What is Active Directory?

What does the typical office workday look like in the 21st century?

You wake-up. You get a shower and get cleaned up (brush teeth, brush hair, etc.). You select the clothes for the day. You grab a snack or small breakfast. You then lock the home/apartment for the day, and start the car and drive to the office. You park your car. You walk to your desk, saying good morning to a few co-workers as you get to your office. You sit down and then log into the computer and open your email client (Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, etc.). While your emails and calendar update, you log into your work phone and write down your voicemails to facilitate calling people back during the day.

Does this sound familiar? It does? Good, then we can work from here.

Let’s look at what you do when you sit at the desk. You logged into the computer at your desk. You typed in a username and password combination only known to you. This was given to you from the I.T. department or Human Resources when you joined the company, and you have been regularly updating the password per I.T. Security policy and guidelines.

This username and password allow you to log into company computers and get similar access to resources, regardless of the machine used or the time at which you use it. The username and password are stored on a set of servers; each username has assigned to it specific access and usage abilities that have been approved by both I.T. and your departmental supervision and management.

This username has been stored on servers. If your company has a Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Azure infrastructure, the servers that store this information for the entire organization are Active Directory servers (note: if your company has a Linux or Unix infrastructure, the servers are LDAP rather than Active Directory; but the logic is similar).

Active Directory, simply stated, is a Microsoft product that uses accounts (called objects) to control (give or revoke) permissions to other objects, groups of objects, and network resources.

For each user that logs into a Microsoft Windows account, there exists on the company network (called the domain) an object that exists in the company Active Directory (domain). When the correct username and password are selected for the domain, you are granted access to network (domain) resources based on how the object is constructed.

Objects in Active Directory are available for most users, printers, network groups, and so much more.

So, in short, Microsoft Active Directory is an organized hierarchy of objects that control access to resources.

What Is a Server?

From desktops to laptops, to cell phones and even to modern video gaming consoles (2021 — PlayStation 5/Microsoft Xbox Series X/Microsoft Xbox Series S), there is a multitude of computers available to people. We use computers for so many reasons, including but not limited to: internet access, playing video games, researching news, watching/listening to entertainment, and so so much more.

The basic idea is that for most computers above, each machine will be used for one person/purpose. For instance, a Dell Gaming PC may be used for playing the latest Batman game at 4k resolution and at 60 frames per second.

The same cannot be used at the same moment to play Crisis 3 at 4k and 60 frames per second reliably — at least, not any machine I have ever seen as of 2021. The basic idea of all of the computing devices above is centered around personal computing — they are designed to give an outstanding one-on-one experience.

What about data that needs to be continually available to 10 … 100 … 1,000 people? You need that same computing power, but the experience needs to be group-focused and not personal.

To solve this problem, the concept of a server was created. A server, simply stated, is a computer that is configured to serve EVERYONE WITHIN A GROUP AT ONE TIME, doing simple or quantum complex tasks individually at the same time.

Originally, you saw higher-specification (i.e., computer comprised of parts that could handle larger personal workloads — such as playing the Crisis game at 4k, 60 frames per second in 2021) personal computers being used as servers.

To do so, you needed to maximize the amount of available computing (CPU chip), storage (hard drive size and speed), and network (fastest-available network card and network connecting to all the potential users in the group it would serve).

In 2021, the server is more a special type of computer that has parts that are built with the mindset they will be used by multiple people at the same time, combing some of the most powerful hardware available in a smaller case.

Furthermore, there are now software versions specifically built for server functionality. Instead of Windows 10, on a modern server, you would load Windows Server 2019 or Red Hat Linux Enterprise version 7. You typically have multiple network connections that can be either bridged (wired to the same network connection for much more data flow) or used separately in parallel (each port connected to a different network connection which allows more connected/alive time if one network connection goes bad). This and more allows the modern server to deliver more accessible services with consistency.

In addition, the cloud is ‘virtualization in another owner’s datacenter.’ If I can name one device type that is dominant in a datacenter, it is the server.

To conclude this, servers are computers configured to serve multiple people with multiple tasks at one time and at various levels of complexity and execution time.