DirectAccess Training at TechMentor Conference Orlando 2016

Live! 360 Orlando 2016I am pleased to announce that I’ll be participating in the upcoming TechMentor conference in Orlando, FL in December. The TechMentor conference is part of the larger Live!360 event and offers a compelling agenda of training for IT professionals. I’ll be delivering the following sessions that are focused on providing secure remote access using Windows Server 2016.

TMT01 – Implementing DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016
TMT04 – DirectAccess Troubleshooting Deep Dive
TMT11 – Client-based VPN in Azure with Windows Server 2016

Don’t miss out on this outstanding conference. Register today and save $500.00!

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book Now Available

I am very excited to announce that my new DirectAccess book, Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 from Apress media, is now shipping! The book is available on popular online sites like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Springer.com, Apress.com, and others. The book is also available in electronic formats such as Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook, as well as a variety of subscription formats including Safari, Books24x7, and SpringerLink.

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 order your copy today!

DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 at Microsoft Ignite 2016

I’m pleased to announce that I will be delivering a community theater session at this year’s Microsoft ignite conference in Atlanta, GA. The session, THR2136 in the session catalog, is scheduled for Thursday, September 29 at 12:40PM. This is a level 200 talk where I’ll be providing a high-level overview of all remote access technologies in Windows Server 2016, including DirectAccess, client-based VPN, and Web Application Proxy (WAP). I’ll be focusing on what’s new in each of these technologies and demonstrating how each solution applies in different use cases.

DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 at Microsoft Ignite 2016

In addition to the session, I’ll be spending time with the folks from PointSharp and Pluralsight in their respective booths too, answering questions and providing demonstrations. I hope to have copies of my new DirectAccess book to sign as well. Be sure to follow me on Twitter for up-do-date details. Hope to see you at the conference!

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

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in EducationIntroduction

DirectAccess provides seamless and transparent, always on remote network connectivity for managed Windows clients. It is commonly installed in large enterprises to provide better management for field-based assets, and to streamline the remote access experience for end users. Today, DirectAccess is a mature technology that is widely deployed across many verticals, but education is one that is often overlooked.

Benefits of DirectAccess

For commercial enterprises, the benefits of DirectAccess are many. Windows 10 DirectAccess clients have ubiquitous access to on-premises applications and data without requiring user interaction. This streamlined user access improves productivity and reduces helpdesk costs. DirectAccess is always on, allowing client machines to stay in contact with domain controllers and systems management servers, ensuring they are always managed.

DirectAccess in Education

Many of the same benefits DirectAccess provides for the enterprise are also important in the education sector. Often administrators for schools and colleges have many Windows-based machines that they must both manage and provide secure remote access for. In addition, they struggle with the same issues that enterprises do, such as maintaining configuration and security posture for devices that are predominantly remote.

Windows 10 and Education

Windows 10 November Update Available TodayThe Windows 10 Education SKU is a supported client operating system for DirectAccess, enabling educational institutions using this license to implement a remote access solution with DirectAccess using Windows Server 2012 R2 or Windows Server 2016. Implementing a DirectAccess remote access solution can result in significant cost savings, as DirectAccess requires no investments in proprietary hardware and has no associated per-user licensing.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update

Microsoft is making a concerted effort to address the education sector with new and compelling features to be included in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, released earlier this week. For example, they have introduced apps that simplify the setup of school PCs. App discovery and purchasing are easier, and stylus support is improved. Native integration with Office 365 is another important factor. There are also a number of significant new security features that will make migrating to Windows 10 a worthy investment.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Education

Summary

If you are an administrator working for any educational institution and are struggling with maintaining and supporting your field-based Windows devices, consider a DirectAccess remote access solution today. With DirectAccess implemented, users will be more productive and remote machines better managed. DirectAccess can also be deployed using existing infrastructure, and it supports flexible network deployment along with many scalability features that will ensure the highest levels of availability.

Additional Resources

Video: DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Action
3 Important Things about Windows 10 and DirectAccess
DirectAccess and Windows 10 Better Together
DirectAccess Consulting Services
Book: Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication


Introduction

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS PreauthenticationRecently I’ve written about the security challenges with DirectAccess, specifically around the use of the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. In its default configuration, the DirectAccess server does not authenticate the client when an IP-HTTPS transition tunnel is established. This opens up the possibility of an unauthorized user launching Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks and potentially performing network reconnaissance using ICMPv6. More details on this can be found here.

Mitigation

The best way to mitigate these security risks is to implement an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) such as the F5 BIG-IP Local Traffic Manager or the Citrix NetScaler. I’ve documented how to configure those platforms here and here.

No ADC?

For those organizations that do not have a capable ADC deployed, it is possible to configure the IP-HTTPS listener on the Windows Server 2012 R2 server itself to perform preauthentication.

Important Note: Making the following changes on the DirectAccess server is not formally supported. Also, this change is incompatible with one-time passwords (OTP)  and should not be performed if strong user authentication is enabled. In addition, null cipher suites will be disabled, resulting in reduced scalability and degraded performance for Windows 8.x and Windows 10 clients. Making this change should only be done if a suitable ADC is not available.

Configure IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

To configure the DirectAccess server to perform preauthentication for IP-HTTPS connections, open an elevated PowerShell command window and enter the following command.

ls Cert:\LocalMachine\My

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

Copy the thumbprint that belongs to the SSL certificate assigned to the IP-HTTPS listener. Open an elevated command prompt window (not a PowerShell window!) and enter the following commands.

netsh http delete sslcert ipport=0.0.0.0:443
netsh http add sslcert ipport=0.0.0.0:443 certhash=[thumbprint]
appid={5d8e2743-ef20-4d38-8751-7e400f200e65}
dsmapperusage=enable clientcertnegotiation=enable

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

For load-balanced clusters and multisite deployments, repeat these steps on each DirectAccess server in the cluster and/or enterprise.

Summary

Once these changes have been made, only DirectAccess clients that have a computer certificate with a subject name that matches the name of its computer account in Active Directory will be allowed to establish an IP-HTTPS transition tunnel connection.

DirectAccess vs. VPN

Introduction

DirectAccess vs. VPNMany IT professionals mistakenly believe that DirectAccess is just another VPN solution. While there are some similarities between these technologies, both in terms of the underlying technology and function, there are some significant differences between the two. If you’re comparing DirectAccess to VPN, here are some essential points to consider.

VPN

Virtual Private Networking (VPN) has been around for ages. VPN is a mature, well understood technology that has been widely deployed, and today remains the de facto standard for providing secure remote access. VPN has broad client support, on both traditional computing platforms and mobile operating systems. VPNs today include support for modern protocols and integrate with numerous multifactor authentication platforms.

VPN Challenges

There are some serious drawbacks to implementing traditional client-based VPN. VPN connections are user initiated and therefore optional. It is up to the user to decide if and when they connect to the corporate network. Many VPNs require additional software to work, which must be deployed and maintained. Establishing connections is potentially problematic too, as some VPN protocols aren’t firewall friendly and don’t work in many locations.

DirectAccess vs. VPNFrom a security perspective, because anyone can attempt a connection to the VPN from any client, strong authentication becomes an essential requirement. Integrating multifactor authentication makes the implementation more complex and difficult to support. It often requires additional hardware, licensing, and support costs.

VPNs can be costly to implement and support. They typically require expensive proprietary hardware and dedicated management skill sets. Many VPN solutions also have additional licensing costs associated with them. Scaling a VPN solution requires additional investments in hardware devices, adding to the overall cost of the solution.

DirectAccess

DirectAccess is a relative newcomer to the world of secure remote access. First introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2, DirectAccess differs fundamentally from VPN by virtue of its seamless and transparent, always-on connection. DirectAccess connections are established by the machine, not the user. They are secure and authenticated, and are established automatically whenever the DirectAccess client has an active Internet connection. DirectAccess connections are also bidirectional, which is an important distinction. The ability to “manage out” to remote connected DirectAccess clients enables compelling new uses cases for IT administrators.

Addressing VPN Pain Points with DirectAccess

DirectAccess vs. VPNDirectAccess connections are inherently more secure than VPN. Unlike VPN, DirectAccess clients must be joined to the domain and, in most configurations, they must also have a certificate issued by the organization’s private, internal Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). This essentially serves as a type of multifactor authentication for the connecting device, resulting in a much higher level of assurance for remote connections. DirectAccess can also support integration with many existing multifactor authentication providers to provide strong authentication for the user, if desired.

DirectAccess is very firewall friendly and works anywhere the user has an active Internet connection. It requires no additional software to be installed, and the seamless and transparent nature of DirectAccess makes it much easier to use than VPN. All of this improves end user productivity and reduces associated management overhead for the solution.

DirectAccess is a more cost-effective alternative to VPN. DirectAccess can be deployed on existing infrastructure (physical or virtual) and does not require proprietary hardware. This makes it much easier and far less expensive to add additional capacity, if required. DirectAccess can also be managed using existing systems management tools and Windows administration skills and does not have any per-user licensing requirements, which results in additional cost savings over VPN.

DirectAccess Limitations and Drawbacks

DirectAccess is not a comprehensive remote access solution. It is designed for managed (domain-joined) Windows clients only. In addition, DirectAccess clients must be provisioned with the Enterprise edition SKU. Also, there are a few cases in which applications may not be compatible with DirectAccess. In addition, there is no support for DirectAccess on non-managed Windows machines, non-Enterprise SKUs, or any devices using non-Windows operating systems, so a VPN might still be required.

DirectAccess vs. VPN

DirectAccess or VPN?

You might be asking yourself, “DirectAccess or VPN?” Why not both? After all, DirectAccess and VPN aren’t mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, quite complimentary. DirectAccess can be used to provide secure remote access and enhanced management for Windows laptops managed by IT, while VPN can be deployed for non-managed devices. While you may not be able to entirely eliminate VPN with DirectAccess, it will certainly allow you to decrease the number of existing VPN licenses and reduce your investment in proprietary hardware, management tools, and dedicated administrators, all of which translates in to reduced capital investment and operational costs.

Summary

DirectAccess is not simply another VPN solution. While it does provide secure remote corporate network connectivity, it does so more securely and more cost effectively than traditional VPN does. DirectAccess is unrivaled in its security and ease of use, dramatically improving end user productivity and reducing associated infrastructure and support costs. DirectAccess can be deployed on current physical and virtual infrastructure, and can be managed using existing Windows systems management tools and skill sets.

DirectAccess Consulting ServicesIf you’d like to learn more about how DirectAccess can benefit your organization, or you would like some assistance with a DirectAccess proof of concept implementation, consider a DirectAccess consulting engagement today. I’m here to help plan, design, implement, and support DirectAccess and ensure the best chance of success for your deployment.

DirectAccess SQL Server High CPU Usage

UPDATE – March 14, 2016: Microsoft has published official guidance for implementing the changes outlined in this article using PowerShell. Details here.

Introduction

DirectAccess SQL Server High CPU UsageRADIUS and Inbox accounting are the two supported logging options for DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2. When Inbox accounting is selected, a Windows Internal Database (WID) is provisioned. Part of the base operating system, WID is functionally similar to SQL Server Express.

SQL Server Utilization Issues

Over the last few months I’ve had a few customers reach out to me with a peculiar performance issue. For customers with very busy DirectAccess servers, where those servers have also been configured to use Inbox accounting, they’ve reported observing unusually high CPU utilization on the sqlservr.exe process.

DirectAccess SQL Server High CPU Usage
Image courtesy Thomas Vuylsteke. Used with permission. – setspn.blogspot.com

As luck would have it, Thomas Vuylsteke, a Microsoft Platforms Premiere Field Engineer (PFE), had already identified the issue and a workaround. Thomas traced the source of high CPU utilization on the sqlservr.exe process to a missing index on a session state table in the DirectAccess accounting database. If you are interested in learning how he performed the troubleshooting to identify and resolve this problem, you can read his entire blog post here.

Resolution

To resolve this issue, create an index on the Session Table in the DirectAccess database. Changes to WID must be made locally, as it is not remotely manageable. WID does not include a management interface, which means the SQL Server management tools would normally have to be installed. However, I’m not a fan of installing any extraneous software on the DirectAccess server, so thankfully one of the readers of Thomas’ excellent article on this subject, Fredrik Elmqvist, provided a very helpful alternative. Fredrik suggesting using the HeidiSQL tool, for which a fully portable version exists. This allows for changes to be made to the WID database without having to install any additional software.

Changes to WID

Begin by downloading the portable version of HeidiSQL here. Next, log on to the DirectAccess server as the local administrator. It is crucial that you must be the local administrator, not just a local or domain user with local administrator privileges. Extract the files from the download and copy them to the DirectAccess server, then follow these steps:

  1. Double-click heideisql.exe to launch the management tool.
  2. Click on New and then for the Network Type select Microsoft SQL Server (named pipe).
  3. For the Hostname / IP: enter \\.\pipe\MICROSOFT##WID\tsql\query.
  4. Select the option to Use Windows Authentication.
  5. Click Open to continue.DirectAccess SQL Server High CPU Usage
  6. Click the Query tab in the center console window and enter the following commands:
    Use RaAcctDb
    Create NonClustered Index IdxSessionTblSessionState on SessionTable (SessionState,ConnectionID)
  7. Click the Run icon in the tool bar or press F9. This will execute the code and create the missing index on the Session Table in the DirectAccess database.DirectAccess SQL Server High CPU Usage
  8. Confirm the index was created by clearing the previous query or creating a new query and then entering the following commands:
    select * from sys.indexes
    where name like ‘idx%’
    order by name ascDirectAccess SQL Server High CPU Usage

Summary
Once the change has been made, sqlservr.exe CPU utilization should return to normal. If you have multiple DirectAccess servers configured in a load-balanced array or in a multisite configuration, be sure to repeat these steps on each DirectAccess server in the organization.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

Introduction

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better Together

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 was made available for sale to the public on October 26, 2015. The latest in a line of powerful and flexible tablets from Microsoft, the Surface Pro 4 features a full version of the Windows 10 desktop client operating system and includes more available power, memory, and storage than previous editions. Significant improvements were also made to the keyboard and pen. The Surface Pro 4 is designed to be an all-in-one laptop replacement, enabling users to carry a single device for all of their needs.

Surface Pro 4 and the Enterprise

Microsoft is pushing the Surface Pro 4 heavily to large enterprise organizations by expanding the resale business channel and offering the device through companies like Dell and HP. In fact, Microsoft has made the Surface Pro 4 available through more than 5000 business resellers in 30 global markets. This new enterprise sales initiative strives to deliver world class service and support for enterprise customers adopting the new Surface Pro 4, and includes a new warranty offer and a business device trade-in program designed to promote the adoption of Surface and Windows 10 in the enterprise.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

In addition, Microsoft will have a training program for IT management and support professionals as well as new Windows users that will help streamline the deployment of the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10. Organizations are rapidly adopting the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10, as Microsoft has already signed on a number of high-profile companies in the retail, financial services, education, and public sector verticals. Today, Microsoft has deployed Windows 10 to over 110 million devices since it was released in late October 2015, making it the most rapidly adopted operating system in their history.

Enterprise Requirements

One of the primary motivating factors for enterprise organizations migrating to the Surface Pro 4 is cost reduction. The Surface Pro 4 functions as both a full PC and a tablet, eliminating the need for users to carry two devices. More importantly, it eliminates the need for IT to procure, manage, and support two different hardware and software platforms (for example a Windows-based laptop and an iPad). Additionally, IT organizations can leverage their existing Windows systems management infrastructure and expertise to deploy and maintain their Surface devices.

DirectAccess and the Surface Pro 4

For organizations seeking to maximize their investment in the Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10, implementing a secure remote access solution using Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess is essential. DirectAccess provides seamless and transparent, always on secure remote corporate network connectivity for managed (domain-joined) Windows clients. DirectAccess enables streamlined access to on-premises application and data, improving end user productivity and reducing help desk costs. DirectAccess connectivity is bi-directional, making possible new and compelling management scenarios for field-based assets. DirectAccess clients can be managed the same way, regardless if they are inside or outside of the corporate network. DirectAccess ensures that clients are better managed, consistently maintained, and fully monitored.

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

Windows 10 and DirectAccess

The Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 provides full support for all enterprise features of DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2, including automatic site selection and transparent fail over for multisite deployments, as well as scalability and performance improvements. In addition, supportability for Windows 10 clients is much improved with DirectAccess GUI integration and full PowerShell support. Additional information about how DirectAccess and Windows 10 are better together, click here.

Additional Cost Savings

Enterprise Nirvana with Surface Pro 4, Windows 10, and DirectAccess

DirectAccess does not require any additional software to be installed on the client, and does not incur per user licensing to implement. Another benefit is that DirectAccess can easily be deployed on most popular hypervisors such as Hyper-V and VMware, eliminating the need for expensive proprietary hardware-based remote access solutions and taking full advantage of current investments in virtual infrastructure. Additionally, existing Windows systems management skill sets can be leveraged to support a DirectAccess implementation, eliminating the need for expensive dedicated administrators.

Note: Windows 10 Enterprise edition is required to support DirectAccess, and it is assumed that large organizations will be deploying Surface Pro 4 with Windows 10 Enterprise.

Summary

The Surface Pro 4 is the thinnest, lightest, and most powerful Surface tablet ever. It features Windows 10, and it can run the full version of Office and any other applications you need. The Surface Pro 4 is aimed squarely at large enterprises, governments, and schools. Not coincidentally, these verticals are also excellent uses cases for DirectAccess. DirectAccess is the perfect complement to the Surface Pro 4 and Windows 10 in the enterprise, as it helps organizations address the unique pain points of large scale enterprise adoption of Windows devices. DirectAccess allows the Surface Pro 4 to be much more effectively managed, while at the same time significantly improving the end user experience.

To realize the full potential of your Windows 10 and Surface Pro 4 deployment, consider a DirectAccess consulting engagement. By leveraging our experience you’ll have the peace of mind knowing that you have deployed DirectAccess in the most optimal, flexible, secure, and highly available manner possible. For more information about a DirectAccess consulting engagement, click here.

DirectAccess, Windows 10, and Network Access Protection (NAP)

Windows 10, DirectAccess, and NAPFirst introduced with Windows Server 2008, Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) is a technology that allows IT administrators to create and enforce system health requirements that must be met before a computer can connect to the network. Common NAP enforcement points include Ethernet switches (802.1x), DHCP, IPsec, remote access VPN, and Terminal Services Gateway (TS Gateway) connections. DirectAccess also supports NAP integration, which allows administrators to extend this solution to include their DirectAccess clients.

Unfortunately, NAP has proven not to be very popular, and the adoption rate for this technology has been quite minimal. With that, Microsoft formally deprecated NAP in Windows Server 2012 R2, and removed it completely from Windows Server 2016.

Crucially the plumbing for NAP integration in the Windows 10 client operating system has also been removed. For DirectAccess deployments that have been configured to use NAP, this obviously presents a problem. In this scenario, Windows 7/8 clients will function normally. However, Windows 10 clients will not be able to connect. Since NAP integration with DirectAccess is a global setting, all clients must conform to NAP. There is no option to exclude only Windows 10 clients from NAP.

DirectAccess, Windows 10, and NAP

There are two ways in which to resolve this problem. The first is simply to disable NAP integration. However, if you still want to enforce NAP requirements for Windows 7/8 clients, but at the same time also want to allow Windows 10 clients to use DirectAccess, a separate dedicated DirectAccess deployment without NAP integration configured will have to be deployed to support Windows 10 DirectAccess clients.

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