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Configure IT Quick: Configure Windows XP Professional to be a VPN server

Get more use out of Windows 2000 Professional

For the Small Office/Home Office (SOHO), Windows XP Professional VPN features are a real boon. Traveling users with laptops or handheld computers will inevitably want files on the home network; you just can’t bring everything with you. This is where the beauty of the Windows XP Professional computer connected to an always-on connection such as DSL or cable modem shines. That always-on link can be used to accept incoming VPN connections and allow your mobile users to access shared folders and files on your private network.

In this Daily Drill Down, I’ll explain how to configure a Windows XP Professional computer to accept incoming VPN connections and discuss some tips on improving the remote access experience for the VPN client computer user.

Windows XP’s all-in-one VPN solution
Windows XP Professional is designed as the one-stop solution for the SOHO, taking all the usability features available to Windows Me users and adding the powerful networking features available in Windows 2000. The combination lets you, the support professional/net admin, create the ideal remote access solution for the SOHO.

The Windows XP Professional remote access server capabilities are very similar to those available in Windows 2000 Professional. A Windows XP computer can accept a single incoming connection on each interface that can accept a connection. For example, a Windows XP machine can accept incoming connections on each of the following interfaces:
  • Dial-up modem serial interface
  • Infrared interface
  • Parallel port interface
  • VPN interface

While it’s unlikely, a Windows XP Professional machine with the above configuration could conceivably accept up to four simultaneous RAS connections. However, the typical configuration consists of a single RAS client connection, either through a dial-up modem interface or a VPN interface.

Create an incoming connection with the New Connection Wizard
Like Windows 2000 Professional, Windows XP Professional includes a New Connection Wizard. I’ll show you how to use the New Connection Wizard to create the new VPN server interface. In this example, I’ll assume the Windows XP Professional machine is not a member of a Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000 domain. The machine has two network interface cards; one is directly connected to the Internet and the other is connected to the internal LAN. In addition, the external interface of the machine is configured for Internet Connection Sharing (ICS). While ICS changes the IP address of the LAN interface of the ICS computer to 192.168.0.1 through 16, it's easy to change the IP address to one that fits the existing network environment. The IP address of the LAN interface of the ICS computer was changed to 10.0.0.1 through 24 to fix the preexisting network configuration.

Running ICS and incoming VPN connections on the same interface
I have been able to run ICS and incoming VPN connections on the same interface. However, to prevent problematic configuration issues, you should configure the VPN interface before you configure ICS on the same computer.

How to create the VPN server interface, step-by-step
  1. Click Start | Control Panel.
  2. In the Control Panel, open the Network Connections applet.
  3. In the Network Connections window (see Figure A), open the New Connection Wizard.

Figure A
The Network Connections window

  1. On the Welcome To The New Connection Wizard page, click Next.
  2. On the Network Connection Type page (see Figure B), select the Set Up An Advanced Connection option.

Figure B

  1. On the Advanced Connection Options page (see Figure C), select the Accept Incoming Connections option and click Next.

Figure C
Configuring XP to accept incoming connections

  1. On the Devices For Incoming Connections page (see Figure D), you can select optional devices on which you want to accept incoming connections.

Figure D
Note that you are not presented with any of the network interfaces on the computer.

  1. On the Incoming Virtual Private Network (VPN) Connection page (see Figure E), select the Allow Virtual Private Connections option and click Next.

Figure E

  1. On the User Permissions page (see Figure F), select the users that are allowed to make incoming VPN connections. Click Next.

Figure F
Any user that isn’t selected won’t be able to initiate an incoming connection.

  1. On the Networking Software page (see Figure G), click on the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) entry and click the Properties button.

Figure G
Configuring TCP/IP properties

  1. In the Incoming TCP/IP Properties dialog box (see Figure H), place a check mark in the Allow Callers To Access My Local Area Network check box. This will allow VPN callers to connect to other computers on the LAN. If this check box isn’t selected, VPN callers will only be able to connect to resources on the Windows XP VPN server itself.

Figure H
Granting LAN access to callers

  1. On the Completing The New Connection Wizard page, click Finish to create the connection.

After the Incoming Connection is complete, right-click on the connection in the Network Connections window and click the Properties command (see Figure I).

Figure I
Accessing the properties of the VPN server link


Note that on the General tab of the Incoming Connections Properties page (see Figure J) that no devices are listed. The comment No Hardware Capable Of Accepting Calls Is Installed isn’t true, since you can now create VPN connections to both network interface cards. In practice, there is no point in creating a VPN connection to the internal interface card.

Figure J
VPN clients will only call the external IP address of the Windows XP Professional VPN server.


VPN server optimization tips
The New Connection Wizard made it easy to create the VPN server interface, but you can still do more to optimize your VPN connections. First, note that you can create PPTP or L2TP/IPSec VPN connections. Figure K shows the connection status dialog box of a Windows XP VPN client connected to a Windows XP VPN server. Note that MPPE 128-bit encryption is automatically enabled and that Microsoft CHAP v2 is used for authentication.

Figure K
If both machines had machine certificates from the same Certification Authority installed, an L2TP/IPSec VPN link could have been negotiated.


If you want the VPN client to access resources on the internal network, the IP address assigned to the VPN client should be on the same network ID as the internal interface of the Windows XP VPN server computer. In addition, all the machines on the internal network should have a default gateway set using the IP address of the internal interface of the Windows XP VPN server.

In the unlikely event that the SOHO has multiple network segments, the routing table on the Windows XP VPN server needs to be configured with paths to the various internal network IDs. You can use the ROUTE ADD command to create these routing table entries.

Small networks that use a Windows XP Professional machine for a VPN server probably won’t have network services such as WINS or DNS. If name resolution on the private network is an issue for the VPN client, then you should create a LMHOSTS file, a simple text file that contains name and IP address mappings. For example, the following line could represent an entry in an LMHOSTS file:
10.0.0.2 DEFIANT

Tip
When you save the LMHOSTS file to the <system_root>\system32\drivers\etc folder, make sure that the file doesn’t contain a file extension. To prevent Notepad from appending a file extension to the filename, when you save the file in Notepad, put quotes around LMHOSTS.

The VPN client must be configured with an IP address or host name for the Windows XP Professional VPN server. If the Windows XP Professional client has a dedicated link to the Internet and a static IP address, you can use that IP address in the VPN client configuration interface. However, if the Windows XP Professional VPN server is assigned an IP address via DHCP, you’ll have to use an Internet host name and a method of registering the host name dynamically. A couple of services you might want to look into are TZO and DYNDNS. Both of these services will let you dynamically register a computer’s IP address into the public DNS database.

Conclusion
Windows XP Professional provides simple VPN server capabilities that let you connect single VPN clients to your internal network, one at a time. If the Windows XP Professional computer has a dedicated connection to the Internet, you can connect to that computer from virtually anywhere in the world using a VPN link. The VPN server setup is simple and can accept calls from any Windows PPTP or L2TP/IPSec client.
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