July 18, 2024

Azure Active Directory (AAD) vs Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS)

8 min read
Discover the differences between Azure Active Directory (AAD) and Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) in this informative article.
Two overlapping cloud-shaped figures

Two overlapping cloud-shaped figures

If you are considering migrating your organization to the cloud, there are several critical decisions you must make. One of these decisions is choosing the right identity and access management solution, which can be complex. In this article, we will compare Azure Active Directory (AAD) and Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) and help you make an informed choice.

Understanding the differences between AAD and AAD DS

Azure Active Directory (AAD) is a cloud-based identity and access management solution that provides single sign-on (SSO) and multi-factor authentication (MFA) for cloud-based applications, including Office 365, Dynamics 365, and many more. AAD DS, on the other hand, is a fully managed domain service that gives you Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) functionality in the cloud without the need for domain controllers.

One of the key differences between AAD and AAD DS is that AAD is primarily designed for cloud-based applications, while AAD DS is designed to support traditional on-premises applications that require AD DS functionality. AAD DS also provides features such as Group Policy, which allows you to manage user and computer settings across your domain, and LDAP, which enables applications to query the directory for user and group information. Additionally, AAD DS can be used to extend your on-premises AD DS environment to the cloud, providing a hybrid identity solution that allows users to access resources both on-premises and in the cloud.

Features of Azure Active Directory (AAD)

Azure Active Directory (AAD) provides a wide range of features, including SSO, MFA, user and group management, device management, role-based access control (RBAC), conditional access policies, and more. With AAD, you can manage access to cloud-based and on-premises applications and resources from a centralized location, reducing the need for multiple point solutions.

One of the key features of AAD is its ability to integrate with other Microsoft services, such as Office 365 and Azure. This integration allows for seamless authentication and access management across multiple platforms, making it easier for users to access the resources they need. Additionally, AAD offers a range of security features, such as threat detection and identity protection, to help protect against cyber attacks and data breaches.

Another benefit of AAD is its scalability. As your organization grows and your user base expands, AAD can easily accommodate the increased demand for access management and security. AAD also offers a range of customization options, allowing you to tailor the platform to meet the specific needs of your organization.

Features of Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS)

Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) provides full AD DS functionality in the cloud without the need for domain controllers. It includes features such as domain join, Group Policy, LDAP, Kerberos authentication, and more. With AAD DS, you can extend your existing on-premises AD DS to the cloud.

In addition to the features mentioned above, AAD DS also offers secure LDAP access over the internet, which allows you to securely access your domain-joined resources from anywhere. It also supports Azure AD Connect, which enables you to synchronize your on-premises identities with Azure AD and use them to authenticate to AAD DS. AAD DS also provides built-in monitoring and alerting capabilities, which help you to quickly identify and troubleshoot issues. With AAD DS, you can easily manage your domain-joined resources in the cloud and provide seamless access to your users.

Pros and Cons of Using AAD

One of the significant benefits of using Azure Active Directory (AAD) is that it provides a cloud-based SSO solution that enables users to access multiple applications and services using a single sign-on. This feature improves user productivity and security by eliminating the requirement for multiple usernames and passwords. However, AAD does have limitations when it comes to on-premises applications and resources that rely on AD DS.

Another benefit of AAD is its rich set of features that provide robust identity and access management capabilities, including conditional access policies, security reports and alerts, and role-based access control. However, some organizations may struggle with the number of available features and the complexity of configuring some of them.

Additionally, AAD offers integration with other Microsoft services, such as Office 365 and Dynamics 365, which can streamline user management and improve collaboration across teams. However, this integration may also lead to vendor lock-in and limit the flexibility of an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Pros and Cons of Using AAD DS

One of the significant advantages of using Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) is its ability to extend your on-premises AD DS to the cloud, which can provide a seamless experience for your users. Additionally, AAD DS provides a fully managed AD DS infrastructure, which removes the need to manage and maintain your domain controllers.

However, AAD DS does have limitations when it comes to certain AD DS features such as point-to-site VPNs and domain trusts. Additionally, it can be complicated to set up and requires a dedicated network connection to Azure.

Another advantage of using AAD DS is that it allows you to use Azure AD features such as conditional access and multi-factor authentication with your on-premises AD DS. This can enhance the security of your environment and provide additional layers of protection for your users’ identities.

On the other hand, one of the disadvantages of using AAD DS is that it can be more expensive than managing your own domain controllers. Additionally, if you have complex AD DS configurations, it may not be possible to fully replicate them in AAD DS, which could limit your ability to migrate certain workloads to the cloud.

Use Cases for AAD and AAD DS

Generally, Azure Active Directory (AAD) is suitable for organizations that rely heavily on cloud-based applications and services and require robust identity and access management features. Additionally, AAD is ideal for organizations migrating to the cloud and might not want to or be able to maintain on-premises AD DS infrastructure.

On the other hand, AAD DS is best suited for organizations that have an existing on-premises AD DS and want to extend their domain to the cloud without the need for domain controllers.

Another use case for AAD is for organizations that need to manage access to multiple cloud services and applications. AAD provides a single sign-on experience for users, allowing them to access all their cloud-based resources with a single set of credentials. This can simplify the user experience and reduce the burden on IT staff who would otherwise need to manage multiple sets of credentials for each user.

How to Choose Between AAD and AAD DS for Your Organization

Choosing the right solution for your organization requires a careful evaluation of your requirements. One critical factor to consider is whether you have an existing on-premises AD DS infrastructure that you want to maintain. If so, Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) might be the better option. On the other hand, if you are migrating to the cloud and don’t want to or can’t maintain an on-premises AD DS, Azure Active Directory (AAD) might be the best choice.

Additionally, you should consider the features and limitations of each solution and how they align with your business needs and goals. Finally, you should evaluate pricing options and determine which solution offers the best value for your organization.

It’s important to note that AAD and AAD DS have different security features. AAD provides basic authentication and authorization services, while AAD DS offers more advanced security features such as Group Policy support and LDAP over SSL. If your organization requires more advanced security features, AAD DS might be the better option. However, if your organization has a smaller security footprint, AAD might be sufficient.

Setting Up Azure Active Directory (AAD) for Your Organization

Setting up Azure Active Directory (AAD) involves a few simple steps. First, you need to create an AAD tenant, which is a dedicated instance of AAD for your organization. Next, you need to add users and groups and assign roles to them. Finally, you need to configure the applications and services that you want to manage using AAD.

One important aspect of setting up AAD is ensuring that your organization’s security policies are reflected in the AAD configuration. This includes setting up multi-factor authentication, configuring password policies, and defining conditional access policies. These policies help to ensure that only authorized users can access your organization’s resources.

Another key consideration when setting up AAD is integrating it with other Microsoft services, such as Office 365 and Dynamics 365. This integration allows you to manage user access to these services through AAD, providing a centralized and streamlined approach to user management.

Setting Up Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) for Your Organization

Setting up Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) requires a bit more effort than setting up AAD. One critical step is setting up a virtual network, which is required for domain-join and computer authentication. Additionally, you need to set up an AAD DS domain name and configure synchronization between AAD and AAD DS. Finally, you need to configure the necessary network security groups and domain join settings.

Integrating AAD with Other Microsoft Services like Office 365 and Dynamics 365

Integrating Azure Active Directory (AAD) with other Microsoft services like Office 365 and Dynamics 365 is relatively simple. AAD provides a single sign-on solution for these cloud-based applications, and you can manage access using AAD’s robust identity and access management features. You can also configure conditional access policies to control access to these services based on user location, device health, and more.

Integrating AAD DS with On-Premises Active Directory Environments

Integrating Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) with on-premises Active Directory environments can provide a seamless experience for your users, including identity synchronization and password hash synchronization. However, it requires a virtual network connection between your on-premises network and your Azure network, which can be time-consuming and challenging to set up.

Security Features of Azure Active Directory (AAD)

Azure Active Directory (AAD) provides several robust security features, including multi-factor authentication (MFA), conditional access policies, Azure AD Identity Protection, and more. These features help ensure that only authorized users can access your organization’s applications and resources and protect against various types of cyberattacks such as phishing attempts and brute-force attacks.

Security Features of Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS)

Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) provides several security features, including user and group management, role-based access control (RBAC), managed patching, and more. These features help ensure that your Active Directory environment is secure and protected from unauthorized access and cyber attacks.

Comparing Pricing Options for AAD and AAD DS

Azure Active Directory (AAD) offers several pricing options, including Free, Basic, Premium P1, and Premium P2. The Free option provides basic identity and access management features, while the Basic option provides more advanced features such as self-service password reset and group management. The Premium P1 and Premium P2 options provide additional features like Identity Protection and Privileged Identity Management.

Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) pricing is based on the number of managed domains, the number of objects, and the number of hours that the service is running. AAD DS pricing starts at $- per hour per object.

Conclusion

Choosing the right identity and access management solution for your organization requires a careful evaluation of your requirements and goals. Azure Active Directory (AAD) and Azure Active Directory Domain Services (AAD DS) both offer robust features and functionality, but each is better suited for specific use cases. Understanding the differences between the two solutions and evaluating their features, limitations, and pricing options can help you make an informed choice.

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