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70-240 in 15 minutes a week: Active Directory and DNS - Part 1 Page 2

By ServerWatch Staff (Send Email)
Posted May 14, 2001


Logical Structure of Active Directory

Active Directory can be considered to have both a logical and physical structure, and there is no correlation between the two. The logical parts of Active Directory include forests, trees, domains, OUs and global catalogs. Each element of the logical structure of Active Directory is defined below:

Domain - a domain in Windows 2000 is very similar to a domain is Windows NT. It is still a logical group of users and computers that share the characteristics of centralized security and administration. A domain is still a boundary for security - this means that an administrator of a domain is an administrator for only that domain, and no others, by default. A domain is also a boundary for replication - all domain controllers that are part of the same domain must replicate with one another. Much like NT 4, trust relationships can exist that allow users from one domain to access resources in another. Domains in the same forest automatically have trust relationships configured, but you should also note that you could create trust relationships to external domains (including NT 4-based domains) if necessary. In Active Directory, domain naming follows DNS naming conventions - domain.com as an example. 

Tree - a tree is a collection of Active Directory domains that share a contiguous namespace. In this configuration, domains fall into a parent-child relationship, which the child domain taking on the name of the parent. For example, I could create a child domain named Canada under company.com - making the full name of the domain Canada.company.com. Child domains automatically have a transitive two-way trust relationship configured with their parent. This means that the trust relationship can be used by all other domains in the forest as a means to access the domain. Note that Canada.company.com is still a separate domain in this example, which means that it is still a security and replication boundary. As such, an administrator from company.com cannot administer the Canada.company.com domain unless explicitly granted the ability to do so. 

Forest - a forest is the largest unit in Active Directory and is a collection of trees that share a common Schema, the definition of objects that can be created. In a forest all trees are connected by transitive two-way trust relationships, thus allowing users in any tree access to resources in another for which they have been given appropriate permissions and rights. By default the first domain created in a forest is referred to as the root domain. Amongst other things, this is where the Schema is stored by default. You cannot rename or remove the root domain - this will force the removal of your entire Active Directory forest.

Organizational Unit - An organizational unit (OU) is a container object that helps to organize objects for the purpose of administration or group policy application. An OU exists within a domain and can only contain objects from that domain. OU can be nested, which allows for more flexibility in terms of administration. Different methods for designing OU structures exist including according to administration (most common), geography, or organizational structure. One popular use of OUs is to delegate administrative authority - this allows you to give a user a degree of administrative control over just the OU, and not the entire domain, for example.

Global Catalogs - Global Catalogs are listings of every object that exists within an Active Directory forest. By default, a domain controller only contains information about objects in that domain. A Global Catalog server is a domain controller that contains information about every object (though not every attribute for each) stored in the entire forest. This facilitates and speeds up the search for information in Active Directory. By default only the first domain controller created in a forest has a copy of the global catalog - others much be designated manually.


Physical Structure of Active Directory

The physical structure of Active Directory helps to manage the communication between servers with respect to the directory. The two physical elements of Active Directory are domain controllers and sites. Each is described below.

Domain Controllers - domain controllers are Windows 2000 Server-based systems that store the Active Directory database. Every Windows 2000 domain controller has a writable copy of the directory. This is different that in NT 4, where only the PDC had this capability. Domain controllers in the same domain contain replicas of the directory that must be synchronized periodically. 

Site - a site is a concept that did not exist in an NT directory service structure. In Active Directory, sites are groups of IP subnets that are connected at high speed. Although the definition of 'high speed' is open, it is generally considered to be subnets that are connected at LAN speeds (say 10 Mb) or higher. The purpose of defining sites in Active Directory is to control network traffic relating to directory synchronization, as well as to help ensure that users connect to local resources. For example, domain controllers located in the same site replicate with one another on a 5-minute change notification interval similar to in NT 4. However, replication between domain controllers in different sites can be scheduled according to your needs. This allows a much greater degree of flexibility that in NT 4. For example, you could set things up such that replication between sites could only happen between midnight and 6am - thus ensuring that replication traffic would not interfere with normal data transfer during business hours. Sites also help ensure that users avoid accessing resources over the WAN by having client systems access servers (such as domain controllers) that are in the same physical site first. 



Planning a DNS Implementation for Active Directory

Prior to installing Active Directory in a Windows 2000 environment, it is important to first design a DNS implementation that will meet both your name resolution and Active Directory requirements. Active Directory requires DNS in order to provide both name resolution as well as namespace definition, since domain names in Windows 2000 are based on the DNS naming conventions. As such, any servers on which you are installing Active Directory should have their TCP/IP properties configured to be pointing at a DNS server that you have already configured. If you choose not to do this, the installation of Active Directory will automatically create a DNS structure for you, which may not meet your needs.
Since a basic introduction to how DNS queries work was already covered earlier in the series, I am not going to repeat it here. Instead I am going to cover the main areas of DNS that you'll need to understand in order to successfully implement the service for the purpose of supporting both name resolution and especially Active Directory.

The first concept that you'll need to be familiar with is the use of DNS to resolve hostnames or fully qualified domain names to IP addresses. As a quick reminder, a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) provides the hostname as well as the domain name of a system. For example:

www.win2000trainer.com

In this example, the hostname is the leftmost portion, or www. Hostnames can also be resolved using a HOSTS file, which is a static text file that exists in the %systemroot%\system32\drivers\etc directory on the local machine. DNS should not be confused with WINS, which maps Netbios names to IP addresses (as does the text equivalent, LMHOSTS). 

DNS stores a number of different types of resource records beyond simple host or 'A' records. The most popular resource records that you'll find in a zone file are outlined below:

SOA - represents the Start of Authority for a zone, and provides information about the zone including which server is the primary, who the administrative contact is, how often zone database files are checked for changes, database serial numbers, time to live values, and more.
A - represents a unique host address on the network, mapping its hostname to an IP address.
NS - outlines a domain name and the corresponding FQDN of name servers that are authoritative for that domain.
MX - designates that a given host is a mail exchanger (mail server or forwarder) for the domain specified.
PTR - provides reverse lookup capabilities by mapping the reversed IP address of a host to an FQDN. This allows the hostname associated with an IP address to be found. PTR records are found in reverse lookup zone files. 
SRV - maps a particular service to one or more hosts. For example, records can indicate a server as a Global Catalog server, domain controller, and so forth.

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