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

DirectAccess Client Firewall Rule Configuration for ISATAP Manage Out

For DirectAccess manage out scenarios, it is necessary to configure the Windows firewall on the DirectAccess client to allow any required inbound communication from the corporate network. For example, if management hosts on the internal network need to initiate Remote Desktop sessions with remote connected DirectAccess clients, the Remote Desktop – User Mode (TCP-In) Windows firewall rule will need to be enabled for the Public and Private profiles.

DirectAccess Client Firewall Rule Configuration for ISATAP Manage Out

While enabling this rule will allow remote desktop connections to be made from the corporate network, its default configuration will also accept remote desktop connections from any network. From a security perspective this is not desirable.

DirectAccess Client Firewall Rule Configuration for ISATAP Manage Out

A better solution is to restrict access to connections originating only from the corporate network. To do this it will be necessary to identify the ISATAP prefix used internally. To determine the corporate ISATAP prefix, run the ipconfig command on a management workstation that is configured for ISATAP. The ISATAP prefix will be the first 96 bits of the IPv6 address assigned to the ISATAP tunnel adapter (essentially everything with the exception of the embedded IPv4 address).

DirectAccess Client Firewall Rule Configuration for ISATAP Manage Out

On the DirectAccess client, right-click the firewall rule and choose Properties. Choose the Scope tab and then select These IP addresses . Click Add and then enter the ISATAP prefix as shown here.

DirectAccess Client Firewall Rule Configuration for ISATAP Manage Out

Once the firewall rule is configured to restrict access to the ISATAP prefix, only corporate management workstations on the internal network will have access to remote DirectAccess clients.

Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess Network Location Server Not Working Properly

After configuring a Windows Server 2012 DirectAccess server to use an intranet-based Network Location Server (NLS), you may notice that the operations status in the remote access management console indicates a critical problem with NLS, when in fact you can browse the NLS server from the DirectAccess server.

DirectAccess Network Location Server Issue

The issue here is that the DirectAccess server, in addition to being able to successfully connect to the NLS using an HTTP GET, must also be able to ping the NLS server. However, inbound ICMP is often blocked on web servers which results in the DirectAccess server marking the service as failed. The issue can be quickly resolved by modifying the host firewall policy to allow inbound ICMPv4 echo requests. For example, in my test lab I’m using a Microsoft Windows Server 2012 server with Internet Information Services (IIS) installed. A new access rule can be added to the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security (WFAS) by executing the following PowerShell command:

New-NetFirewallRule -Name “Allow Inbound ICMPv4 Echo Request” -DisplayName “Allow Inbound ICMPv4 Echo Request” -Protocol ICMPv4 -IcmpType 8 -RemoteAddress 172.16.1.241, 172.16.1.242 -Profile Domain -Action Allow -Enabled True

Note that my lab server is domain joined, so I’ve specified the WFAS profile to be the Domain profile. In addition I’ve included the IPv4 addresses assigned to the internal network interfaces of my two DirectAccess servers. You’ll need change the command as required to work in your environment.

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