Information on active directory

Active Directory

What is Active Directory?

Active Directory is a service created by Microsoft specially for Windows domain network to offer a standardized and centralized system. Due to its importance for the efficiency of work processes, Active Directory is a fundamental component of many organizations’ IT infrastructures. Through Active Directory administrators can efficiently manage network resources like computers, users and printers.

Active Directory: Key Components

The most fundamental part of Active Directory are the domains. Domains are a group of network objects, for example, computers that share a common security boundary. The name and security policies vary between different domains. A collection of one or more domains is called a tree. Domains in the same tree share a common schema. A collection of one or more domain trees is called a forest. Each tree in a forest shares a common configuration with the other trees in that same collection. Forests enable users to share resources and authentication across multiple domains. Another important component of Active Directory are Domain Controllers. A Domain Controller is a server that stores a writable copy of the Active Directory database and authorizes access to the domain. Managers can easily search across multiple domains within a forest through the Global Catalog, as it contains a subset of attributes for every forest object.

Active Directory: Benefits

An important benefit of using Active Directory is the centralized management of users, computers and network resources. This centralization simplifies the overall administrative tasks in the company. Another advantage of implementing Active Directory (AD) is the Single Sign-On with which users only need to log in once to access the resources shared via the AD. Additionally, the security features regarding authentication and security policies protect organizations’ sensitive data against unauthorized and malicious activities. For companies that expect or experience growth, Active Directory is a good solution, as AD is able to accommodate expanding resources, users and computers.

Active Directory: Challenges

One of the biggest challenges for companies when implementing Active Directory is its complexity. The deployment requires a high level of expertise and skills which is also connected to high costs for the company. Additionally, Active Directory also requires the acquiring of hardware, software licenses and training personnel expenses. One of the biggest challenges, however, is the single point of failure, or the fact that AD relies on domain controllers to authenticate access to the domains. Once unavailable or broken into, the domain controller can no longer adequately protect the AD. Since Active Directory was developed by Microsoft, it is best compatible with Microsoft products. This can limit the collaboration of AD with non-Windows platforms.

Active Directory: Logical Structure

Active Directory is hierarchical logical structure which includes domains, trees, forests, organizational units, and trust relationships. All of these components provide a flexible solution for resource management in Windows-based environments. As mentioned above, an AD is made up primarily by domains, which are the basic unt of logical structure. Each domain is a collection of network resources like computers, users and other devices and has a unique name and security identifier. Users can organize and manage the different objects in the domains through organizational units. By applying them, users can group different policies and delegate administrative tasks within the AD. A collection of one or more domains is called a tree. Trees make the management of multiple domains more effective. One or more trees are grouped in so called forests. Forests are the highest level of organizational structure in an Active Directory. Each forest has a unique configuration which defines the object types that can be stored in the directory. The communication and authentication between domains and forests is established through trust relationships. Trusts can be one-way or two-way. They can also define the level of access and permissions that are granted to users.

How to install Active Directory?

The set up of Active Directory can be challenging, however there are a few steps that users can follow to successfully equip the organization’s IT environment with AD. The first step is planning. The planning phase includes assessing whether the organization covers all the requirements for AD, checking the network infrastructure and assessing whether the hardware requirements are fulfilled. The next step is the installation. Windows Server has to be installed on the hardware or the virtual machine(s) serving as domain controller(s). The server needs to be then promoted to domain controller through the Installation Wizard. The administrator can then either create a new forest or join an existing one. At this point of the installation the user can configure the domain controller options and specify the domain name and password. The next step is configuration, which entails the technical part of the installation process. Administrators can create user accounts within the AD, create and manage group policy objects and organize them in organizational units. The last step of the installation is testing and validation. In this step the administrator can verify that the Active Directory is functioning correctly and that domain controllers are consistently working across the network. Here is the time to test the group policy setting and implement backup and recovery procedures.