Benefits of Active Directory (Pros and Cons)

Throughout the past few years, technological advancements have enabled enterprises to do much more. Companies no longer have to worry about space issues or other bottlenecks when integrating more resources into their toolset. The cloud has efficiently provided many robust functionalities without hogging more and more physical areas or being heavy on the pocket. On-premise resources also have much more advantages to offer than before.

 

As much as the technology has gotten better and the resources have gotten more powerful, managing them is still a significant challenge on its own. In the case of computer networking, administrators have to constantly find optimal strategies that offer the best performance and no compromise on security. Such strategies can focus entirely on cloud or on-premises resources, or even a hybrid of both. Additionally, managing users can also turn messy if not for helpful tools like Active Directory.

 

This article looks closely at Active Directory, its inner workings and protocols, and what it has to offer. It will go through its pros and cons and try to paint a picture of its effectiveness. It will help you decide if Active Directory is the network solution you are looking for or not.

benefits of active Directory
Example of a Hybrid Active Directory Domain with Domain Controllers in Azure and on-prem

What Does Network Management Look Like

In today’s age of constant connectivity and the internet’s critical role in almost everything, network resources form one of the main backbones of a company’s operations. The network enables users to access IT resources highly needed for their everyday responsibilities. Network management involves monitoring and managing these network resources to ensure smooth access and services. 

 

Administrators use software and hardware to gather and analyze data and ensure that systems can deliver without hiccups. It involves making sure that the infrastructure is reliable, secure, and configured as needed. Network administrators also have to update and update the resources so that the network performance stands uncompromised. 

 

Network management involves using a wide array of tools and applications for its purposes. There are whole operating systems, like Windows Server, dedicated to effectively managing network resources and matters like user access. It can handle on-premise resources along with cloud resources and provide many additional functionalities like security protocols. Enterprises can either choose to handle their network management on their own or outsource it to a dedicated firm.

Understanding Active Directory & Its Main Features

A network operating system by Microsoft, the Active Directory (AD) service is an integral part of its Windows Server. Administrators use it to monitor and control user information from a central place. The central repository of AD is globally distributed, and one can disperse the information to the whole enterprise or as many people needed. It stores information about not just users but also devices that require access to the network.

 

Information on the AD is intended to be as far-reaching as possible to serve as a central place of reference for anyone in the enterprise. Once all the information is added, it is possible to query the AD to find out any kind of information, like the location of a device or email address. AD maintains the data to fit the hierarchical structure of the enterprise and enforces permissions accordingly. Through AD, an enterprise can easily manage all kinds of users and how they can use the network and its resources.

Active Directory Features
Example of Active Directory domain and its resources (Users, Groups, Printers, File Shares and Group Policies)

Information management on the AD involves identifying objects uniquely by terming them as such and assigning each a globally unique identifier (GUID). Each object is to be uniquely identifiable and locatable to qualify as one. The inner structure of AD is built on three main concepts:

 

  • Domains: A network domain is a collection of objects within an AD network. It can consist of a single user or multiple users, such as hardware components like printers. Every domain has a database that maintains the information of the particular collection of objects, a unique identifier, security services, and policies.  
  • Trees: Also called domain trees, these are hierarchical structures that consist of domains at every node. The primary domain serves as the root, and each domain added to the main domain serves as a child. Such a structure is easy to maintain when it comes to permissions. A child domain can allow access from another domain allowed by its parent domain (a relationship called ‘trust’). 
  • Forests: Multiple domain trees come together to form a forest. All the domain trees in a forest share a common schema and configuration settings. The trees ‘trust’ each other as a whole, and forests are connected through ‘transitive trusts.’ It involves the root domains of multiple forests trusting each other and, therefore, letting their child domains trust each other too.

 

While AD is primarily intended for on-premise networks, its cloud counterpart offers the same functionality for cloud networks. It is a separate service called Azure AD but can work in conjunction with AD to help manage hybrid network resources. There are many helpful guides to help you set up an Active Directory domain on popular cloud services.

The Pros & Cons Of Active Directory

AD can serve as a fantastic tool to easily control user access and privileges and effectively enforce a hierarchical structure without much hassle. However, it is essential to consider potential drawbacks and weigh the pros against the cons, like with any service. Given below are some prominent advantages and disadvantages of the AD service:

 

Pros:

  • Centralized Control & Monitoring: The AD service offers a central place for administrators to control almost all things related to user access and network permissions.
  • Seamless User Experience: Users get to enjoy smooth access once the AD infrastructure is set and all permission policies have been enforced. Even with cloud services, AD makes sure that users don’t fact lag in accessing resources.
  • A Different Type For Every Different Need: There are many alternative versions of AD available for different scenarios, like AD Federation Services, Azure AD Directory Application Proxy, etc. 
  • Far-reaching Policies With Group Policy Objects: GPOs are policy objects that help enforce global policies like password limits and system behavior. Microsoft offers a dedicated Group Policy Editor to help easily set up the policies and what level they will be enforced on. 

 

Cons:

  • Can Prove Expensive: A global infrastructure like AD can get pretty pricey to set up and maintain. Apart from that, once set up, changing its configurations is also expensive.
  • Network Becomes Excessively Dependent on AD: With AD services handling the whole network and its capabilities, the network will also die if the AD shuts off for some reason.
  • Security Risks: AD has several security risks, like root domains exposing the whole structure to vulnerabilities, unwanted permission inheritance, vulnerabilities due to inactive accounts, etc. 

Also Read

Active Directory vs Azure AD (Whats the difference ?)

Your Network Managed Effectively With Active Directory

Efficient network management is a crucial element to eliminating any resource-related productivity challenges. Various tools can help administrators in all kinds of tasks related to maintaining a healthy network and monitoring it consistently. Microsoft’s Active Directory service is one of the most trusted tools and is widely used on an enterprise level.

 

While Active Directory faces some challenges in implementation and security, they can be overcome by intelligent planning and a clear idea of the network requirements. Once an enterprise deals with these drawbacks sufficiently, Active Directory can prove a most helpful resource.

Avatar for Emad Bin Abid
Emad Bin Abid

I'm a software engineer who has a bright vision and a strong interest in designing and engineering software solutions. I readily understand that in today's agile world the development process has to be rapid, reusable, and scalable; hence it is extremely important to develop solutions that are well-designed and embody a well-thought-of architecture as the baseline. Apart from designing and developing business solutions, I'm a content writer who loves to document technical learnings and experiences so that peers in the same industry can also benefit from them.

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