What is Active Directory? The Active Directory is an extremely popular directory service used by the vast majority of Fortune 1000 companies in the market today. It is also perhaps one of the most critical elements within your software environment, so knowing what it does and how it can benefit your efforts in taming this unruly technological beast that is your software environment is essential.

The Active Directory can be a confusing place. However, at MetrixData 360, we often find ourselves working with our customers’ ADs and we know how overwhelming an experience it can be without the proper assistance or knowledge.

We know how an Active Directory works, and we know how to make it so that it can assist you in your software asset management efforts.

So, in this article we will examine the Active Directory tool: what it’s used for, how it works, and how it can be used in software asset management.

What is the Active Directory?

Active Directory is a feature of the Windows Server Operating System and acts as a critical element in many companies’ software infrastructure. For a Windows-based environment, almost all applications and tools are put through the Active Directory to allow for authentication and directory browsing. The Active Directory is broken down into two parts:

  • The Database:
  • The database is also known as the directory, which is comprised of the most critical info about your environments such as users, groups, their passwords, their computers and their licensing restrictions and their permissions (e.g. You can allow all employees to see your company benefits but only permit the financial team to modify the document).

  • The Services:
  • This controls all the activity within your IT environment. This is meant to ensure that everyone is who they say they are, ensuring passwords and ID are correct and limits user access to certain information (authorization).

You can see how critical an active directory is to a software environment and you can also imagine that stability, availability, and security must be a top priority for Admin staff regarding the Active Directory.

How Does Active Directory Work?

While you could write a small book about the inner workings of the Active Directory, to put it briefly, it does not benefit a company to have their computers operating independently from one another: there needs to be an element of connection, with the ability to share information while simultaneously controlling access to sensitive information that should only be viewed by authorized employees.

If all this information is stored in a central location, it can greatly improve productivity. Picture the AD like a phone book, matching names to numbers and locations (although that is only one of the things AD organizes). This pool of data is arranged hierarchically. AD has a few main structures it relies on:

  • Domain: Any related group of users, computers or other objects, there are also sub domains or Children of top domains, which may act as smaller groupings within the Domain.
  • Trees: Multiple Domains grouped together
  • Forests: Multiple Trees grouped together
  • Schemas: Definitions of all the objects which are used to make sense of the storage systems of every forest.

Active Directory in the Cloud

With the vast majority of modern businesses existing now in the Cloud to some extent, IT professionals may be wondering about how their Active Directory will be able to effectively translate to this new environment or if it will even survive the move.

Sadly, the Active Directory cannot easily be transferred to the Cloud despite the growing popularity of Cloud solutions among the IT department. This is mainly due to the fact that the Active Directory was first published in the late 90s, where the main goal was simply to get every office worker a computer.

The Active Directory helped to ensure that these computers were controlled and monitored under one system. While it may be difficult to move your Active Directory from on-prem to the Cloud, there is also the available counterpart of Azure Active Directory, which allows users that same level of control over external resources (Microsoft 365, Azure portal and similar SaaS applications) and internal resources (applications on your organization’s intranet and cloud apps developed by your own organization).

A basic version of Azure AD is available as a free feature to those who are subscribed to any Microsoft Online business service, with more premium versions requiring licenses.

Related: Moving to the cloud can be a costly occasion. 
Here are a few hidden costs you should be aware of!

Active Directory and Software Asset Management

Because so much is stored in the Active Directory, many companies let their Active Directory become disorganized, and some companies do not allow easy access to their Active Directory.

The Active Directory, as a result of this lack of upkeep, could have large amounts of data that is dated and a record of assets that have long since been retired while still seeming as though they are in use. Despite this disorganization, the Active Directory is one of the first places that the software auditors look to when conducting an audit.

They will take the information stored in the Active Directory and build a compliance gap based on that information. This is why having a clean Active Directory that is up to date and comprised of only assets that are currently in your infrastructure is important if you want to avoid unwarranted auditing fines.

Your Active Directory also allows you to have a clear picture of all your assets in one place and as such can prove a valuable tool in your software asset management efforts.

At MetrixData 360 we often consult our clients’ Active Directory when we first begin cleaning up their assets. This gives us a starting point for what assets need to be hunted down, and what assets can be cleaned up.

Related: Ready to Get Started on Software Asset Management?
Check out our Beginners’ Guide to Get Started!

MetrixData 360 Active Directory Reporting Tool

Having a clean Active Directory is imperative in your efforts to keep your software environment organized and ready for whatever this tumultuous year can throw at your business.

At MetrixData 360, we have created our own tool to help with the difficult task of cleaning up your Active Directory. Our Active Directory Reporting Tool is specifically designed to be adjustable, scalable, quick, easy, and safe to use. Our clients have found our tool valuable in its ability to complete months of work in seconds.

An accurate depiction of what you have, what you need and what you don’t is at your fingertips with our Active Directory Reporting Tool.

For more information about what our Active Directory tool does, and to see it in action you can check out our Active Directory reporting tool page.

About Mike Austin

Mike AustinMike Austin is the CEO and team lead here at MetrixData 360. Mike brings more than 15 years of Microsoft licensing experience to his clients’ projects. He assists companies with negotiations of Microsoft Enterprise Agreements (EA), Premier Support Contracts, and Select Agreements, from Fortune 500 to organizations with as few as 500 employees. Mike's vast experience across multiple industries including financial services, high tech, manufacturing, media, health care, government, and retail give him an edge in any business environment. In addition to helping negotiate contracts, he assists clients with creating and implementing software asset management processes to prevent over-purchasing of licenses and ensures terms and conditions reflect actual usage.