Introduction to the Windows® Domain Controller

Written by Ryan Squires on April 4, 2019

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The concept of the domain has been a critical aspect of many IT admins’ networks because it’s at the center of managing users and their access to IT resources. Historically, the domain controller has lived on-prem and has worked well with Windows®-based resources. The focus of this article is to provide an introduction to the Windows domain controller and discuss whether the concept of the domain and its accompanying solution is relevant in today’s cloud-forward IT environments.

How Does the Domain Controller Work?

Simply put, the idea behind the domain is that it consists of everything within the network. That includes systems, applications, files, networks, and more. In the early days of Microsoft® Active Directory® (late 90s, early 2000s) if a Windows-based IT resource was on the network, IT admins had the ability to manage it with Active Directory (AD). This control stemmed from the fact that the vast majority of tools that users accessed everyday were on-prem and Windows-based, just like AD. As a result, the domain was a simple way to logically and physically group Windows IT resources as well as dole out access to different users and groups of users. Said another way, IT admins could segment access to the domain and sub-aspects of the domain. A user could simply log in to their Windows-based laptop or desktop and gain access to just about anything Windows-based on the domain without additional logins. While nobody really knew it at the time, this was the conceptual start of True Single Sign-On™.

Contemporary Challenges

Fast forward to modern times, and there are significant challenges when it comes to the concept of the modern domain. First, not all systems are Windows-based. Linux®and macOS machines are becoming more popular than ever. Second, cloud infrastructure and web applications are an integral part of the IT resources that end users leverage to do their jobs. Both of these solutions break down the concept of the domain, because each exists outside of the network. So, simply entering your credentials at start up won’t give you access to off-prem tools. Third, users are more mobile than ever and are working from all corners of the world. Physically working from an office is just not how things operate anymore at a lot of organizations, which of course puts remote workers outside of the domain, necessitating the need for VPNs to authenticate against AD.

Effect on the Domain Controller Concept

All told, these challenges are pushing the Windows domain controller concept to the brink. In fact, many modern, innovative IT organizations are scrapping the concept of a Windows domain in favor of a cloud-based directory service that provides True Single Sign-On like the early days of the domain. That means one directory service solution, not Active Directory, Azure AD, plus a bunch of add-ons to authenticate into all of your resources. With one set of credentials your users can log in to their system (Windows, Mac®, and Linux), web and on-prem applications via SAML 2.0 and LDAP respectively, cloud infrastructure by way of SSH keys, virtual and on-prem file servers, and much more with a single identity.

Make the Switch

Innovative organizations are joining the 50,000+ companies that have already made the move to JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®, and you can too by signing up for a free account today. With no risk, you can manage up to 10 users using the full-featured version of our product—for as long as you need. If you need more than that, check out our pricing page to see how you can scale JumpCloud to apply to your specific needs. And if you get stuck, you can drop us a line or visit our Knowledge Base for more information.

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