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), requiring 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

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

Since the introduction of Windows Server 2012 in September of 2012, no new features or functionality have been added to DirectAccess. In Windows Server 2016, the only real change aside from bug fixes for DirectAccess is the removal of Network Access Protection (NAP) integration support.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccessFigure 1. Remote Access Setup wizard with NAP integration option in Windows Server 2012/R2.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

Figure 2. Remote Access Setup wizard without NAP integration option in Windows Server 2016.

DirectAccess Roadmap

It’s clear to see that Microsoft is no longer investing in DirectAccess, and in fact their field sales teams have been communicating this to customers for quite some time now. Microsoft has been actively encouraging organizations who are considering a DirectAccess solution to instead implement client-based VPN with Windows 10.

Always On VPN

New features introduced in the Windows 10 Anniversary Update allow IT administrators to configure automatic VPN connection profiles. This Always On VPN connection provides a DirectAccess-like experience using traditional remote access VPN protocols such as IKEv2, SSTP, and L2TP/IPsec. It comes with some additional benefits as well.

  • Conditional access and device compliance with system health checks
  • Windows Hello for Business and Azure multifactor authentication
  • Windows Information Protection (WIP) integration
  • Traffic filters to restrict VPN network access
  • Application-trigger VPN connections

DirectAccess Deprecated?

There has been rampant speculation that Microsoft plans to deprecate and retire DirectAccess. While that may in fact be true, Microsoft has yet to make a formal end-of-life announcement. There’s no reason DirectAccess and VPN couldn’t co-exist, so it’s not a certainty Microsoft will do this. However, there’s also no need to have multiple remote access solutions, and it is abundantly clear that the future for Microsoft remote access is Always On VPN and not DirectAccess.

Always On VPN and the Future of Microsoft DirectAccess

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

Always On VPN Advantages and Disadvantages

Windows 10 Always On VPN has some important advantages over DirectAccess. It has some crucial limitations as well.

Advantages

  • Always On VPN supports non-Enterprise Windows 10 client SKUs (Windows 10 Home and Professional)
  • Always On VPN includes support for granular network access control
  • Always On VPN can use both IPv4 and IPv6
  • Always On VPN is infrastructure independent. In addition to supporting Windows RRAS, any third-party network device can be used such as Cisco, Checkpoint, Juniper, Palo Alto, SonicWALL, Fortinet, Sophos, and many more

Disadvantages

  • Always On VPN works only with Windows 10. It is not supported for Windows 7
  • Always On VPN cannot be managed natively using Active Directory and group policy. It must be configured and managed using Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM), Microsoft Intune, or PowerShell

DirectAccess or Always On VPN?

Should you deploy DirectAccess today or implement Always On VPN with Windows 10 instead? That depends on a number of factors. It’s important to understand that DirectAccess is fully supported in Windows Server 2016 and will likely be for many years to come. If DirectAccess meets your needs today, you can deploy it with confidence that it will still have a long support life. If you have reservations about the future viability of DirectAccess, and if you meet all of the requirements to support Always On VPN with Windows 10, then perhaps that’s a better choice. If you’d like to discuss your remote access options in more detail, fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

Additional Resources

NetMotion Mobility as an Alternative to DirectAccess

DirectAccess vs. VPN

Always On VPN Deployment Guide for Windows Server 2016 and Windows 10

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Managing and Supporting DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Book

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course on Pluralsight

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016I’m excited to announce my latest video training course, Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016, is now available on Pluralsight! In this course, I’ll provide a high-level overview of DirectAccess, compare it with VPN, and outline supporting infrastructure requirements. In addition, you’ll learn how to choose the best network topology for a DirectAccess deployment, how to prepare Active Directory and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) for DirectAccess, and how to install and configure DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 using the latest implementation and security best practices. You’ll also learn how to provision Windows 10 clients and understand the unique requirements for supporting Windows 7.

The course includes the following training modules:

Overview of DirectAccess
Planning for DirectAccess
Configuring DirectAccess with the Getting Started Wizard
Configuring DirectAccess with the Remote Access Setup Wizard
Provisioning DirectAccess Clients
Supporting Windows 7 Clients

Throughout the course, I share valuable knowledge and insight gained from more than 5 years of experience deploying DirectAccess for some of the largest organizations in the world. Pluralsight offers a free trial subscription if you don’t already have one, so watch my DirectAccess video training course today!

Additional Resources

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 on Pluralsight
Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016

DirectAccess Troubleshooting and Configuration Training at TechMentor Redmond 2017

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in EducationI’m really excited to announce that I have once again been invited to speak at the upcoming TechMentor event in Redmond, WA August 7-11, 2017! This year I’ll be presenting two important deep-dive training sessions on DirectAccess. The first is a three-hour course on implementing DirectAccess using Windows Server 2016. This session will cover infrastructure prerequisites as well as tips, tricks, and best practices for implementing DirectAccess using Windows Server 2016. In addition I will also be delivering a three-hour deep dive on DirectAccess troubleshooting. In this session, I’ll share valuable insight, tools, and techniques for quickly identifying and resolving many common DirectAccess connectivity and performance issues. In addition I will also be giving a short talk on getting started with Azure site-to-site networking. If you want to take advantage of the power and flexibility that the Azure public cloud has to offer, extending your on-premises datacenter using site-to-site VPN is essential.

Register today using code TMSPK05 and save!

M01: Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016
T03: DirectAccess Troubleshooting Deep Dive
T07: Getting Started with Azure Site-to-Site Networking

TechMentor Redmond 2017

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

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