What is Microsoft Entra Domain Services?

Microsoft Entra Domain Services (Microsoft Entra DS) provides managed domain services such as domain join, group policy, lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), and Kerberos/NTLM authentication. You use these domain services without the need to deploy, manage, and patch domain controllers (DCs) in the cloud.

A Microsoft Entra DS managed domain lets you run legacy applications in the cloud that can't use modern authentication methods, or where you don't want directory lookups to always go back to an on-premises AD DS environment. You can lift and shift those legacy applications from your on-premises environment into a managed domain, without needing to manage the AD DS environment in the cloud.

Microsoft Entra DS integrates with your existing Microsoft Entra tenant. This integration lets users sign in to services and applications connected to the managed domain using their existing credentials. You can also use existing groups and user accounts to secure access to resources. These features provide a smoother lift-and-shift of on-premises resources to Azure.

Take a look at our short video to learn more about Microsoft Entra DS.

How does Microsoft Entra DS work?

When you create a Microsoft Entra DS managed domain, you define a unique namespace. This namespace is the domain name, such as aaddscontoso.com. Two Windows Server domain controllers (DCs) are then deployed into your selected Azure region. This deployment of DCs is known as a replica set.

You don't need to manage, configure, or update these DCs. The Azure platform handles the DCs as part of the managed domain, including backups and encryption at rest using Azure Disk Encryption.

A managed domain is configured to perform a one-way synchronization from Microsoft Entra ID to provide access to a central set of users, groups, and credentials. You can create resources directly in the managed domain, but they aren't synchronized back to Microsoft Entra ID. Applications, services, and VMs in Azure that connect to the managed domain can then use common AD DS features such as domain join, group policy, LDAP, and Kerberos/NTLM authentication.

In a hybrid environment with an on-premises AD DS environment, Microsoft Entra Connect synchronizes identity information with Microsoft Entra ID, which is then synchronized to the managed domain.

Synchronization in Microsoft Entra Domain Services with Microsoft Entra ID and on-premises AD DS using AD Connect

Microsoft Entra DS replicates identity information from Microsoft Entra ID, so it works with Microsoft Entra tenants that are cloud-only, or synchronized with an on-premises AD DS environment. The same set of Microsoft Entra DS features exists for both environments.

  • If you have an existing on-premises AD DS environment, you can synchronize user account information to provide a consistent identity for users. To learn more, see How objects and credentials are synchronized in a managed domain.
  • For cloud-only environments, you don't need a traditional on-premises AD DS environment to use the centralized identity services of Microsoft Entra DS.

You can expand a managed domain to have more than one replica set per Microsoft Entra tenant. Replica sets can be added to any peered virtual network in any Azure region that supports Microsoft Entra DS. Additional replica sets in different Azure regions provide geographical disaster recovery for legacy applications if an Azure region goes offline. For more information, see Replica sets concepts and features for managed domains.

Take a look at this video about how Microsoft Entra DS integrates with your applications and workloads to provide identity services in the cloud:

To see Microsoft Entra DS deployment scenarios in action, you can explore the following examples:

Microsoft Entra DS features and benefits

To provide identity services to applications and VMs in the cloud, Microsoft Entra DS is fully compatible with a traditional AD DS environment for operations such as domain-join, secure LDAP (LDAPS), Group Policy, DNS management, and LDAP bind and read support. LDAP write support is available for objects created in the managed domain, but not resources synchronized from Microsoft Entra ID.

To learn more about your identity options, compare Microsoft Entra DS with Microsoft Entra ID, AD DS on Azure VMs, and AD DS on-premises.

The following features of Microsoft Entra DS simplify deployment and management operations:

  • Simplified deployment experience: Microsoft Entra DS is enabled for your Microsoft Entra tenant using a single wizard in the Microsoft Entra admin center.
  • Integrated with Microsoft Entra ID: User accounts, group memberships, and credentials are automatically available from your Microsoft Entra tenant. New users, groups, or changes to attributes from your Microsoft Entra tenant or your on-premises AD DS environment are automatically synchronized to Microsoft Entra DS.
    • Accounts in external directories linked to your Microsoft Entra ID aren't available in Microsoft Entra DS. Credentials aren't available for those external directories, so can't be synchronized into a managed domain.
  • Use your corporate credentials/passwords: Passwords for users in Microsoft Entra DS are the same as in your Microsoft Entra tenant. Users can use their corporate credentials to domain-join machines, sign in interactively or over remote desktop, and authenticate against the managed domain.
  • NTLM and Kerberos authentication: With support for NTLM and Kerberos authentication, you can deploy applications that rely on Windows-integrated authentication.
  • High availability: Microsoft Entra DS includes multiple domain controllers, which provide high availability for your managed domain. This high availability guarantees service uptime and resilience to failures.
    • In regions that support Azure Availability Zones, these domain controllers are also distributed across zones for additional resiliency.
    • Replica sets can also be used to provide geographical disaster recovery for legacy applications if an Azure region goes offline.

Some key aspects of a managed domain include the following:

  • The managed domain is a stand-alone domain. It isn't an extension of an on-premises domain.
  • Your IT team doesn't need to manage, patch, or monitor domain controllers for this managed domain.

For hybrid environments that run AD DS on-premises, you don't need to manage AD replication to the managed domain. User accounts, group memberships, and credentials from your on-premises directory are synchronized to Microsoft Entra ID via Microsoft Entra Connect. These user accounts, group memberships, and credentials are automatically available within the managed domain.

Next steps

To learn more about Microsoft Entra DS compares with other identity solutions and how synchronization works, see the following articles:

To get started, create a managed domain using the Microsoft Entra admin center.