VPN, DirectAccess or Windows 10 auto-trigger VPN profile?

On a recent consulting gig, I found myself advising a customer who was keen to deploy Microsoft DirectAccess (DA) in place of their legacy virtual private network (VPN) solution. As a DirectAccess user (who used Cisco AnyConnect VPN at my last place of work), I have to say the convenience of being always connected to the company network without any interaction on my part is awesome. I’m sure the IT guys like that they can always access my PC for management purposes too…

The trouble with DirectAccess is that it doesn’t seem to have a published roadmap. So, should I really be advising my customers to use a technology that doesn’t seem to be being developed? First of all, I should add that it’s not been deprecated. DirectAccess is still a supported feature in Windows Server 2016 (it’s part of the Remote Access server role) – so it’s still got a future. Annoyingly, it’s not a supported workload on Azure (leading to on-premises deployments) but we can’t have everything…

Now for the question of whether to use DA or a traditional VPN. Well, Microsoft MVP Richard Hicks (@RichardHicks) has written a fantastic blog post that goes through this in detail. Rather than paraphrasing, I’ll suggest that you go and read Richard’s post on DirectAccess vs. VPN.

But that’s not the whole picture… you see Windows 10 has a new auto-triggered VPN profile capability that I’m sure will, in time, replace DirectAccess. So, where does that fit in?

Great response there from Richard, and then my colleague Steve Harwood (@steveeh) joined in, advising that Auto VPN still requires a VPN profile and infrastructure but gets initiated through either a Universal Windows Platform (UWP) or desktop app being started or stopped, meanwhile DirectAccess has other benefits from being always-on avoiding the need to expose management/compliance systems publicly.

Actually, it gets a bit better with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update (RedStone 1/1607), which has the Always On VPN profile option, but we’re still Windows-only at this point. Richard has recommended a DirectAccess alternative for Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android:

So if the question is “should you deploy DirectAccess?”, the answer is “maybe”. It’s a Windows Enterprise-only solution but, if you have other clients in your enterprise, you might want to consider alternatives instead of or alongside DA.

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