The two most important software used by small to medium organizations to run the IT infrastructure and operations efficiently are Windows Server and Office 365 (Microsoft 365).

Organizations of all sizes around the world use Microsoft products, and as per Statista report, Microsoft Windows has over 69% market share as of Dec 2021.

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A significant global market share of Windows servers has a core engine. Without it, the Windows server can’t be a domain controller and can’t play an important role in server networks worldwide.

The core engine of Microsoft Windows Server is Active Directory (AD).

Active Directory (AD) is the mainstay of the server that provides authentication for every resource that tries to access domain resources in the infrastructure. Therefore, managing and administration of AD are of utmost significance.

In this post, we will understand what AD is, how it functions, its structure and benefits, and finally, we will see top software used to manage active directory efficiently.

Active Directory (AD)

AD is a set of services and databases that runs on Microsoft Windows Server, and it plays a vital role in establishing a Windows server as a domain controller. Without AD, a Windows server can only be a standalone server and can’t be a domain server.

As a database, AD stores entire infrastructure information such as users, computers, groups, applications, and other objects, and these objects are categorized according to their name and attributes.

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AD simplifies the work of administrators to manage access control and privileges of network resources and various objects. Its mechanism helps to authenticate users and provide necessary privileges to access network resources or objects. It also offers additional services, including Single Sign-On (SSO), security certificates, LDAP, and access rights management.

Other important services AD provides are Lightweight Directory Services (LDS), Certificate Services, Active Directory Federation Services, and Rights Management Services.

How Active Directory (AD) is structured?

AD stores data in a hierarchical structure comprising domains, trees, and forests.

  • Domains: A domain represents a group of objects such as users, groups, and devices, which share the same AD database.
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  • Trees: One or more domains form a single Tree and multiple domains in a tree trust each other.
  • Forest: A Forest is a group of Trees. The trees in the same forest trust each other, and will also share directory schemas, catalogs, application information, and domain configurations.
  • Organizational Units (OU): An OU is used to organize users, groups, computers, and other organizational units.

About Office 365

Office 365 is a cloud-based SaaS (Software as a Service) solution provided by Microsoft on a subscription model.

This software package includes the same functionality as traditional versions of Microsoft Office, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and additional applications such as Access, Publisher, etc.

As Microsoft Office 365 is cloud-based, business users, small and large, can work from anywhere without needing an external infrastructure with the best security with cloud storage.

According to the latest Statista report, 731,000 companies in the United States alone use Office 365 and more than one million companies worldwide.

While Office 365 is a complete and end-to-end software, we will look at third-party Office 365 management software that helps your business to manage IT infrastructure with enhanced security, take frequent backup and restore as and when required, multiple reporting for data compliance and auditing, etc. in short improvisation of overall organizational performance.

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Why use Active Directory (AD) and Office 365 Management Software?

Microsoft’s AD services are flexible and powerful, but as networks and infrastructure grow, companies are looking for solutions to simplify operations and management. AD also has limited backup, restore, automation, and reporting capabilities.

Widespread use of Office 365 is failing in several areas, e.g., a limited number of users that can be managed concurrently, lack of support for CSV-based group user changes, and more.

To customize Office 365, IT admins often need to use a scripting language like PowerShell, which can be time-consuming and cumbersome.

Even administrators have to switch between multiple consoles to manage Active Directory, Exchange Server, and Office 365 environments. This adds to the administrator’s burden and increases the time it takes to complete each task.

Going further, backup and restore options are limited, and automation options are very few. Automation is quite important with today’s increasing manual activity.

Therefore, we will look at some of the external software used to manage AD and Office 365 to address today’s challenges like group add-ons, automation, delegation, compliance, security, etc. Let’s start by reviewing the software for easy management and operation of Active Directory and Office 365:

ManageEngine ADManager Plus

The award-winning (120+ awards) ManageEngine software provides IT management software for small to large businesses at an affordable price. These products cover service management, operations management, active directory, and security requirements. The company claims that 3 out of 5 Fortune 500 companies use ManageEngine products.

ADManager Plus software is a web-based platform for managing and running Active Directory (AD), Office 365, and Exchange everything from a central console.

It helps to consolidate and centralize AD reports, makes it easier to delegate administrative tasks, helps keep AD structures clean, all with less effort, and saves a lot of time for administrators.

This software simplifies the day-to-day work of system administrators in the form of creating group user accounts in AD by changing user account properties, including Exchange Mailbox and Terminal Services properties.

User and Active Directory compliance and audits can be maintained with a minimum of effort using the software’s built-in 200 reports.

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Features of AD

  • Reports on compliance with government regulations such as SOX, HIPAA, GLBA, PCI, and others.
  • Create and delegate security roles to grant/revoke permissions
  • Automate regular AD tasks backup, restore, users provisioning, clean up inactive users, follow-up tasks, etc.

Managing Office 365 with ADManager Plus

With ADManager Plus, you can manage Office 365 without the hassle and limitation. This software allows you to download reports for active and inactive users and license details without using the complicated scripting language.

The software can generate more than 80 preconfigured reports about users, groups, contacts, Office 365 licenses, Exchange mailboxes, and Office 365 web applications without using complex scripts.

Extensive reports simplify reporting and help admins make informed decisions about managing a well-organized Office 365 environment.

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ADManager Plus also helps with group user management, contact management, automation, and report scheduling.

Features:

  • Flexible license management for Office 365
  • Automate daily Microsoft 365 admin tasks with simple one-click actions and view a detailed history of all automated tasks
  • Reports can be scheduled, archived, and emailed.
  • View detailed information about Office 365 environments with pre-configured reports

The software simplifies the operation and management of Active Directory and Office 365 administration and takes it to the next level in terms of usability, reporting, security, fault tolerance, and more. The software’s extensive reports provide assistance with compliance and delivery, the best product or service for administrators, auditors, and managers.

The software has three editions: free, standard, and professional editions. The free edition has limited AD objects. The full version of the software can be evaluated in 30 days. Prices start at $595.00 per year. The complete demo can be viewed here.

Veeam Backup for Microsoft Office 365

Data security is of vital importance for any organization, so to make the data secure on the Office 365 platform, Veeam backup provides a comprehensive solution.

Image credit: veeam.com

Microsoft Office 365 is a stable and flexible platform for working with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and many others, but data security comes first. According to the report, 85% of Microsoft 365 users were affected by the data breach.

According to the company website, the software has 5.8 million contracts and won more than 200 awards in various categories. Veeam software is used by 69% of 2,000 companies worldwide.

Veeam is an end-to-end backup and restoration solution for Microsoft products, including Office 365, Exchange Server, SharePoint, OneDrive, and Microsoft Teams. The software also offers ransomware protection and on-premise and cloud protection.

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Using this software eliminates the risk of losing access to and control over office files and folders, Microsoft Teams email data, SharePoint sites, documents, libraries, OneDrive accounts, and settings, so your data is always protected and available.

In addition to Office 365, the software also offers backup solutions for Windows, Linux, NAS, VMware, Azure, AWS and Nutanix, Active Directory, and MySQL.

Features

  • Back up data every five minutes and restore flexibility in more than 40 ways
  • Allows you to set the frequency and time for Exchange and Sharepoint data to reduce data center impact
  • On-premises and cloud backup options such as AWS, Azure, and IBM Cloud
  • Detailed and sophisticated archive search to recover accurate data to address disruptions in your business

Veeam Backup for Microsoft Office 365 is available in annual subscriptions ranging from 1 to 5 years. The software is free to use for 30 days before being deployed to the live environment. Licenses are available for a user base, allowing flexibility to add licenses as the number of users increases.

Datto SaaS Protection

Datto SaaS Protection offers a comprehensive data protection solution for Microsoft 365, Exchange, Calendar, OneDrive, SharePoint, and Teams data with three times a day backup and flexible recovery options.

This software is specially designed for Managed Service Providers (MSPs) by combining SaaS protection and SaaS defense tools. It protects data from phishing scans by malicious cyber threats and helps ensure total phishing prevention by protecting data through frequent archiving and fast data recovery.

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A centralized and scalable console enables MSP customers to protect against ingestion and manage data quarantine and archiving attempts.

In short, the Datto SaaS Protection Platform helps streamline data compliance, business continuity, and security and is everything small and large businesses need to run a successful business.

Top Features

Protection against malicious cyber threats and data deletion errors

  • Advanced threat protection that detects zero-day threats at first encounter, not days later
  • Identify unknown threats instead of looking for known security threats
  • Protect OneDrive folder from malware and one-click recovery
  • Auto archive for OneDrive, SharePoint, Teams, Gmail, Google Contacts, and additional archives whenever you need them

If you are looking for a business continuity solution to protect your data from cyber threats and data loss, then Datto is one of the disaster recovery tools. This license is user-based and available upon request.

Quest

Quest offers Active Directory (AD), Azure AD, and Hybrid AD solutions for management, migration, and security.

The AD migration and consolidation solution provided by Quest has no impact on reorganizing a production or live environment without service interruptions.

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Quest simplifies day-to-day AD management activities, certainly saving time and money, such as: managing AD accounts and groups, group policies, health and availability checks, and more.

AD security is taken to a higher level by adopting the Quest platform by identifying compromises, preventing breaches, and mitigating threats. The software provides real-time scanning of user activity and alerts about suspicious activity.

The Quest software is available for a limited-time trial, and pricing is available upon request.

Adaxes

Adaxes is an award-winning advanced automation and management platform that provides enhanced management for Active Directory, Microsoft 365 (Office 365), and Exchange.

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This user-friendly software simplifies daily activities, automates repetitive tasks, and offers enhanced security for Active Directory and Microsoft 365.

One of its uniqueness is that it offers full user lifecycle management automation in terms of maintenance and administration such as assigning mailboxes, Microsoft 365 licenses, activating user-specific Skype accounts, creating home folders, welcome-sending emails, and much more.

It is a web-based platform that provides role-based access control for users and groups to ensure more specific and secure permission to meet enterprise data standards.

Its single centralized console with deep customization is used to manage AD, configure mailboxes, and manage Microsoft 365 licenses.

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IT administrators’ daily tasks can be automated and regularly scheduled to save time and person-hours. They can download various types of reports from more than 200 preconfigured reports or customize them based on specific requirements.

Features

  • Reduce workload as most user management tasks can be automated
  • Enhanced security through permission-based workflows and a role-based security
  • Effective AD environmental audit due to a comprehensive reporting model
  • Automate the creation of mailboxes, distribution lists, and mail-enabled recipients
  • Self-recovery password from login screen for macOS users and Widows

Adaxes universal web UI can be used by admins, helpdesk, HR, managers, and other employees to perform their administrative tasks for AD, Exchange, and Microsoft 365.

The software can be tested for free for 30 days. The license policy is based on the number of active users in AD. Perpetual licenses start at $1600 for a minimum of 100 active users.

AdminDroid

AdminDroid is a tool to monitor, analyze and generate 600+ reports for Office 365 and its entire family, including Azure AD, Exchange, Sharepoint, Onedrive, Skype, and Microsoft Teams.

Image credit: admindroid.com

This software is used to manage the entire Microsoft 365 stack with innovative features such as micro-level delegation, advanced scheduling, AI-based reporting, and more. It is used by 60 million users from more than 110 countries.

AdminDroid also gives you an overview of your current SharePoint settings, permissions, sharing invites, and document permissions. Routine administrative activities can be assigned to users to access or monitor specific Microsoft users, groups, mailboxes, and teams.

Its alerts feature is powerful enough to catch new and unusual events to warn you about failed logins and forced attempts to protect the Office365 environment.

The software provides an additional layer of security in terms of behavioral analysis, forensic investigations, fraud, and data breach investigations.

Image credit: admindroid.com

A variety of statistical and audit reports can be generated, including licenses, groups, security, mailbox size and usage, email traffic, spam and malware, and more.

Features

  • Monitors, every activity inside Office 365 and does research on anonymous activity
  • Over 45 preconfigured signals to protect Microsoft 365 infrastructure
  • Delegate effective management of resources, reports, and dashboards
  • Detailed usage and security reports help comply with audits such as HIPAA, SOX, FISMA, ISO 27001, and others.

AdminDroid has a free version and premium editions like Standard and Pro. The premium edition can be tested for free for 15 days. Prices start at $49 per year for 150 users. You can see a live software demo here.

Imanami GroupID

GroupID offers Active Directory and Office 365 solutions, including automation, delegation, administration, and lifecycle management for users and groups.

The software received the 2021 Gartner Peer Insights Award for the customer’s voice in identity management and governance.

Its automation platform simplifies the management of groups, users, and permissions for all types of organizations, saving human time and increasing environmental accuracy and security.

Its sync mechanism detects AD changes and replicates data across all platforms, including on-premises, hybrid, and cloud environments.

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The delegation function in identity and access management simplifies complex activities such as user provisioning, de-provisioning, and other administrative tasks through a self-service web portal.

Features

  • Transfer and terminate accounts at the touch of a button
  • Group and user management solutions help you make smart and timely decisions regarding attestation requirements.
  • Provides a detailed view of unstructured data
  • Reduce human error with query-based group definitions
  • Improve directory consistency and security by ensuring users don’t have excessive privileges

GroupID is secure and easy to install and maintain. It enables IT admins to automate and extend AD and Office 365 functionality to the next level to effectively manage IT infrastructure and keep it secure.

The platform integrates with leading directories, including AD, Azure AD, shared LDAP-based directory, and messaging platforms such as Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft 365 and Google Workspace for business applications. The software is available for free testing for 30 days. Prices are available upon request.

Conclusion

Maintaining a secure and managed Active Directory is expensive in terms of costs and hours.

Errors in manual activity, such as ensuring members are granted permission to access domain groups and directories, cleaning up unused accounts, etc., is a daunting task as the case can compromise security.

Most importantly, AD and Office 365 automation is critical in today’s complex and geographically distributed infrastructure.

To solve all these problems and more, it is recommended to use the aforementioned software. An effective way is to do a trial run and check the feasibility and then plan to buy the right software for your environment.

You may also look at some tools to monitor Active Directory.