Don’t Forget To Leverage The Benefits of RD Gateway On Hyper-V & RDP 8/8.1

So you upgraded your TS Gateway virtual machine on W2K8(R2) to RDS Gateway on W2K12(R2) too make sure you get the latest and the greatest functionality and cut off any signs of technology debt way in advance. Perhaps you were inspired by my blog series on how to do this, and maybe you jumped through the x86 to x64 bit hoop whilst at it. Well done.

Now when upgrading or migrating from W2K8(R2) a lot of people forget about some of the enhancements in W2K12(R2). This is especially true of you don’t notice much by doing so. That’s why I see people forget about UDP. Why? Well things will keep working as they did before Windows Server 2012 RDS Gateway over HTTP or over RPC-HTTP (legacy clients). I have seen deployments where both the Windows and the perimeter firewall rules to allow UDP over 3391 were missing. Let alone that UDP Transport over port 3391 was enabled in the transport settings.  But then you miss out on the benefits it offers (a better user experience over less than great network connections and with graphics) ass well on those of that ever more capable thingy called RemoteFX, if you use that.

For you that don’t know yet:  HTTP and UDP protocols are both used preferably by RD Gateway and are more efficient than RPC over HTTP which is better for scaling and experience under low bandwidth and bad connectivity conditions. When HTTP transport channels are up (in & outgoing traffic), two UDP side channels are set up that can be used to provide both reliable (RDP-UDP-R) and best-effort (RDP-UDP-L) delivery of data. UDP also leveraged SSL via the RD gateway because is uses Datagram Transport Layer Security (DTLS). For more info RD Gateway Capacity Planning in Windows Server 2012. Further more it proves you have no reason not to virtualize this workload and I concur!

So why not set it up!?  So check you firewall rules on the RD Gateway Server and set the rules accordingly. Do the same for your perimeter firewalls or any other in between your users and your RD Gateway.

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Under properties of your RS Gateway server you need to make sure UDP is enabled and listening on the needed IP address(es)

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A client who connects over your RDS Gateway server, Windows Server 2012(R2) that is, and checks the network connection properties (click the “wireless NIC” like icon in the connection bar) sees the following: UDP is enabled. imageIf they don’t see UDP as enabled and they aren’t running Windows 8 or 8.1 (or W2K12R2) they can upgrade to RDP 8.1 on windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2! When they connect to a Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 2008R2  machine make sure you read this blog post Get the best RDP 8.0 experience when connecting to Windows 7: What you need to know as it contains some great information on what you need to do to enable RDP 8/8.1 when connecting to Windows 7 SP1 or Windows 2008 R2:

  1. “Computer ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesWindows ComponentsRemote Desktop ServicesRemote Desktop Session HostRemote Session EnvironmentEnable Remote Desktop Protocol 8.0” should be set to “Enabled”
  2. “Computer ConfigurationAdministrative TemplatesWindows ComponentsRemote Desktop ServicesRemote Desktop Session HostConnectionsSelect RDP Transport Protocols” should be set to “Use both UDP and TCP” => Important: After the above 2 policy settings have been configured, restart your computer.
  3. Allow port traffic: If you’re connecting directly to the Windows 7 system, make sure that traffic is allowed on TCP and UDP for port 3389. If you’re connecting via Remote Desktop Gateway, make sure you use RD Gateway in Windows Server 2012 and allow TCP port 443 and UDP port 3391 traffic to the gateway

Cool you’ve done it and you verify it works. Under monitoring in the RD Gateway Manager you can see 3 connections per session: one is HTTP and the two others are UDP.

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Life is good. But if you want to see the difference really well demonstrated try to connect to Windows 7 SP1 computer with RDP8 & TCP/UDP disabled and play a YouTube video, then to the same with RDP8 & TCP/UDP enabled, the difference is rather impressive. Likewise if you leverage RemoteFX in VM. The difference is very clear in experience, just try it! While you’re doing this look a the UDP “Kilobytes Sent” stats (refresh the monitoring tab, you’ll see UDP being put to work when playing a video on in your RDP session.

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Load balancing Hyper-V Workloads With High To Continuous Availability With a KEMP Loadmaster

I’m working on some labs and projects with KEMP Loadmaster load balancing appliances (LM 2400, LM-R320) That will lead to some blog post on  load balancing several workloads, which are all on Windows Server 2012 R2  Hyper-V or integrate in to Azure. The load balancers used in the labs are the virtual appliances, depending on the needs and environment these are a very good, cost effective option for production as well and depending on the version you get they scale very well. Hence their use in cloud environments, they will not hold you back at all!

To stimulate your interest in load balancing and high availability I’ve put up a video on load balancing RD Gateway services. Consider it a teaser or introduction to more about the subject.

Why use an appliance (hardware/virtual)? Well let’s look at the 2 alternatives:

  • Round robin DNS, which is also sometimes used is just to low tech for most real life scenarios and sometimes can’t be used or is less efficient which impacts scalability and performance. On top of that it doesn’t provide health checking for failover purposes.
  • I’ve also said  before that while Windows NLB  provides layer 4 load balancing out of the box it’s pretty basic. It also often causes a lot of network grief and the implementation can be tedious. This has not improved in an ever more virtualized & cloud based world. On top of that, when network virtualization comes into play you might paint yourself into a corner as those two don’t mix. But if that’s not a concern and you’re on a budget, I’ve used it with success in the past as well.

Load Balancing In An Ever More Demanding Virtualized & Cloudy World

We’ve been using the Kemp Loadmasters for many years now and they have served us very well. You might know that Microsoft Azure has a partnership with Kemp technologies to provide full featured load balancing in your public & hybrid cloud solutions. I pretty happy with that as when talk about load balancing with Microsoft we always end up discussing the need for more features and layer 7 support. I sometimes jokingly tease them that this is due to their Windows NLB legacy. While I have done some magic with that, it is way too limited for today’s (and yesterdays) demands and needs. Also the hacks they use to get it to work can’t be used in network virtualization. In the cloud Microsoft has the Azure Load Balancer. Whilst nice when combined with availability sets many of the current workloads need more. That’s exactly what the KEMP Virtual LoadMaster for Azure delivers in their partnership with Microsoft:

  • Layer 4, Layer 7 Load Balancing
  • Layer 7 (or Cookie) Persistence
  • SSL Offload/SSL Acceleration
  • Application Health Checking
  • Adaptive (Server Resource) Load Balancing
  • Layer 7 Content Switching
  • Application Acceleration: HTTP Caching, Compression & IPS

To me (and many other IT Pros) Kemp is the company that opened load balancing up to everyone on this planet with budget friendly but high value solutions. They took away the barrier to better & more capable load balancing for the masses. Furthermore they keep improving and I have seen many existing customers, including me get ever more benefits with the newer firmware releases, even on their entry level, older models like the LM2200 that are not for sale anymore. So you can keep using them or move them to the lab. They have great support and respond very quickly to vulnerabilities like Heartbleed, Shellshock and Poodle.

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Another benefit of this partnership is that we can use the load balancing solution we know and trust in all our environments: on premises (physical or virtual appliance), in the cloud & at our hosting companies. Partner ships with OEMs ensure that you can use the hardware you prefer (the DELL R320 is a nice example) and their Virtual Load Master now even extends into the cloud. So our options are to …

… deploy an appliance …

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…  virtualize the LoadMasters …

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… leverage Kemp in the cloud

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…. or select your own preferred OEM …

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They cover all our bases with that line up and it helps with operational ease & efficiencies.

As I’m investigating some scenarios with KEMP LoadMasters in a Hyper-V environment (on premises, multi sites, Azure IAAS & Multifactor Authentication you can expect to see some blog posts on this. Some of these will leverage technologies available in Windows Server vNext (Technical Preview). Lot’s of very interesting ideas to support high availability & flexibility that are affordable and not just point solutions.

Ah the joy of being in virtualization is that one gets great exposure to storage, networking, cloud solutions and on premises. The experience & knowledge of the entire stack isn’t just fun (yes working can be fun) but it is also what allows to build great solutions.

Using Host Names in IIS in Combination with a KEMP LoadMaster

At a client the change over of a web site from old servers to new ones lead to the investigation of an issue with the hardware load balancer. Since that web site is related to an existing surveyors solutions suite that already had a KEMP LoadMaster 2200 in use the figured we’d also use it for the web site and no longer use WNLB.

Now the original web site had multiple DNS entries and host header names defined in IIS (see Configure a Host Header for a Web Site (IIS 7)) . Host header names in IIS allow you to host multiple web sites on an IIS server using the same IP address and port. A small added security benefit is that surfing on IP address fails which means we marginally disrupt some script kiddies & get an extra security checkbox marked during an audit Winking smile.

In our example we needed:

  • ntrip.surveyor.lab
  • www.surveyor.lab

Note: The real names have been changed as well as the reasons why as this has some business & historical justifications that don’t matter here.

ntrip.surveyor.lab needs to be handled by the load balanced web servers in the solution. The www.surveyor.lab needs to be redirected to another web server to keep the business happy. However for political reasons we have to keep the DNS record for www.surveyor.lab pointing to the load balanced servers, i.e. the load master VIP.

Now without host names IIS al worked fine until we wanted to use HTTP redirect. As the web site is the same IP address for both names we either redirected them both or none. To fix this we needed two sites in IIS. The real one hosting ntrip.surveyor.lab and a “fake” one hosting the www.surveyor.lab that we want to redirect. Well as both are hosted on the same IP address and port on the IIS server we need to use host names. But then the sites became unavailable.

When checking the LoadMaster configuration, the virtual service for the web servers seemed well.

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Is this a limitation of hardware load balancing or this specific Loadmaster? Some searching on the internet made it look like I was about the only on on the planet dealing with this issue so no help there.

Kemp Support Rocks

I already knew this but this experience reaffirms it. KEMP Technologies really does care about their customers and are very fast & responsive. I threw a quick question on twitter to @KempTech on Twitter and they responded very fast with some pointers. After that I replied with some more details, they offered to take it on via other means as twitter has it limits. OK, no problems. The next morning I got an e-mail from one of their engineers (Ekkehard) with more information and a request for more input from our side. I quickly made a VISIO diagram of the current and the desired situation. Based on this he let me know this should work.

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He asked for a copy of the configuration and already pointed to the solution:

And what exactly happens – does the RS turn “red” in the “View/Modify Services” view? That might be caused by the health check settings…
(Remember that a 302 is considered NOT ok, so you had to enter the proper check URL and or / HTTP1.1 hostname)

But at that moment I did not realize this yet. I saw no error or the real server turning red indicating it was down. So we went through the configuration and decided to test without forcing layer 7 to see what happened. This didn’t make a difference and it wasn’t really a solution if it had as we needed layer 7 and layer 7 transparency.

Ekkehard also noticed my firmware was getting rather old (don’t fix what isn’t broken Smile) and suggest an upgrade (5.1-24 to 5.1.-74). So I did, reboot and tested some more settings. To make sure I didn’t miss anything I threw a network sniffer (WireShark) against the issue. And guess what?  As soon as I added a host name to the IIS web site bindings I didn’t even get any request from my client on that server anymore. So it was definitely being stopped at the Loadmaster. Without it request from a client came through perfectly.  That was not IIS doing as with a host name nothing came into the server. So why would the LoadMaster stop traffic to a real server? Because it’s down, that’s why, just like Ekkehard has indicated in one of his mails but we didn’t see it then.

Better check again and sure enough, the health service told me the real servers are down. Hey … that’s new. Did the previous firmware not show this, or just slower? I can’t say for sure. It’s either me being to impatient, a hiccup, the firmware or premature dementia Confused smile

Root Cause

So what happens? The default health check uses HTTP 1.0. You can customize it with a path like  /owa or such but in essence it uses the IP address of the real server and guess what. With a Host header name in IIS that isn’t allowed other wise it can’t figure out what website you want to go to if you’re using this feature to run multiple sites on the same IP address and port. So we need to check the health based on host name. Can the LoadMaster do that for us? Yes it can!

The fix

You need to enable HTTP 1.1 and fill out the host name you want to use for health checking.  In our case that’s ntrip.surveyor.lab. That’s all there’s to it. Easy as can be if you know. And Ekkehard knew he indicated to this in his quoted mail above.

HTTP1 1host

 

Lessons Learned

So how did I not know this? Isn’t this documented? Sure enough on page  56 of the LoadMaster manual it says the following:

7  HTTP  The LoadMaster opens a TCP connection to the Real Server on the Service port (port80). The LoadMaster sends a HTTP/1.0 HEAD request the server, requesting the page ―/‖.  If the server sends a HTTP response with a status code of 2 (200-299, 301, 302, 401) the LoadMaster closes the connection and marks the server as active.  If the server fails to respond within the configured response time for the configured number of times or if it responds with a different status code, it is assumed dead.  HTTP 1.0 and 1.1 support available, using HTTP 1.1 allows you to check host header enabled web servers.

Typical, you read the exact line of information you need AND understand it after having figured it out. Now linking that information (yes we always read all manuals completely Embarrassed smile) to the situation at hand isn’t always that fast a process but I got there in the end with some help from KEMP Technologies.

One hint is perhaps to mention this is in the handy tips that pop up when you hover over a setting in the LoadMaster console. I rely on this a lot and a mention of “HTTP 1.1 allows you to check host header enabled web servers” might have helped me out. But it’s not there. A very poor excuse I know … Embarrassed smile

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Host Header Names & HTTP redirection

After having fix this issue I proceeded to configure HTTP redirect in IIS 7.5. For this is used two sites. One was just a fake site tied to the www.surveyors.lab hostname in IIS on port 80.

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For this site I created a HTTP redirect to www.bussines.lab/surveyors/services. This works just fine as long as you don’t forget the http:// in the redirect URL.

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So it has to be http://www.bussines.lab/surveyors/services or you’ll get a funky loop effect looking like this:

http://www.surveyors.lab/www.bussines.lab/surveyors/services/www.bussines.lab/surveyors/services/www.bussines.lab/surveyors/services

Firefox will tell you you have a loop that will never end but Internet Explorer doesn’t, it just fails. You do get that URL as a pointer to the cause of the issue. That is if you can relate it to that.

The other was the real site  and was configured with following bindings and without redirection.

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Don’t forget to do this on all real servers in the farm! The next thing I need to find out is how to health check two host names in the LoadMaster as I have two websites with the same IP address, port but different host names.