Step B1: Determine Domain Controller Placement

Published: February 25, 2008


Typically, a network topology will have a few physical locations (large campuses or office buildings and data centers) that are considered hubs, in which there are concentrations of users, computers, or network connectivity. These hubs may connect to a number of smaller satellite locations, such as branch or home offices, to which the hubs provide network or computing resources. Satellite locations typically do not provide services to other satellite offices.

In this step, decide where domain controller resources will be placed for each domain in each forest. Step B2 will address how many domain controllers to place in each location for each domain.

In order to reduce cost and complexity and to increase manageability, it is better to place domain controllers in as few locations as possible and where they will have the best utilization and highest value impact for the organization.

One additional consideration is that each domain should have a domain controller in at least two geographically dispersed locations to allow for business continuity in the event that one location experiences a catastrophic event.

All domain controllers need to be physically secured. If physical security is not available at a location, a full domain controller should not be placed at that location; however, a Read-Only Domain Controller could be placed in a location where physical security is a concern. See “Task 2: Determine Type of Domain Controller Placed in Location” in the next section, “Determine Number of Domain Controllers.”

The decision about domain controller placement can be changed easily at any time.

Task 1: Hub Locations

Hub locations provide computing and networking services to many users within the organization. Hub locations may provide these resources to users in the hub, as well as to one or more satellite locations.

Since hub locations are a central point, they are ideal candidates for having the highest value impact. A hub may be the aggregation point for several satellite locations, so having the hub host the domain controller is less expensive than having each individual location host its own domain controller.

Determine which hub locations will host domain controllers for which domains and record the decisions in the job aid.

Task 2: Satellite Locations

Satellite locations are connected to the overall network through hubs. In most cases, a satellite location has fewer users and computers than a hub. The clients in a satellite location can use resources locally, can use resources in the hub, or can use the hub to access network resources located in other parts of the network. Several considerations can indicate the need to place a domain controller in a satellite site.

Domain controllers need to be managed. Place a domain controller in a particular location only if the domain controller can be managed locally or managed remotely by use of a secure connection.

Communication with a domain controller is essential to authentication when accessing network resources. Therefore, if the WAN link from the satellite office to the hub is unreliable and cannot be cost-effectively updated, consider placing a domain controller in the satellite office to accommodate client authentication.

Another factor for considering the placement of a domain controller in a satellite office is whether WAN link bandwidth is available for both routine network traffic and authentication. In some cases, satellite-office network traffic over a WAN link might need to use the majority of the available bandwidth for an application or service. In that case, a local domain controller in the satellite office might be necessary.

Another consideration for placing a domain controller in a satellite office is to accommodate services and resources that might reside in the satellite office. Services such as DNS and Distributed File System (DFS), as well as resources such as mail and databases, could benefit from having a domain controller on the same network instead of having to cross a WAN link for authentication and management of the directory.

Site autonomy is sometimes a reason for placing domain controllers in a location. For example, if a company has a manufacturing facility in a remote location and the equipment on the manufacturing line requires authentication to work, then placing a domain controller in this satellite location allows manufacturing to continue regardless of whether or not the WAN is available.

Determine which satellite locations will host domain controllers for which domains, and record the decisions in the job aid.

Validating with the Business

In addition to evaluating the decision in this step against IT-related criteria, the effect of the decision on the business should also be validated. The following question has been known to affect domain controller placement decisions:

  • Are there any users who travel frequently to satellite locations and who require high-performance logon and directory services in those locations? A domain may be required in some satellite locations to provide a local experience for traveling users.

Tasks and Considerations

When placing domain controllers in hubs and satellites, it may be necessary to control which domain controllers register site location records within DNS. For example, if a domain controller fails in a satellite site, the clients should contact a domain controller in the nearest hub rather than a domain controller located in another satellite site. This is particularly true if the WAN link between the two is not reliable. Identify if this is a concern for the planned environment. Additional information can be found in the “Additional Reading” section.

Decision Summary

Place domain controllers in hub and satellite locations when appropriate. Most hub locations require one or more domain controllers. Satellite offices might require a domain controller depending on WAN link characteristics, number of clients, and resources.

Remember to repeat this decision process for every domain in every forest.

Additional Reading

“Planning Domain Controller Placement” at

“How Domain Controllers are Located in Windows” at

“How to optimize the location of a domain controller or global catalog that resides outside of a client’s site” at

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