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What is Microsoft Active Directory and Why is it Useful?

Microsoft Active Directory Logo

Keeping track of everything on the same network for a business is a time-consuming task. As your business grows with staff and computers, it becomes difficult to manage login information for each user. Even on small systems, users tend to have difficulty finding network files, sharing printers, etc. With medium and large business, it is essential to have an organized system directory. This is where Microsoft's Active Directory is king.

This article will explain why Active Directory it's essential for business, how it works, and Active Directory's technical features.

3 Reasons Why Active Directory is Important for Business

#1 Personal Administration for all Users and Groups:

Active Directory helps you maintain your company’s users, computers and more. IT admin uses AD to organize your business’s complete hierarchy from which computers belong to which network, to what your outline picture looks like or which users have admittance to the storage room.

#2 Simplifies Security

There is only one place to track users and computers for your entire organization. When a user of your company logs on to their computers, the Active Directory server authenticates those devices, and then allows or denies their log on to that computer. There is also the flexibility to assign different users as members of different groups and allows them the rights to access specific network drives or folders.

#3 Software Deployment

In large environments, Active Directory can displace the requirement to install software on every machine manually. Active Directory can use Group Policy to launch out new software automatically and upgrade packages, to all devices in your business. It is a process that decreases administration time drastically.

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How does it work exactly?

Active Directory is a feature that comes built-in to all Windows server class operating systems, but is disabled by default. Usually it is good practice to have a server whose purpose is dedicated to managing an active directory domain. These servers are known as Domain Controllers or DC’s for short. If your company doesn’t have the resources to have a dedicated domain controller, it is still possible to run active directory, however it is better practice to have a dedicated DC.

Once there is a domain controller server established on a network, workstation clients as well as other windows servers can be joined to this domain. To join a computer to a domain, you must have a username with credentials that has administrative permissions. After a computer is joined to a domain, it must be rebooted to reflect these changes. After reboot, users that are members of this domain can now log in under the “organization\username” nomenclature. Then, after a user logs in, they can have network drives or shared printers automatically mapped with Active Directory login scripts.

Not only does Active Directory simplify networking from a management perspective, but it also allows any user with credentials to log in to any computer that is joined to that domain. Thankfully, this is not a security vulnerability because that user will only have access to specifically their user data (unless that user is also a domain administrator). This open yet secured type of networking allows for flexibility if at times certain computers are unavailable while others are.

microsoft active directory screenshot

A More Technical Side of Active Directory

Active Directory is a connection between “objects” and “values.” It uses LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) versions 2 and version 3, Microsoft's version of Kerberos (a platform for authenticating users), and DNS (Domain Name Servers)

Having an active directory also gives you an internal DNS server, which allows you to do some interesting things.

What exactly is DNS?

DNS is very similar to an internet phone book. DNS maintains a directory of domain names and translates them to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. When you type in the URL of a website, that request to go to that website has to be translated into an IP address. This DNS lookup is usually executed with an external DNS server. However if you have an internal DNS server, you can create entries that serve as pointers to specific places. For example, you could add what is called an “A Record” for your printer at “printer.yourdomain.local” that ties a memorable name to an IP address. Now you can get to the printer with a name rather than by IP address.

Most devices on a network already have a hostname; however those hostnames may not be all that memorable. With having an internal DNS server, you also have a running tally of when each computer hostname was last seen on your network. This can help coincide with DHCP to give you a better picture of what devices are out there on your network.

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Active Directory and other IT Support?

As you can see, Active Directory is a fantastic platform to streamline your office network. It is extremely effective for individual and group administration, local and online security, and software deployment.

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