Differences Between Active Directory and Azure Active Directory

Lately, a lot of people keep asking, “What’s the difference between Active Directory, and Azure Active Directory?” Well, in short, a lot! Here is my take on it, and my typical response to customers.


One thing to note is, Azure Active Directory (AAD) and traditional/on-premises Active Directory (AD) are similar yet two very different things. One thing to note is, Azure Active Directory (AAD) and traditional/on-premises Active Directory (AD) are similar yet two very different things.

When you’re focusing on traditional On-Premises AD, you have the ability:

  • Create Organizational Units (OUs),
  • Create Group Policy Objects (GPOs),
  • Authenticate with Kerberos,
  • Working with a single domain (machine joins),
  • Query and interact with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP),
  • Domain trusts between multiple domains,
  • And so on…

With Azure AD (AAD), functions mentioned above do not exist. AAD is simply an identify solution, and essentially a federation hub for online services, ie. Office 365, Facebook, and other various 3rd party applications/websites, etc.

  • Users and groups can be created but in a flat structure, things like OUs and GPOs do not exist in AAD.
  • Since there is no domain trust with AAD, federated services are used to create a relationship. This can be achieved with ADFS, which allows On-Prem AD to communicate and authenticate with SSO (Single Sign On).
  • Also, you cannot query against AAD with LDAP, however you can use REST API’s that work HTTP and HTTPS.

Here is a great article, along with many others on the web, that help explain. https://blogs.technet.microsoft.com/chrisavis/2013/04/24/active-directory-differences-between-on-premise-and-in-the-cloud/

 

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