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Meraki Auto VPN

Overview

Auto VPN is a proprietary technology developed by Meraki that allows you to quickly and easily build VPN tunnels between Meraki MX devices at your separate network branches with just a few clicks. Auto VPN performs the work normally required for manual VPN configurations with a simple cloud based process. This article outlines how the Auto VPN mechanisms work and how Meraki manages the cloud processes for Auto VPN. 

Definitions 

  • VPN Registry: This is the main server mechanism that allows Auto VPN to happen. It is a cloud service that is used to keep track of the contact information for all the MX devices participating in Auto VPN for an organization. 
  • Hub: Hubs are devices in a VPN topology that service connectivity from a remote peer site (such as a spoke) to the hub and the hub to the remote peer site. Hubs also act as a gateway for remote peer sites to communicate with each other via the hub.
  • Peer: This refers to another MX within the same organization that a local MX will form or has formed a VPN tunnel to. 
  • Contact: This is the public IP and the UDP port that the MX will communicate on for Auto VPN. 

How Auto VPN Works 

 

Auto_vpn_diagram1.png

 

  1. MX1 and MX2 are part of the same organization. MX1 and MX2 are configured to participate in Auto VPN. Both MX1 and MX2 send a Register Request message to their VPN registry in order to share their own contact information, and to get the contact information of the peer MX(s) that it should form a VPN tunnel with. The Register Request message contains the IP address and the UDP port that the MX communicates on, and the MX requests the contact information of its peer MX(s).
  2. VPN registries send the Register Response messages to the MXs with the contact information of the peers the MXs should establish a tunnel with. 
  3. Once the information is shared with the MX about its peers, a VPN tunnel is formed MX to MX. The Meraki cloud already knows the subnet information for each MX, and now the IP addresses to use for tunnel creation. The cloud pushes a key to the MXs in their configuration which is used to establish an AES encrypted IPsec-like tunnel. Local subnets specified by dashboard admins are exported/shared across VPN. During this process, VPN routes are pushed from the dashboard to the MXs. Finally, the dashboard will dynamically push VPN peer information (e.g., exported subnets,  tunnel IP information) to each MX. Every MX stores this information in a separate routing table.

 

The VPN connection can be monitored under Security & SD-WAN > Monitor > VPN Status page. The status of each MX is displayed, along with their exported subnets, latency, connectivity and routing decisions that are being made over the Auto VPN domain in near real-time.

 

VPN_status_page.png

 

Auto VPN Configuration

To enable site-to-site VPN between MX Security & SD-WAN appliances, simply login to the Meraki dashboard and navigate to the Security & SD-WAN > Configure > Site-to-Site VPN page, and select Hub or Spoke and save the page. That's all that is required to enable VPN connectivity. Auto VPN takes care of all connection settings and brokers the connections immediately.

 

Note that Auto VPN is a simple opt-in process. You can think of the MXs dashboard organization an existing VPN hub and spoke mesh topology environment, and every MX that has Auto VPN turned on is simply choosing to participate in that mesh. By default, all hubs contact all other hubs, and all spokes contact specified hubs. Additional configuration options can be found below.

Auto VPN Configuration Details

 

Enable Auto VPN by defining how the MX will communicate with the rest of the Auto VPN domain

If the MX is configured as a Hub, it will build VPN tunnels to all other Hub MXs in the Auto VPN domain (in the same same dashboard organization). It will also build VPN tunnels to all Spoke MXs in the Auto VPN domain that have this MX configured as a hub. If all MXs in the Auto VPN domain are configured as Hub then the Auto VPN has a full mesh topology.

 

auto_vpn_config1.png

 

If the MX is configured as a Spoke, it will build tunnels to only the MXs that are configured as its Hubs.  If the majority of MXs in the Auto VPN domain are configured as Spoke with only a few key locations (such as data centers or headquarters) configured as hubs, then the Auto VPN environment has a hub-and-spoke topology.

 

auto_vpn_config2.png

 

Full Tunnel or Split Tunnel

By default all MXs in the Auto VPN domain (dashboard organization) will only send traffic to an Auto VPN peer if the traffic is destined for a subnet contained within the Auto VPN domain. This is often referred to as 'split-tunnelling,' meaning that VPN-subnet-bound traffic is sent over VPN, and other traffic is routed normally via the primary MX WAN uplink. If an organization wants to route all traffic (including traffic not contained within the Auto VPN domain) through a specific hub site, this is referred to as 'full-tunneling.' 

Note that full-tunneling only affects client data and all Meraki management traffic will egress directly via the primary WAN regardless.

 

To configure full-tunneling in a full mesh topology simply define an Exit hub from the MXs in the Auto VPN domain.

 

auto_vpn_config3.png

 

To configure full-tunneling in a hub-and-spoke topology, simply associate a ‘Default route’ with one or more hub MXs:

 

auto_vpn_config4.png

 

Choose which subnets (local networks) to export over VPN

Earmark which locally defined or available subnets are to be exported to the Auto VPN domain. To do this simply set the relevant subnets as yes under Use VPN, and set no for the non-relevant subnets. 

 

auto_vpn_config5.png

 

Then save the changes so the MX fetches the configurations from the cloud. 

Auto VPN vs Non-Meraki Site-to-Site VPN

  • Auto VPN is a VPN connection between/among the MXs in different networks of the same Meraki dashboard organization
  • Non-Meraki site-to-site VPN is used when you form a VPN tunnel with a third-party/non-Meraki device or when you establish a VPN connection with an MX in a different dashboard organization
  • Like Non-Meraki Site-to-Site VPN, Auto VPN has encryption, authentication and a key. The traffic is encrypted using an AES cipher. However, all of this is transparent to users and does not need to be (and cannot be) modified.

Auto VPN - A Component of Meraki SD-WAN

 

       SD-WAN Characteristics         Meraki SD-WAN Component 
Support for VPNs Meraki Auto VPN 
Multiple connection types (MPLS, Internet, LTE, etc.) MX uplink options allow for multiple connection type. 
Dynamic path selection (allows for load sharing across WAN connection) MX devices can perform uplink load balancing across WAN connections
Simple WAN Configurations Interface (Must support zero-touch provisioning at a branch, should be easy to set up) Meraki dashboard & API configuration interfaces

Auto VPN, as a component of SD-WAN, transitions the manual steps for setting the VPN tunnel into a simple automated process. It takes only a few clicks and makes it easy to deploy and manage an SD-WAN environment. It gives resilience, security and application optimization. It has automatic VPN route generation using the IKE/IPSec-like tunnels and all this is done in the Meraki cloud.

 

If you have two uplinks on your MX, Auto VPN as a component of SD-WAN allows you to decide the flow preferences within the VPN tunnel under Security & SD-WAN > Configure > SD-WAN & Traffic Shaping page > Uplink Selection > Active-Active Auto VPN. Active-active Auto VPN allows you to create a VPN tunnel with flow preferences over both the uplinks. 

If active-active Auto VPN is disabled, the tunnel will be formed over the primary WAN link and will failover to the secondary if the primary fails.

Troubleshooting Auto VPN

Please refer to the article on Troubleshooting VPN Registration for Meraki Auto VPN

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