Compare Active Directory Domain Services and Microsoft Entra ID


You could view Microsoft Entra ID simply as the cloud-based counterpart of AD DS; however, while Microsoft Entra ID and AD DS share some common characteristics, there are several significant differences between them.

Characteristics of AD DS

AD DS is the traditional deployment of Windows Server-based Active Directory on a physical or virtual server. Although AD DS is commonly considered to be primarily a directory service, it’s only one component of the Windows Active Directory suite of technologies, which also includes Active Directory Certificate Services (AD CS), Active Directory Lightweight Directory Services (AD LDS), Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS), and Active Directory Rights Management Services (AD RMS).

When comparing AD DS with Microsoft Entra ID, it’s important to note the following characteristics of AD DS:

  • AD DS is a true directory service, with a hierarchical X.500-based structure.
  • AD DS uses Domain Name System (DNS) for locating resources such as domain controllers.
  • You can query and manage AD DS by using Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) calls.
  • AD DS primarily uses the Kerberos protocol for authentication.
  • AD DS uses Organizational Units (OUs) and Group Policy Objects (GPOs) for management.
  • AD DS includes computer objects, representing computers that join an Active Directory domain.
  • AD DS uses trusts between domains for delegated management.

You can deploy AD DS on an Azure virtual machine to enable scalability and availability for an on-premises AD DS. However, deploying AD DS on an Azure virtual machine doesn't make any use of Microsoft Entra ID. Deploying AD DS on an Azure virtual machine requires one or more extra Azure data disks, because you shouldn't use drive C for AD DS storage. These disks are needed to store the AD DS database, logs, and SYSVOL. The Host Cache Preference setting for these disks must be set to None.

Characteristics of Microsoft Entra ID

Although Microsoft Entra ID has many similarities to AD DS, there are also many differences. It’s important to realize that using Microsoft Entra isn’t the same as deploying an Active Directory domain controller on an Azure virtual machine and adding it to your on-premises domain.

When comparing Microsoft Entra ID with AD DS, it’s important to note the following characteristics of Microsoft Entra ID:

  • Microsoft Entra ID is primarily an identity solution, and it’s designed for internet-based applications by using HTTP (port 80) and HTTPS (port 443) communications.
    • Port 80 is the port number assigned to the commonly used internet communication protocol, Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). It's the port from which a computer sends and receives Web client-based communication, messages from a Web server, and is used to send and receive HTML pages or data.
    • Port 443 is the port number for the secure version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTPS) that's used to access web pages. It's the port used by servers and browsers to ensure you access the right version of a site. Criminals aren't able to eavesdrop on you or tamper with the data you send across the internet.
  • Microsoft Entra ID is a multi-tenant directory service.
  • Microsoft Entra users and groups are created in a flat structure, and there are no OUs or GPOs.
  • You can’t query Microsoft Entra ID by using LDAP; instead, Microsoft Entra ID uses the REST API over HTTP and HTTPS.
  • Microsoft Entra ID doesn't use Kerberos authentication; instead, it uses HTTP and HTTPS protocols such as SAML, WS-Federation, and OpenID Connect for authentication, and uses OAuth for authorization.
  • Microsoft Entra ID includes federation services, and many third-party services such as Facebook are federated with and trust Microsoft Entra ID.