Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

DirectAccess and Citrix NetScaler WebinarIntroduction

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

NLS Availability

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

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

NLS and Citrix NetScaler

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler

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

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Under Certificates click No Server Certificate.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Testing NLS Functionality

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

Configure Citrix NetScaler for DirectAccess NLS

Summary

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

DirectAccess DNS Records Explained

After installing and configuring DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2, several new host records appear automatically in the internal DNS (assuming dynamic DNS is supported, of course). One of them is directaccess-corpConnectivityHost and the other is directaccess-WebProbeHost. These DirectAccess DNS entries are used by Windows 8 and later clients for connectivity checks at various stages of DirectAccess connection establishment.

DirectAccess DNS Records Explained

Figure 1 – DirectAccess DNS records for IPv4-only network.

DirectAccess DNS Records Explained

Figure 2 – DirectAccess DNS records for dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 network.

Here is a detailed description for each of these DirectAccess DNS entries.

directaccess-corpConnectivityHost – This DNS host record includes both A and AAAA records when deployed on IPv4-only networks. Its A host record resolves to 127.0.0.1, which is the IPv4 loopback address. Its AAAA host record resolves to an IPv6 address that is a combination of the DirectAccess NAT64 IPv6 prefix and 7F00:1 (the hexadecimal equivalent of 127.0.0.1). When DirectAccess is configured on a network with native IPv6, the directaccess-corpConnectivityHost DNS record will only include a single AAAA record resolving to ::1.

This host record is used by the DirectAccess client to determine if name resolution for the corporate namespace is working after the IPv6 transition tunnel (6to4, Teredo, or IP-HTTPS) has been established. It does this by attempting to resolve the hostname directaccess-corpConnectivityHost.<corp_fqdn> (e.g. directaccess-corpConnectivityHost.corp.example.net) to an IPv6 address that it expects (the organization’s NAT64 prefix + 7F00:1 or ::1). If it does not resolve, or resolves to a different address, the client will assume that the transition tunnel was not established successfully and, if possible, fall back to another IPv6 transition protocol and repeat the process until it is successful.

Note: The DirectAccess client does not attempt to connect to the IP address resolved by directaccess-corpConnectivityHost. It simply compares the IP address returned by the query to the expected address (NAT64 prefix + 7F00:1 or ::1).

directaccess-WebProbeHost – This DNS host record includes only A records and resolves to the IPv4 address assigned to the internal network interface of the DirectAccess server. If load balancing is enabled, this host record will resolve to the virtual IP address (VIP) of the array. For multisite deployments there will be directaccess-WebProbeHost A host records for each entry point in the organization.

This host record is used by the DirectAccess client to verify end-to-end corporate network connectivity over the DirectAccess connection. The client will attempt to connect to the directaccess-WebProbeHost URL using HTTP. If successful, the DirectAccess connectivity status indicator will show Connected.

If any of these DirectAccess DNS records are missing or incorrect, a number of issues may arise. If the directaccess-corpConnectivityHost host record is missing or incorrect, DirectAccess IPv6 transition tunnel establishment may fail. If the directaccess-WebProbeHost record is missing or incorrect, the DirectAccess connectivity status indicator will perpetually show Connecting. This commonly occurs when an external load balancer is used and a virtual server isn’t created for the web probe host port (TCP 80). In addition, these DirectAccess DNS entries are not static and may be deleted if DNS scavenging of stale resource records is enabled on the DNS server.

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