning Always On VPN as the replacement for DirectAccess. Always On VPN offers some important new capabilities missing from DirectAccess. For example, Always On VPN supports all Windows 10 client SKUs, not just Enterprise and Education as DirectAccess does. Always On VPN includes important security enhancements such as conditional access with system health checks, access control list (ACL) enforcement per device and per application, and more.

Always On VPN Limitations

But Always On VPN has some serious limitations too. For example, Always On VPN works only with Windows 10. Windows 7 is not supported at all. Managing and supporting Always On VPN has its own challenges. It cannot be managed using Active Directory and group policy in the traditional way. You must use System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Intune, or PowerShell to configure and manage VPN clients.

NetMotion Mobility

I’m excited to announce I’ve recently partnered with NetMotion to provide their secure remote access solutions to organizations looking for alternatives to DirectAccess and Always On VPN. NetMotion Mobility provides the same seamless and transparent, always on remote access with some additional important features not included in DirectAccess and Always On VPN.

Broad Client Support – NetMotion Mobility can provide DirectAccess-like remote access for all versions and SKUs of Windows as well as Mac, iOS (iPhone and iPad), and Android.

Enhanced Security – NetMotion Mobility includes fine-grained policy enforcement to restrict network access based on a wide range of parameters including IP address, protocol, port, application, time of day, location, and type of network (e.g. wired, Wi-Fi, wireless, etc.). NetMotion Mobility also includes integrated Network Access Control (NAC) to validate device configuration prior to connecting, ensuring the highest level of security for remote endpoints. More details here and here.

Improved Performance – NetMotion Mobility client to server communication is optimized to improve reliability and performance. Network traffic is compressed and prioritized to ensure optimum performance for critical applications. Session persistence allows mobile workers to remain connected during times of poor connectivity or when roaming between different networks. More details here.

Greater Visibility – NetMotion Mobility provides a wealth of detailed information to perform analysis and troubleshooting for remote connections. Performance and diagnostic information is logged in real-time and provides administrators with crucial data and insight to quickly identify and resolve connectivity issues. More details here.

Better Supportability – NetMotion Mobility is supported by dedicated, highly trained support engineers with deep product experience. NetMotion support is not tiered. The support engineer who answers the phone will handle the case until resolution.

Learn More about NetMotion

NetMotion Mobility is a truly comprehensive remote access solution and an excellent alternative to DirectAccess. To learn more about NetMotion Mobility and to see it in action, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you. You can also register for my upcoming free live webinar here.

Additional Information

Webinar: Comparing DirectAccess and NetMotion Mobility

Always On VPN and the Future of DirectAccess

NetMotion and DirectAccess Comparison Whitepaper

NetMotion and Skype for Business demonstration video

NetMotion Website

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