Application Gateway and Private Link

Welcome back fellow geeks!

Over the past few years I’ve written a ton on Private Endpoints for PaaS (platform-as-a-service) services Microsoft provides. I haven’t written anything about the Private Link service that powers the Private Endpoints. There is a fair amount of community knowledge and documentation on building a Private Link service behind an Azure Load Balancer, but far less on how to do it behind an Application Gateway (Adam Stuart’s video on it is a wonderful resource). Today, I’m going to make an attempt at furthering that collective community knowledge with a post on the feature and give you access to a deployable lab you can use to replicate what I’ll be writing about in this post. Keep in mind the service is still in public preview, so remember to check the latest documentation to validate the correctness of what I discuss below.

Let’s get to it!

I’ll be using a lab environment that I’ve built which mimics a typical enterprise environment. The lab uses a hub-and-spoke architecture where on-premises connectivity and centralized mediation and optional inspection is provided in a transit virtual network which is peered to all spoke virtual network. A shared services virtual network provides core infrastructure services such as DNS. The other spoke contains the workload which is a simple Python application deployed in Azure App Services.

The App Service has been configured to inject both its ingress and egress traffic into the virtual network using a combination of Private Endpoints and Regional VNet Integration. An Application Gateway has been placed in front of the App Service and has been deployed with both a public listener (listening on 8443) and a private listener (listening on 443). The application is accessible to internal clients (such as the VMs in the shared service virtual network) by issuing an HTTP request to https://www.jogcloud.com. Azure Private DNS provides the necessary DNS resolution for internal clients.

The deployed Python application retrieves the current time from a public API (assuming the API is up) and returns the source IP on the HTTP request as well as the X-Forwarded-For header. I’ll use this application to show some of the caveats of this pattern that are worth knowing if you ever plan to operationalize it.

To maintain visibility and control of traffic coming in either publicly or privately to the application, the route table assigned to the Application Gateway subnet is configured to route traffic through the Azure Firewall instance in the hub before allowing the traffic to the App Service. This pattern allows for democratization of Application Gateway while maintaining the ability to exercise additional IDS/IPS (intrusion detection/intrusion prevention) via the security appliance in the hub.

Lab Environment

Imagine this application is serving up confidential data and you need to provide a partner organization with access. Your information security team does not want the partner accessing the application over the Internet due to the sensitivity of the information the partner will be accessing. While direct connectivity with the partner is an option, it would likely result in a significant amount of design to ensure the partner’s network only knows about the application IP space and appropriate firewall rules are in place to limit access to the Application Gateway endpoint. In this scenario, your organization will be the provider and the customer’s organization will be the consumer. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in this situation a lot of times in my past. Back in the day (yeah I’m old, what of it?) you’d have to go the direct connectivity route and you’d spend months putting together a design and getting it approved by the powers that be. Let’s now look at how the new Private Link feature of Application Gateway can make this whole problem a lot easier to solve.

Assume this partner has a presence in Azure so we don’t have to get into the complexity of alternatives (such as building an isolated virtual network with VPN Gateway the partner connects to). The service could be exposed to the customer using the architecture below. Note that I’ve trimmed down the provider environment to show only the workload virtual network and illustrated a few compute services on the consumer end that are capable of accessing services exposed through Private Endpoints.

Goal State

In the above image you will notice a new subnet in the provider’s virtual network. This subnet is used for the Private Link configuration. Traffic entering the provider environment will be NATed to an IP within this subnet. You can opt to use an existing subnet, but I’d recommend dedicating a subnet instead vs mixing it within the any of the application tier subnets.

There are considerations when sizing the subnet. Each IP allocated to the subnet can be used to service 64,000 connections and you can have up to eight IP addresses as of today allowing you to escape with a /28 (5 IP addresses reserved by Azure + 8 IPs for PrivateLink configuration). Just remember this is preview so that limit could be changed in the future. For the purposes of this post I used a /24 since I’m terrible at subnetting.

New subnet for Private Link Configuration

It’s time to create the Private Link configuration now that the subnet is in place. This can be done in all the usual ways (Portal, CLI, PowerShell, REST). When using the Portal you will need to navigate to the Application Gateway instance you’re using, select the Private Link menu item and select the option to add a new Private Link configuration.

Private Link Configuration Setup

On the next screen you will need to select the subnet you’ll use for the Private Link configuration. You will also pick the listener you want to expose and determine the number of IPs you want to allocate to the service. Note that both the public and private listeners are available. If you’re exposing a service within your virtual network, you’ll likely be creating these with private listeners almost exclusively. A use case for a public listener might be a single client wants a more consistent network experience provided by their ExpressRoute or VPN connectivity into Azure vs going over the Internet.

Private Link configuration

Once completed, you can freely create Private Endpoints for your service within the same tenant. Within the same tenant, your Private Link service will be detected when creating a Private Endpoint as seen below. All that is left for you to do is create a DNS entry that matches the FQDN you are presenting within the certificates loaded on your Application Gateway. At this point you should be saying, “That’s all well and good Matt, but my use case is providing this to a consumer in a DIFFERENT tenant.” Let’s explore that scenario.

Creating Private Endpoint in same tenant

I switched to a subscription in a separate Azure AD tenant which would represent the consumer. In this tenant I created a virtual network with a single subnet with the IP space of 10.1.0.0/16 which overlaps with the provider’s network demonstrating that overlapping IP space doesn’t matter with Private Link. In that subnet I placed a VM running Ubuntu that I would use to SSH in. I created this resources in the Australia East region to demonstrate that the service exposed via Private Link can have Private Endpoints created for it in any other Azure region. Connections made through the Private Endpoint will ride the Azure backbone to the destined service.

Once the basics were in place for testing, I then created the Private Endpoint for the provider service within the consumer’s network. This can be done through the Private Link Center blade using the Private Endpoint menu item in the Azure Portal as seen below.

Creation of Private Endpoint

On the resource screen you will need to provide the resource id of the Application Gateway and the listener name. This is additional information you would need to pass to the consumer of any Application Gateway Private Link enabled service.

Private Endpoint Creation – Resource

Bouncing back to the provider tenant, I navigated back to the Application Gateway resource and the Private Link menu item under the Private endpoint connections section. Private Endpoint creation for Private Link services across tenant work via request and approval process. Here I was able to approve the association of the consumer’s Private Endpoint with the Private Link service in the provider tenant.

Approval of Private Endpoint association

Once approved, I bounced back to the consumer tenant and grabbed the IP address assigned to the Private Endpoint that was created. I then SSH’d into the Ubuntu VM and created a DNS entry in the host file of the VM for the service I was consuming. In this scenario, I had created a listener on the Application Gateway which handles all requests from *.jogcloud.com. Once the DNS record was created, I then used curl to issue a request to the application. Success!

Successful access of application from consumer

The application spits back the client IP and X-Forwarded-For header of the HTTP request. Ignore the client IP of 169.254.129.1, that is appearing due to the load balancer component of the App Service. Focus instead on the X-Forwarded-For. Notice that the first value in the header is the NATd IP from the subnet that was dedicated to the Private Link service. The next IP in line is the private IP address of the Azure Firewall instance. As I mentioned earlier, the Application Gateway is configured to send incoming traffic through the Azure Firewall instance for additional inspection before passing on to the App Service instance. The Azure Firewall is configured for NAT to ensure traffic symmetry in this scenario.

What I want you to take away from the above is that the Private Link service is NATing the traffic, so unless the consumer has a forward web proxy on the other end appending to the X-Forwarded-For header (or potentially other headers to aid with identification), troubleshooting a user’s connection will take careful correlation of requests across App Gateway, Azure Firewall, and the underlining application logs. In the below image, you can see I used curl to add a value to the X-Forwarded-For header which was carried on through the request.

Request with X-Forwarded-For value added by consumer

What I love about this integration is it’s very simple to setup and it allows a whole bunch of additional security controls to be introduced into the flow such as the Application Gateway WAF or a firewall’s IDS/IPS features.

Here are some key takeaways for you to ponder on over this holiday break:

  • For HTTP/HTTPS traffic, the Application Gateway Private Link pattern allows for the introduction of additional security controls into the network flow beyond what you’d get with a Private Link service fronted by an Azure Standard Load Balancer
  • Setup for the consumer is very simple. All you need to do is provide them with the resource id of the application gateway and the listener name. They can then use the native Private Endpoint creation experience to setup access to your service.
  • Don’t forget the importance of ensuring the customer trusts the certificate the Application Gateway is providing and can reach applicable CRL/OCSP endpoints if you’re using them. Best bet is to use a trusted 3rd party certificate authority.
  • DNS DNS DNS. The customer will need to manage the relevant DNS records on their end. You will want to ensure they know which FQDNs you are including within your certificate so the records they create match those FQDNs. If there is a mismatch, any secure session setup will fail.

With that said, feel free to give the feature a try. You can use the lab I’ve posted on GitHub and the steps I’ve outlined in this blog to experiment with the service yourself.

Have a happy holiday!

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