Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADCOne of the many advantages of using Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) as the VPN server to support Windows 10 Always On VPN connections is that it includes support for the Secure Socket Tunneling Protocol (SSTP). SSTP is a TLS-based VPN protocol that is easy to configure and deploy and is very firewall friendly. This ensures consistent and reliable connectivity even behind restrictive firewalls. The Citrix ADC (formerly NetScaler) is a popular platform for load balancing Always On VPN connections. In this article I’ll describe how to configure load balancing on the Citrix ADC for RRAS VPN connections using the SSTP VPN protocol.

Special Note: In December 2019 a serious security vulnerability was discovered on the Citrix ADC that gives an unauthenticated attacker the ability to arbitrarily execute code on the appliance. As of this writing a fix is not available (due end of January 2020) but a temporary workaround can be found here.

Load Balancing SSTP

Previously I’ve written about some of the use cases and benefits of SSTP load balancing as well as the options for offloading TLS for SSTP VPN connections. Load balancing SSTP eliminates single points of failure and enables support for multiple RRAS VPN servers to increase scalability. It is generally recommended that the Citrix ADC be configured to pass through encrypted SSTP VPN connections. However, TLS offloading can be configured to improve performance and reduce resource utilization on VPN servers, if required.

Configuration

Load balancing SSTP on the Citrix ADC is straightforward and not unlike load balancing a common HTTPS web server. Below are specific settings and parameters required to load balance SSTP using the Citrix ADC.

Note: This article is not a comprehensive configuration guide for the Citrix ADC. It assumes the administrator is familiar with basic load balancing concepts and has experience configuring the Citrix ADC.

Service Settings

The load balancing service for SSTP VPN should be configured to use TCP port 443 and the SSL_BRIDGE protocol. If TLS offload is required, TCP port 80 and the HTTP protocol can be configured. Additional configuration is required on the RRAS server when TLS offload is enabled, however. Detailed information for configuring RRAS and SSTP for TLS offload can be found here.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Virtual Server Settings

The virtual server is configured to use TCP port 443. It is recommended to use SSLSESSION persistence.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

The LEASTCONNECTION load balancing method is the recommend option for load balancing method.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Service Monitoring

Using the default TCP monitor (tcp-default) is not recommended for monitoring SSTP, as a simple TCP port check does not accurately reflect the health of the SSTP service running on the RRAS server. To more precisely monitor the SSTP service status, a new custom monitor must be created and bound to the load balancing services. Follow the steps below to configure a custom SSTP VPN monitor on the Citrix ADC.

  1. Open the Citrix ADC management console and expand Traffic Management.
  2. Select Monitors.
  3. Click Add.
  4. Enter a descriptive name in the Name field.
  5. Select HTTP form the Type drop-down list and click Select.
  6. Adjust the Interval and Response Time-out values according to your requirements.
  7. Enter 401 in the Response Codes field and click the “+” button.
  8. In the Response Codes field click the “x” next to 200.
  9. In the HTTP Request field enter HEAD /sra_{BA195980-CD49-458b-9E23-C84EE0ADCD75}/.
  10. Check the box next to Secure (not required if TLS offload is enabled).
  11. Select ns_default_ssl_profile_backend from the SSL profile drop-down list (not required if TLS offload is enabled).
  12. Click Create.

Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Citrix NetScaler ADC

Once complete, bind the new service monitor to the load balancing services or service groups accordingly.

TLS Offload

It is generally recommended that TLS offload not be enabled for SSTP VPN. However, if TLS offload is desired, it is configured in much the same way as a common HTTPS web server. Specific guidance for enabling TLS offload on the Citrix ADC can be found here. Details for configuring RRAS and SSTP to support TLS offload can be found here.

Certificates

When enabling TLS offload for SSTP VPN connections it is recommended that the public SSL certificate be installed on the RRAS server, even though TLS processing will be handled on the Citrix ADC and HTTP will be used between the Citrix ADC and the RRAS server. If installing the public SSL certificate on the RRAS server is not an option, additional configuration will be required. Specifically, TLS offload for SSTP must be configured using the Enable-SSTPOffload.ps1 PowerShell script, which can be found here.

Once the script has been downloaded, open an elevated PowerShell command window and enter the following command.

.\Enable-SSTPOffload.ps1 -CertificateHash [SHA256 Certificate Hash of Public SSL Certificate] -Restart

Example:

.\Enable-SSTPOffload.ps1 -CertificateHash ‘C3AB8FF13720E8AD9047DD39466B3C8974E592C2FA383D4A3960714CAEF0C4F2’ -Restart

Re-Encryption

When offloading TLS for SSTP VPN connections, all traffic between the Citrix ADC and the RRAS server will be sent in the clear using HTTP. In some instances, TLS offload is required only for traffic inspection, not performance gain. In this scenario the Citrix ADC will be configured to terminate and then re-encrypt connections to the RRAS server. When terminating TLS on the Citrix ADC and re-encrypting connections to the RRAS server is required, the same certificate must be used on both the Citrix ADC and the RRAS server. Using different certificates on the RRAS server and the load balancer is not supported.

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Load Balancing and SSL Offload

SSL Offload Configuration for Citrix ADC (NetScaler)

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with Kemp LoadMaster

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSTP Load Balancing with F5 BIG-IP

Windows 10 Always On VPN Connects then Disconnects

Windows 10 Always On VPN SSL Certificate Requirements for SSTP

Always On VPN Load Balancing for RRAS in Azure

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

Load Balancing Options for RRAS

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

DNS Round Robin

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

Azure Traffic Manager

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

Azure Load Balancer

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

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

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

Azure Application Gateway

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

Load Balancing Appliance

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

Summary

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

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN Options for Azure Deployments

Windows 10 Always On VPN and RRAS in Microsoft Azure

Windows 10 Always On VPN with Microsoft Azure Gateway

Error Importing Windows Server RRAS Configuration

Error Importing Windows Server RRAS Configuration Windows Server and the Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS) is a popular choice for Windows 10 Always On VPN deployments. It is easy to implement and support, offers flexible scalability, and is cost-effective. In addition, it provides support for a TLS-based VPN protocol which is required for many deployments.

Configuration Backup

When deploying RRAS to support Always On VPN, it’s an excellent idea to export the configuration once all settings have been finalized. Often this is done by opening an elevated command window and running netsh.exe ras dump and piping the output to a text file, as shown here.

netsh.exe ras dump > rasconfig.txt

Import Error

Importing a saved configuration is accomplished by opening an elevated command window and running netsh.exe exec [filename], as shown here.

netsh.exe exec rasconfig.txt

Oddly, this doesn’t work by default. The import will fail and return the following error message.

“The following command was not found: ■.”

Error Importing Windows Server RRAS Configuration

Root Cause

Importing the RRAS configuration fails because the default configuration output is saved in Unicode format. Inexplicably this encoding is not recognized by netsh.exe when importing the configuration.

Workaround

Follow the steps below to save the configuration file in a format that can be imported using netsh.exe.

1. Open the exported configuration file using notepad.exe.
2. From the Menu bar choose File > Save As.
3. From the Encoding drop-down list choose ANSI.
4. Click Save.

Error Importing Windows Server RRAS Configuration

Once complete, import the file using netsh.exe exec [filename]. Restart the RemoteAccess service to apply the changes.

PowerShell

Administrators can use PowerShell to export the RRAS configuration and ensure the correct encoding format is used by default. To do this, open an elevated PowerShell window and run the following command.

Invoke-Command -ScriptBlock {netsh ras dump} | Out-File [filename] -Encoding ASCII

You can also find PowerShell script to import and export RRAS configuration on my Github.

Export-VpnServerConfiguration.ps1

Import-VpnServerConfiguration.ps1

Additional Information

Windows 10 Always On VPN and Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

Windows 10 Always On VPN Protocol Recommendations for Windows Server Routing and Remote Access Service (RRAS)

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