DirectAccess Now a Supported Workload in Microsoft Azure

DirectAccess Now a Supported Workload in Microsoft Azure

Important Update! Microsoft has recently reversed their decision to support DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure. The Microsoft Server Software Support for Microsoft Azure Vitual Machines document has once again been revised to indicate that DirectAccess is formally unsuported in Azure.

Update: Detailed guidance for deploying DirectAccess in Azure can be found here.

This is great news for organizations moving their infrastructure to the Microsoft Azure public cloud! Microsoft recently made some important changes to their published support statement for server software running on Azure virtual machines. Although no formal announcement was made, they quietly removed DirectAccess from the list of unsupported roles for Windows Server 2012 R2.

DirectAccess Now a Supported Workload in Microsoft Azure

I’ve performed some limited testing with DirectAccess using Resource Manager VMs in Microsoft Azure and it appears to be stable. In addition, some of the challenges I encountered previously when implementing DirectAccess in Azure using Classic VMs have now been resolved. I’ll be publishing some guidance for deploying DirectAccess in Azure soon.

Additional Resources

Deploying DirectAccess in Microsoft Azure
Implementing DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016
Fundamentals of Microsoft Azure 2nd Edition
Microsoft Azure Security Infrastructure
DirectAccess Multisite with Azure Traffic Manager

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess ConnectionFrom a client perspective, DirectAccess is an IPv6 only solution. All communication between the DirectAccess client and server takes place exclusively over IPv6. This can make things challenging for network engineers tasked with administering network devices using SSH over a DirectAccess connection. Often network devices don’t have corresponding hostname entries in DNS, and attempting to connect directly to an IPv4 address over a DirectAccess connection will fail.

To resolve this issue, it is necessary to create internal DNS records that resolve to IPv4 addresses for each network device. With that, the DNS64 service on the DirectAccess server will create an IPv6 address for the DirectAccess client to use. The NAT64 service will then translate this IPv6 address to IPv4 and connectivity will be established.

However, for many large organizations this might not be feasible. You may have hundreds or thousands of devices on your network to administer, and creating records in DNS for all these devices will take some time. As a temporary workaround, it is possible to determine the NAT64 IPv6 address for any network device and use that for remote network administration.

The process is simple. On a client that is connected remotely via DirectAccess, resolve the name of a known internal server to an IP address. The quickest and easiest way to do that is simply to ping an internal server by its hostname and note the IPv6 address it resolves to.

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

Now copy the first 96 bits of that address (everything up to and including the 7777::) and then append the IPv4 address of the network device you wish to manage in familiar dotted-decimal notation. The IPv6 address you create should look something like this:

fd74:45f9:4fae:7777::172.16.1.254

Enter this IPv6 address in whichever tool you use to manage your network devices and it should work. Here’s an example using the popular Putty tool connecting via SSH to a network device in my lab.

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

Figure 1 – DirectAccess Client IPv6 Prefix w/Appended IPv4 Address

SSH Administration over a DirectAccess Connection

Figure 2 – Successful connection over DirectAccess with Putty.

Going forward I would strongly recommend that you make it part of your normal production implementation process and procedures to create DNS records for all network devices. In the future you’ll absolutely have to do this for IPv6, so now is a good time to get in the habit of doing this. It will make your life a lot easier, trust me!

Please note that adding entries to the local HOSTS file of a DirectAccess client does not work! The name must be resolved by the DNS64 service on the DirectAccess server in order to work properly. Although you could populate the local HOSTS file with names and IPv6 addresses using the method I described above, it would cause problems when the client was on the internal network or connected remotely using traditional client-based VPN, so it is best to avoid using the HOSTS file altogether.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Introduction

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Windows Server Core is an operating system configuration option that does not include a Graphical User Interface (GUI). Server Core was first introduced with Windows Server 2008 and originally included only a limited number of supported roles. With each subsequent release, Microsoft continues to add support for additional roles on Server Core. Beginning with Windows Server 2012, the Routing and Remote Access (RRAS) role, which includes DirectAccess, is a supported workload on Server Core.

Advantages of Server Core

There are a number of important advantages that come with running DirectAccess on Server Core. Server Core has a greatly reduced attack surface compared to the full GUI version, which is positive from a security perspective. Server Core also features a dramatically reduced footprint, consuming less RAM and disk space. System startup times are faster, and this refactored installation option also reduces servicing requirements (patching), eliminating many reboots and increasing availability and overall system uptime.

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 Core

Figure 1 – Windows Server 2012 R2 Core Desktop (Yes, that’s it!)

Server Core Configuration

DirectAccess is a workload that lends itself well to running on Server Core, and I highly recommend leveraging this configuration whenever possible. Based on my experience, I suggest performing initial configuration and testing of the DirectAccess solution with the GUI installed, and then removing the GUI just before placing the DirectAccess server in to production. Removing the GUI can be accomplished by executing the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra –Restart

Once the server has been converted to Server Core, all administration must be performed at the command line on the server, or remotely from a management server or workstation using the command line or GUI administration tools. You can install the Remote Access Management console on any Windows Server 2012 R2 server using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature RSAT-RemoteAccess

Optionally you can download and install the Windows Server Remote Administrations Tools (RSAT) on a Windows client workstation, if desired.

Minimal Server Interface Configuration

If you prefer to be able to manage the DirectAccess server locally using the GUI, consider enabling the Minimal Server Interface. Minimal Server Interface is a configuration option that lies between Server Core and the full GUI interface. It features some of the benefits of Server Core, while at the same time providing local access to GUI management tools such as the Remote Access Management console. You can configure Minimal Server Interface using the following PowerShell command:

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell -Restart

You can access the Remote Access Management console by entering RaMgmtUI.exe from the command line.

Revert to Full GUI

If at any point in the future you require the GUI for some reason, re-installing it can be accomplished using the following PowerShell command:

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Shell –Restart

Summary

With the Unified Remote Access role supported on Windows Server Core, consider implementing DirectAccess using this option to improve the security and increase the availability of your remote access solution. You’ll find that almost all ongoing server maintenance and support can be accomplished remotely using GUI tools, or locally using PowerShell. And if you ever need the GUI again, you can always add it back if necessary!

3 Important Things You Need to Know about Windows 10 and DirectAccess

DirectAccess and Windows 10 - Better TogetherDirectAccess has been with us for quite some time know, having been originally introduced with Windows Server 2008 R2, later enhanced with Forefront Unified Access Gateway (UAG) 2010, and finally integrated in to the base operating system in Windows Server 2012 R2. Client support for DirectAccess begins with Windows 7 (Enterprise or Ultimate), and also includes Windows 8.x (Enterprise) and Windows 10 (Enterprise or Education).

Although Windows 7 clients are supported for DirectAccess, Windows 10 is highly preferred. Here are three important things you need to know about using Windows 10 with DirectAccess.

  1. Windows 10 Provides Improved Performance and Scalability – Windows 10 includes support for null encryption when using the IP-HTTPS IPv6 transition protocol. This eliminates the needless double-encryption performed by Windows 7 clients, and dramatically reduces the protocol overhead for clients connecting behind port-restricted firewalls. DirectAccess servers can support many more concurrent IP-HTTPS sessions with Windows 10, and it has the added benefit of making the more secure perimeter/DMZ deployment behind an edge security device performing NAT much more attractive.
  2. Windows 10 Supports Geographic Redundancy – Windows 10 includes full support for DirectAccess multisite deployments. Where Windows 7 clients had to be assigned to a single entry point, Windows 10 clients are aware of all entry points in the organization. They are able to automatically select the nearest entry point on startup, and transparently failover to another site if the current site becomes unavailable.
  3. Windows 10 Features an Enhanced Management Experience – From a troubleshooting and support perspective, Windows 10 makes things much easier. The DirectAccess connectivity assistant, an optional component for Windows 7, is now fully integrated with the Windows 10 UI. PowerShell is greatly improved and now includes many native DirectAccess configuration and troubleshooting commands.

As you can see, there are a number of significant advantages for using Windows 10 with DirectAccess. Windows 10 now supports all of the enterprise features of DirectAccess, including geographic redundancy and performance and scalability improvements. Windows 10 is also easier to troubleshoot and manage. If you’re still supporting Windows 7, DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 can certainly support them. However, without a doubt the best experience, both from an administrator’s and the end user’s perspective, is with Windows 10. Just one more reason to begin planning your migration to Windows 10 with DirectAccess today!

Need assistance with implementing  DirectAccess with Windows 10? I can help! More details here.

DirectAccess Manage Out from Windows 10 Does Not Work

For DirectAccess manage out deployments using ISATAP, you may encounter a scenario in which you are unable to initiate outbound connections to connected DirectAccess clients from a Windows 10 computer. Outbound connections using ISATAP from Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows Server 2008/R2, or Windows Server 2012/R2 systems work without issue.

DirectAccess Manage Out from Windows 10 Does Not Work

As it turns out, there is a bug in the Windows 10 DNS client code that prevents manage out using ISATAP from a Windows 10 client from working correctly. Thanks to the diligent effort of DirectAccess administrators Mike Piron and Jason Kuhns, a workaround has been identified. To deploy the workaround, it will be necessary to implement registry changes to alter the default behavior of the DNS resolver in Windows 10. You can implement these changes on a Windows 10 DirectAccess manage out machine by using the following PowerShell commands:

New-ItemProperty -Path “HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dnscache\Parameters\” -Name DisableParallelAandAAAA -PropertyType dword -Value 1 -Force

New-ItemProperty -Path “HKLM:\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dnscache\Parameters\” -Name DisableServerUnreachability -PropertyType dword -Value 1 –Force

Once these registry changes have been made, you should now be able to use ISATAP for DirectAccess manage out connections from a Windows 10 machine.

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 DNS Not Working Properly

Name resolution and proper DNS server configuration is vital to the functionality of DirectAccess. When performing initial configuration of DirectAccess, or making changes to the DNS server configuration after initial configuration, you may notice the operations status for DNS indicates Critical, and that the operations state shows Server responsiveness.

DirectAccess DNS Not Working Correctly

Highlighting the DNS server on the Operations Status page and viewing the details shows that DNS is not working properly with the following error message:

None of the enterprise DNS servers <IPv6_address> used by DirectAccess
clients for name resolution are responding. This might affect DirectAccess
client connectivity to corporate resources.

DirectAccess DNS Not Working Correctly

There are a number of things that can contribute to this problem, but a common cause is an error made when assigning a DNS server to a specific DNS suffix. An inexperienced DirectAccess administrator might specify the IPv4 address of an internal corporate DNS server, which is incorrect. The DNS server IPv4 address should be the address assigned to the DirectAccess server’s internal network interface.

The best way to ensure that the DNS server is configured correctly for DirectAccess is to delete the existing entry and then click Detect.

DirectAccess DNS Not Working Correctly

An IPv6 address will be added automatically. This is the IPv6 address of the DNS64 service running on the DirectAccess server, which is how the DNS server should be configured for proper DirectAccess operation.

DirectAccess DNS Not Working Correctly

Once the changes have been saved and applied, the DNS server should once again respond and the status should return to Working.

DirectAccess DNS Not Working Correctly

DirectAccess and VPN on RunAs Radio

DirectAccess and Windows Server 2012 R2 on RunAs RadioRecently I had the opportunity to once again join Richard Campbell on his popular RunAs Radio podcast to chat about all things remote access in Windows Server 2012 R2. The conversation starts out with DirectAccess, but we also touch upon important topics like client-based VPN and BYOD access. We also talk a little bit about DirectAccess in Windows Server 2016 and what the future might look like for DirectAccess in Windows.RunAs Radio

You can listen to the podcast here.

Enjoy!

DirectAccess and Surface Pro for the Enterprise

DirectAccess, Windows 10, and Surface ProToday Microsoft announced a new partnership with Dell to deliver the Surface Pro and Windows 10 to enterprise customers around the world. This new initiative addressees the specific needs of large enterprises, whose increasingly mobile workforce places unique demands on IT to provide high levels of security and consistent platform management. This partnership will ensure that Dell’s enterprise customers have access to the Microsoft Surface Pro along with Dell’s enterprise-class service and support offerings.

Of course DirectAccess on Windows Server 2012 R2 complements this initiative quite nicely. Using DirectAccess with it’s always on functionality ensures that remote Windows devices like the Surface Pro are always managed and consistently updated, providing IT administrators greater control and visibility for their field-based assets than traditional VPN is capable of providing. In addition, DirectAccess connectivity is bi-directional, allowing administrators to “manage out” to their connected DirectAccess devices. This opens up compelling use cases such as initiating remote desktop sessions for the purposes of troubleshooting or conducting vulnerability scans to determine the client’s security posture.

In addition, Windows 10 now supports the full enterprise feature set of DirectAccess on Windows Server 2012 R2, including geographic redundancy and transparent site failover, along with significant performance improvements over Windows 7 for perimeter/DMZ deployments. DirectAccess with Windows 10 is also easier to manage and support.

For more information about the Microsoft/Dell partnership, watch Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s message here. For assistance with the planning, design, and implementation of a DirectAccess solution, click here.

Configuring Multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Instances

DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 supports many different deployment configurations. It can be deployed with a single server, multiple servers in a single location, multiple servers in multiple locations, edge facing, in a perimeter or DMZ network, etc.

Global Settings

There are a number of important DirectAccess settings that are global in scope and apply to all DirectAccess clients, such as certificate authentication, force tunneling, one-time password, and many more. For example, if you configure DirectAccess to use Kerberos Proxy instead of certificates for authentication, Windows 7 clients are not supported. In this scenario it is advantageous to have a second parallel DirectAccess deployment configured specifically for Windows 7 clients. This allows Windows 8 clients to take advantage of the performance gains afforded by Kerberos Proxy, while at the same time providing an avenue of support for Windows 7 clients.

Parallel Deployments

To the surprise of many, it is indeed possible to deploy DirectAccess more than once in an organization. I’ve been helping customers deploy DirectAccess for nearly five years now, and I’ve done this on more than a few occasions. In fact, there are some additional important uses cases that having more than one DirectAccess deployment can address.

Common Use Cases

QA and Testing – Having a separate DirectAccess deployment to perform testing and quality assurance can be quite helpful. Here you can validate configuration changes and verify updates without potential negative impact on the production deployment.

Delegated Administration – DirectAccess provides support for geographic redundancy, allowing administrators to create DirectAccess entry points in many different locations. DirectAccess in Windows Server 2012 R2 lacks support for delegated administration though, and in some cases it may make more sense to have multiple separate deployments as opposed to a single, multisite deployment. For example, many organizations are divided in to different business units internally and may operate autonomously. They may also have different configuration requirements, which can be better addressed using individual DirectAccess implementations.

Migration – If you have currently deployed DirectAccess using Windows Server 2008 R2 with or without Forefront UAG 2010, migrating to Windows Server 2012 R2 can be challenging because a direct, in-place upgrade is not supported. You can, however, deploy DirectAccess using Windows Server 2012 R2 in parallel to your existing deployment and simply migrate users to the new solution by moving the DirectAccess client computer accounts to a new security group assigned to the new deployment.

Major Configuration Changes – This strategy is also useful for scenarios where implementing changes to the DirectAccess configuration would be disruptive for remote users. For example, changing from a single site to a multisite configuration would typically require that all DirectAccess clients be on the LAN or connect remotely out-of-band to receive group policy settings changes after multisite is first configured. In addition, parallel deployments can significantly ease the pain of transitioning to a new root CA if required.

Unique Client Requirements – Having a separate deployment may be required to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each client operating system. For example, Windows 10 clients do not support Microsoft Network Access Protection (NAP) integration. NAP is a global setting in DirectAccess and applies to all clients. If you still require NAP integration and endpoint validation using NAP for Windows 7 and Windows 8.x, another DirectAccess deployment will be required to support Windows 10 clients.

Requirements

To support multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess deployments in the same organization, the following is required:

Unique IP Addresses – It probably goes without saying, but each DirectAccess deployment must have unique internal and external IPv4 addresses.

Distinct Public Hostname – The public hostname used for each deployment must also be unique. Multi-SAN certificates have limited support for DirectAccess IP-HTTPS (public hostname must be the first entry in the list), so consider using a wildcard certificate or obtain certificates individually for each deployment.

Group Policy Objects – You must use unique Active Directory Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to support multiple DirectAccess deployments in a single organization. You have the option to specify a unique GPO when you configure DirectAccess for the first time by clicking the Change link next to GPO Settings on the Remote Access Review screen.

Configuring Multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Instances

Enter a distinct name for both the client and server GPOs. Click Ok and then click Apply to apply the DirectAccess settings for this deployment.

Configuring Multiple Windows Server 2012 R2 DirectAccess Instances

Windows 7 DirectAccess Connectivity Assistant (DCA) GPOs – If the DirectAccess Connectivity Assistant (DCA) v2.0 has been deployed for Windows 7 clients, separate GPOs containing the DCA client settings for each individual deployment will have to be configured. Each DirectAccess deployment will have unique Dynamic Tunnel Endpoint (DTE) IPv6 addresses which are used by the DCA to confirm corporate network connectivity. The rest of the DCA settings can be the same, if desired.

Supporting Infrastructure

The rest of the supporting infrastructure (AD DS, PKI, NLS, etc.) can be shared between the individual DirectAccess deployments without issue. Once you’ve deployed multiple DirectAccess deployments, make sure that DirectAccess clients DO NOT belong to more than one DirectAccess client security group to prevent connectivity issues.

Summary

DirectAccess with Windows Server 2012 R2 supports many different deployment models. For a given DirectAccess deployment model, some settings are global in scope and may not provide the flexibility required by some organizations. To address these challenges, consider a parallel deployment of DirectAccess. This will enable you to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each client operating system, or allow you to meet the often disparate configuration requirements that a single deployment cannot support.

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