Active Directory: Concepts Part 1

Active Directory: Concepts Part 1

Active Directory

Active Directory (AD) is a structure used on computers and servers running the Microsoft Windows operating system (OS). AD is used to store network, domain, and user information and was originally created by Microsoft in 1996. It was first deployed on Microsoft Windows 2000. Active directories provide a number of functions to include providing information regarding objects optimized for fast access and / or retrieval.

Active Directory data store

The Active Directory data store (directory) is the database that holds all directory information such as information on users, computer, groups, other objects, and the objects that users can access. It also includes other network components. The Active Directory data store is stored on the server’s hard disk by means of the Ntds.dit file. The file has to be stored on a drive that is formatted with the NTFS file system. The Ntds.dit file is placed in the Ntds folder in the systemroot. When changes are made to the directory, these changes are saved to the Ntds.dit file. Because all the data in Active Directory is stored in one distributed data store, data availability is improved. A centralized data store means less duplication and needs less administration.

Because domain controllers manage domains, each domain controller within the domain hosts a write copy of the Active Directory directory. This means that if one domain controller is unavailable, users, computers, and programs are still able to access the Active Directory data store hosted on a different domain controller in the particular domain. When changes are made to the data store on one domain controller, these changes are replicated to the remainder of the domain controllers within the domain. Because of Active Directory replication, domain controllers in a domain remain synchronized with one another. Active Directory replication occurs automatically. Only domain data, configuration data, and schema data are replicated.

How Does an Active Directory Work?

An Active Directory acts as a special-purpose database for Windows computers. The system is not designed as a Windows registry replacement, rather, it is designed to manage large numbers of read and search operations as well as changes and updates. The data stored in Active Directory is designed to be replicated, hierarchical, and extensible. Since the data gets replicated, it is not considered as useful for dynamic information like CPU performance statistics. Relevant information that is normally stored in AD includes user contact data, printer queue information, and specific computer or network configuration data. The information stored in AD is in Object and attribute format defined in the AD schema.

What are Active Directories Used to Do?

Active Directory is used by computer administrators to manage end user computer software packages, files, and accounts on medium to large-sized organizations. Instead of visiting every single computer client computer to upgrade new software or install Windows patches, the task(s) can be accomplished through updated a single object located within an AD forest or tree. Similarly, AD gives the network administrator the capability to grant or remove access at the user level for one or many applications or file structures. The two types of “trusts” that are incorporated into Microsoft Active Directory are one way non-transitive and transitive trusts. In transitive trusts the trust extends past two domains in a set tree. In this case, two entities can access the other’s domains and trees.

In one way transitive trusts, a user is given access to another domain or tree; however, the other domain cannot permit access to further domains. This permission set is similar to the classic administrator and end-user case. In this case, the admin can see most trees in the forest to include an end-user’s domain. The end user; however, cannot access other trees beyond his or her own domain.

Active Directories are primarily used to organized large organizations or corporations computer networks and data. They help save significant time and cost by eliminating the need to visit each computer individually to perform routine maintenance and upgrades. Although the learning curve to operating an Active Directory is significant, when operated properly they can result in more efficient large network operation.

What are Active Directory Partitions?

Information stored in Active Directory is not all placed in the identical location. Active Directory has three primary partitions or naming contexts. These include: schema, domain, and configuration.

The domain partition consists of object types such as contacts, users, groups, computers, and organizational units. This holds information about the domain such as users and resources in the domain.

The configuration partition contains information on the Active Directory structure such as the configuration of the domains, domain trees, and forests.

The schema partition stores information on object classes and attributes.

Active Directory information can be viewed at one of three levels including: forests, trees, or domains. The forest view includes all objects in the directory, tree structures will hold one or more domains, and the lowest-level views are for single domains. For example, in a large company or organization there will be dozens to hundreds of users and processes. The forest view will consist of the entire network of users and computers at a specific location. Within the forest will be trees that hold information on program data, domain controllers, and other relevant information. Each of these trees will then contain data on specific objects to include individual domains which can be controlled and categorized.

Active Directory Objects

Active Directory structures are grouped into two basic or broad categories: resources and security principals. Resources are typically printer or networked hardware resources while security principals relate to computer accounts or groups and are assigned unique security identifiers (SIDs).

All information on users, groups, computers, servers, and security policies in Active Directory are organized and categorized into different Active Directory objects. An Active Directory object can be defined as a group of attributes that represent a resource in the network. Each object has a unique name or unique identifier called a distinguished name. Objects can also contain other objects. These objects are known as containers. In the Active Directory Users and Computers console, the default object types created in a new domain in Active Directory are:

    Domain, Organizational Unit, User, Computer, Contact, Group, Shared Folder, and Shared Printer

How Does Replication Work in Active Directory?

Active Directory makes use of a ‘pull’ system to receive changes from the server. The Microsoft Knowledge Consistency Checker (KCC) makes a replication topology of site links that uses defined sites to manage traffic. Intrasite replication occurs automatically once a change notification is received. This action triggers peers to start replication cycles. Intersite replication occurs less frequently under AD and do not use change notification by default, but can be modified by the administrator to do so.

How Does Replication Work in Active Directory?

Active Directory makes use of Remote Procedure Calls (RPC) using the Internet Protocol (IP) (RPC/IP). SMTP can be used for cross-site replication; however, only for changing the Schema, Configuration, or Partial Attribute Set NCs. The SMTP replication option cannot be used for the default Domain partition. The programming interface for AD is available through the Microsoft COM interface provided by the Active Directory Service Interface.

Continued..... Active Directory concepts Part 2
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  • Richard Mueller edited Revision 3. Comment: Modified title, added TOC, added tag

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  • Good article series

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