Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Organizations are rapidly deploying Windows server infrastructure with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure. With traditional on-premises infrastructure now hosted in the cloud, DirectAccess is also being deployed there more commonly.

Supportability

Interestingly, Microsoft has expressly stated that DirectAccess is not formally supported on their own public cloud platform, Azure. However, there is no formal statement of non-support for DirectAccess hosted on other non-Microsoft public cloud platforms. With supportability for DirectAccess on AWS unclear, many companies are taking the approach that if it isn’t unsupported, then it must be supported. I’d suggest proceeding with caution, as Microsoft could issue formal guidance to the contrary in the future.

DirectAccess on AWS

Deploying DirectAccess on AWS is similar to deploying on premises, with a few notable exceptions, outlined below.

IP Addressing

It is recommended that an IP address be exclusively assigned to the DirectAccess server in AWS, as shown here.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Prerequisites Check

When first configuring DirectAccess, the administrator will encounter the following warning message.

“The server does not comply with some DirectAccess prerequisites. Resolve all issues before proceed with DirectAccess deployment.”

The warning message itself states that “One or more network adapters should be configured with a static IP address. Obtain a static address and assign it to the adapter.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

IP addressing for virtual machines are managed entirely by AWS. This means the DirectAccess server will have a DHCP-assigned address, even when an IP address is specified in AWS. Assigning static IP addresses in the guest virtual machine itself is also not supported. However, this warning message can safely be ignored.

No Support for Load Balancing

It is not possible to create load-balanced clusters of DirectAccess servers for redundancy or scalability on AWS. This is because enabling load balancing for DirectAccess requires the IP address of the DirectAccess server be changed in the operating system, which is not supported on AWS. To eliminate single points of failure in the DirectAccess architecture or to add additional capacity, multisite must be enabled. Each additional DirectAccess server must be provisioned as an individual entry point.

Network Topology

DirectAccess servers on AWS can be provisioned with one or two network interfaces. Using two network interfaces is recommended, with the external network interface of the DirectAccess server residing in a dedicated perimeter/DMZ network. The external network interface must use either the Public or Private Windows firewall profile. DirectAccess will not work if the external interface uses the Domain profile. For the Public and Private profile to be enabled, domain controllers must not be reachable from the perimeter/DMZ network. Ensure the perimeter/DMZ network cannot access the internal network by restricting network access in EC2 using a Security Group, or on the VPC using a Network Access Control List (ACL) or custom route table settings.

External Connectivity

A public IPv4 address must be associated with the DirectAccess server in AWS. There are several ways to accomplish this. The simplest way is to assign a public IPv4 address to the virtual machine (VM). However, a public IP address can only be assigned to the VM when it is deployed initially and cannot be added later. Alternatively, an Elastic IP can be provisioned and assigned to the DirectAccess server at any time.

An ACL must also be configured for the public IP that restricts access from the Internet to only inbound TCP port 443. To provide additional protection, consider deploying an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) appliance like the Citrix NetScaler or F5 BIG-IP to enforce client certificate authentication for DirectAccess clients.

Network Location Server (NLS)

If an organization is hosting all of its Windows infrastructure in AWS and all clients will be remote, Network Location Server (NLS) availability becomes much less critical than with traditional on-premises deployments. For cloud-only deployments, hosting the NLS on the DirectAccess server is a viable option. It eliminates the need for dedicated NLS, reducing costs and administrative overhead. If multisite is configured, ensure that the NLS is not using a self-signed certificate, as this is unsupported.

Deployment Considerations for DirectAccess on Amazon Web Services (AWS)

However, for hybrid cloud deployments where on-premises DirectAccess clients share the same internal network with cloud-hosted DirectAccess servers, it is recommended that the NLS be deployed on dedicated, highly available servers following the guidance outlined here and here.

Client Provisioning

All supported DirectAccess clients will work with DirectAccess on AWS. If the domain infrastructure is hosted exclusively in AWS, provisioning clients can be performed using Offline Domain Join (ODJ). Provisioning DirectAccess clients using ODJ is only supported in Windows 8.x/10. Windows 7 clients cannot be provisioned using ODJ and must be joined to the domain using another form of remote network connectivity such as VPN.

Additional Resources

DirectAccess No Longer Supported in Microsoft Azure

Microsoft Server Software Support for Azure Virtual Machines

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Guidance

DirectAccess Network Location Server (NLS) Deployment Considerations for Large Enterprises

Provisioning DirectAccess Clients using Offline Domain Join (ODJ)

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with F5 BIG-IP

Planning and Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 Video Training Course

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

Troubleshooting DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Error Code 0x90320

A Windows 7 or Windows 8.x/10 client may fail to establish a DirectAccess connection using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology. When troubleshooting this issue, running ipconfig.exe shows that the media state for the tunnel adapter iphttpsinterface is Media disconnected.

Troubleshooting DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Error Code 0x90320

Running the Get-NetIPHttpsState PowerShell command on Windows 8.x/10 clients or the netsh interface httpstunnel show interface command on Windows 7 clients returns an error code of 0x90320, with an interface status Failed to connect to the IPHTTPS server; waiting to reconnect.

Troubleshooting DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Error Code 0x90320

Error code 0x90320 translates to SEC_I_INCOMPLETE_CREDENTIALS, indicating the client was unable to authenticate to the DirectAccess server during the TLS handshake when establishing the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition tunnel. This occurs when the DirectAccess server or an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) is configured to perform client certificate authentication for IP-HTTPS connections. The client may fail to authenticate if it does not have a valid certificate issued by the organization’s internal certification authority (CA) or if the DirectAccess server or ADC is configured to perform IP-HTTPS client authentication incorrectly.

To resolve this issue, ensure that a valid certificate is installed on the DirectAccess client. In addition, ensure that the DirectAccess server or ADC is configured to use the correct CA when authenticating clients establishing IP-HTTPS connections.

Additional Information

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication 

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS Preauthentication using Citrix NetScaler

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS preauthentication using Citrix NetScaler 

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS preauthentication using F5 BIG-IP 

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Introduction

Communication between the DirectAccess client and server takes place exclusively over IPv6. When DirectAccess servers and/or clients are on the IPv4 Internet, an IPv6 transition technology must be employed to allow those clients to connect to the DirectAccess server. DirectAccess deployment best practices dictate that only the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology be used. IP-HTTPS uses SSL/TLS for server authentication and optionally encryption. To improve security and performance for IP-HTTPS, an Application Delivery Controller (ADC) like the Citrix NetScaler can be configured to perform SSL offloading and client preauthentication for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS connections.

Please note that the following caveats apply when enabling SSL offload for DirectAccess clients:

  • Enabling SSL offload and IP-HTTPS preauthentication on an ADC for DirectAccess is formally unsupported by Microsoft.
  • SSL offload should not be enabled with DirectAccess is configured to use one-time password (OTP) authentication. Offloading SSL will break OTP functionality.

IP-HTTPS Challenges

The IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition technology is a simple and effective way to allow DirectAccess clients and servers to communicate by encapsulating IPv6 traffic in HTTP and routing it over the public IPv4 Internet. However, there are two critical issues with the default implementation of IP-HTTPS in DirectAccess. One is a security issue, the other affects performance.

Security

The DirectAccess server does not authenticate clients establishing IP-HTTPS connections. This could allow an unauthorized client to obtain an IPv6 address from the DirectAccess server using the IPv6 Neighbor Discovery (ND) process. With a valid IPv6 address, the unauthorized user could perform internal network reconnaissance or launch a variety of Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on the DirectAccess infrastructure and connected clients. More details here.

Performance

Windows 7 DirectAccess clients use encrypted cipher suites when establishing IP-HTTPS connections. However, the payload being transported is already encrypted using IPsec. This double encryption increases resource utilization on the DirectAccess server, reducing performance and limiting scalability. More details here.


Note: Beginning with Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, Microsoft introduced support for null encryption for IP-HTTPS connections. This eliminates the needless double encryption, greatly improving scalability and performance for DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS.


SSL Offload for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS

The Citrix NetScaler can be configured to perform SSL offload to improve performance for Windows 7 DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS. Since DirectAccess does not natively support SSL offload, the NetScaler must be configured in a non-traditional way. While the NetScaler will be configured to terminate incoming IP-HTTPS SSL connections, it must also use SSL for the back-end connection to the DirectAccess server. However, the NetScaler will be configured only to use null cipher suites when connecting to the DirectAccess server. Even though Windows 7 clients will still perform double encryption to the NetScaler, this configuration effectively offloads from the server the heavy burden of double encrypting every IP-HTTPS connection for all connected DirectAccess clients. This results in reduced CPU utilization on the DirectAccess server, yielding better scalability and performance.

SSL Offload and Windows 8.x/10 Clients

Offloading SSL for Windows 8.x/10 clients will not improve performance because they already use null cipher suites for IP-HTTPS when connecting to a Windows Server 2012 or later DirectAccess server. However, terminating SSL on the NetScaler is still required to perform IP-HTTPS preauthentication.

Supported NetScaler Platforms for DirectAccess SSL Offloading

The following configuration for Citrix NetScaler can be performed on any release of the VPX virtual ADC platform. However, be advised that there is a known issue with older releases on the MDX and SDX hardware platforms that will prevent this from working. For MDX and SDX deployments, upgrading to release 11.1 build 50.10 or later will be required.

Configure Citrix NetScaler for IP-HTTPS SSL Offload

To enable SSL offloading for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS on the Citrix NetScaler, open the NetScaler management console, expand Traffic Management and Load Balancing, and then perform the following procedures in order.

Add Servers

  1. Click Servers.
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Name field enter a descriptive name for the first DirectAccess server.
  4. Select IP Address.
  5. In the IP Address field enter the IP address of the first DirectAccess server.
  6. Click Create.
  7. Repeat these steps for any additional servers in the load-balanced cluster.

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Add Services

  1. Click Services.
  2. Click Add.
  3. In the Service Name field enter a descriptive name for the service.
  4. Select Existing Server from the Server drop-down list.
  5. Choose the first DirectAccess server in the cluster.
  6. Choose SSL from the Protocol drop-down list.
  7. Click Ok.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler
  8. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. In the Protocol section uncheck SSLv3.
    2. Click Ok.
  9. Edit SSL Ciphers.
    1. Click Remove All.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Type NULL in the Search Ciphers box.
    4. Check the box next to the first entry for SSL3-NULL-SHA.
    5.  Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    6. Click Ok.
    7. Click Done.
    8. Repeat these steps for any additional servers in the load-balanced cluster.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

A warning message may be displayed indicating that no usable ciphers are configured on the SSL vserver/service. This message can be safely ignored.

DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Add Virtual Server

  1. Click Virtual Servers.
    1. Click Add.
    2. In the Name field enter a descriptive name for the virtual server.
    3. Choose SSL from the Protocol drop-down list.
    4. In the IP Address field enter the IP address for the virtual server.
    5. Click Ok.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

      Note: When enabling load balancing in DirectAccess, the IP address assigned to the first DirectAccess server is reallocated for use as the load balancing Virtual IP Address (VIP). Ideally this IP address will be assigned to the load balancing virtual server on the NetScaler. However, this is not a hard requirement. It is possible to configure the VIP on the NetScaler to reside on any subnet that the load balancer has an interface to. More details here.


  2. In the Services and Groups section click No Load Balancing Virtual Server Service Binding.
    1. Click on the Select Service field.
    2. Check all DirectAccess server services and click Select.
    3. Click Bind.
    4. Click Continue.
  3. In the Certificate section click No Server Certificate.
    1. Click on the Select Server Certificate field.
    2. Choose the certificate to be used for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS.
    3. Click Select.
    4. Click Bind.
    5. Click Continue.
  4. Edit SSL Ciphers.
    1. Click Remove All.
    2. Click Add.
    3. Type ECDHE in to the Search Ciphers box.
    4. Check the box next to TLS1-ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA.
    5. Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    6. Type NULL in to the Search Ciphers box.
    7. Check the box next to SSL3-NULL-SHA.
    8. Click the right arrow to add the cipher to the list.
    9. Click Ok.
    10. Click Done.DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

      Note: If Windows 8.x/10 clients are supported exclusively, SSL3-NULL-SHA is the only cipher suite required to be configured on the virtual server. If Windows 7 client support is required, the TLS1-ECDHE-RSA-AES128-SHA cipher suite should also be configured on the virtual server.


  5. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. Uncheck SSLv3.
    2. Click Ok.

      Note: If Windows 8.x/10 clients are supported exclusively, TLSv1 can also be unchecked on the virtual server. If Windows 7 client support is required, TLSv1 must be enabled.


  6. In the Advanced Settings section click Persistence.
    1. Choose SSLSESSION.
    2. Enter 10 minutes for the Time-out (mins) value.
    3. Click Ok.
    4. Click Done.

Optional IP-HTTPS Preauthentication

To enable IP-HTTPS preauthentication to prevent unauthorized network access, perform the following procedures on the Citrix NetScaler appliance.

  1. Expand Traffic Management, Load Balancing, and then click Virtual Servers.
  2. Select the DirectAccess virtual server and click Edit.
    1. In the Certificate section click No CA Certificate.
    2. Click the Select CA Certificate field.
    3. Choose the certificate for the CA that issues certificates to DirectAccess clients and servers.

      Note: The CA certificate used for DirectAccess can be found by opening the Remote Access Management console, clicking Edit on Step 2, and then clicking Authentication. Alternatively, the CA certificate can be found by running the following PowerShell command.

      (Get-RemoteAccess).IPsecRootCertificate | Format-Table Thumbprint


    4. Click Select.
    5. Choose CRL Optional from the CRL and OCSP Check drop-down list.
    6. Click Bind.
  3. Edit SSL Parameters.
    1. Check the box next to Client Authentication.
    2. Choose Mandatory from the Client Certificate drop-down list.
    3. Click Ok.
    4. Click Done.
      DirectAccess SSL Offload and IP-HTTPS Preauthentication with Citrix NetScaler

Summary

Leveraging the advanced capabilities of the Citrix NetScaler ADC can improve performance when supporting Windows 7 clients and enhance security for all DirectAccess clients using IP-HTTPS. In terms of supportability, all of the changes described in this article are completely transparent and do not alter the native DirectAccess client or server configuration. If a Microsoft support engineer declines support due to this configuration, switching from SSL offload to SSL bridge is all that’s required to restore full supportability.

Additional Resources

NetScaler release 11.1 build 50.10 (requires login) – https://www.citrix.com/downloads/netscaler-adc/firmware/release-111-build-5010

Release notes for build 50.10 of NetScaler 11.1 release – https://www.citrix.com/content/dam/citrix/en_us/documents/downloads/netscaler-adc/NS_11_1_50_10.html

VIDEO: Enable Load Balancing for DirectAccess – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tdqgY9Y-uo

DirectAccess IP-HTTPS preauthentication using F5 BIG-IP – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2016/05/23/directaccess-ip-https-preauthentication-using-f5-big-ip/

DirectAccess SSL offload for IP-HTTPS using F5 BIG-IP – https://directaccess.richardhicks.com/2013/07/10/ssl-offload-for-ip-https-directaccess-traffic-from-windows-7-clients-using-f5-big-ip/

Implementing DirectAccess with Windows Server 2016 book – http://directaccessbook.com/

DirectAccess Broken in Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 14971

DirectAccess Broken in Windows 10 Enterprise Insider Preview Build 14971Updated 12/9/2016: This issue has been resolved in build 14986. If you are still running build 14971, update to the latest build to resolve this issue.

For anyone running the Insider Preview version of Windows 10 Enterprise, be advised that the latest Fast Ring build (14971) has a bug that breaks DirectAccess connectivity. Microsoft is aware of the issue and is currently working to identify the root cause. As it stands now, there is no known workaround.

I’ll post an update as soon as I have more information. Stay tuned!

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 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

Windows 10 Multisite DirectAccess with GSLB Webinar

Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load BalancerWindows 10 clients include full support for all enterprise DirectAccess scalability and redundancy features, including automatic site selection and transparent failover for multisite deployments. However, the native site selection process is limited in functionality and often yields unexpected results.

To provide better client support for multisite DirectAccess, a Global Server Load Balancer (GSLB) solution such as the Kemp Technologies LoadMaster GEO can be deployed. Using the LoadMaster’s GSLB functionality can significantly enhance multisite site selection for Windows 10 clients. In addition, it can be used to enable new scenarios not supported natively such as weighted distribution and active/passive failover.

Kemp Technologies LoadMaster Load Balancer

To learn more about how address the shortcomings of DirectAccess multisite using the Kemp LoadMaster GEO, join me for a live webinar on Thursday, July 14, 2106 at 10:00AM EDT where I’ll discuss the following topics.

  • How Global Server Load Balancing (GSLB) works
  • How Windows 10 clients choose an entry point
  • Understand the limitations of the native site selection process for Windows 10 clients
  • How to use the Kemp LoadMaster GEO to provide true geographic redundancy
  • How to enable active/passive failover for disaster recovery

You can register for this free live webinar here.

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in Action

DirectAccess and Windows 10 in ActionRecently I recorded a short video to outline some of the benefits of using Windows 10 and DirectAccess. The video highlights common uses cases and includes a working demonstration of DirectAccess and Windows 10, both from the user’s and the administrator’s perspective.

The video shows how users transparently connect to the network and seamlessly access corporate resources over the DirectAccess connection. It also shows how administrators can leverage existing system management tools such as the Computer Management MMC, PowerShell remoting, and the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to manage remote connected Windows 10 DirectAccess clients.

If you have any questions about implementing DirectAccess, integrating Windows 10 clients, or enabling outbound management, click here.

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.

Additional Information

Have a question about DirectAccess? Fill out the form below and I’ll get in touch with you.

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