AWS Security Blog

Introducing AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Standard Edition)

Today, AWS introduced AWS Directory Service for Microsoft Active Directory (Standard Edition), also known as AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition), which is managed Microsoft Active Directory (AD) that is performance optimized for small and midsize businesses. AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) offers you a highly available and cost-effective primary directory in the AWS Cloud that you can use to manage users, groups, and computers. It enables you to join Amazon EC2 instances to your domain easily and supports many AWS and third-party applications and services. It also can support most of the common use cases of small and midsize businesses. When you use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) as your primary directory, you can manage access and provide single sign-on (SSO) to cloud applications such as Microsoft Office 365. If you have an existing Microsoft AD directory, you can also use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) as a resource forest that contains primarily computers and groups, allowing you to migrate your AD-aware applications to the AWS Cloud while using existing on-premises AD credentials.

In this blog post, I help you get started by answering three main questions about AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition):

  1. What do I get?
  2. How can I use it?
  3. What are the key features?

After answering these questions, I show how you can get started with creating and using your own AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory.

1. What do I get?

When you create an AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory, AWS deploys two Microsoft AD domain controllers powered by Microsoft Windows Server 2012 R2 in your Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC). To help deliver high availability, the domain controllers run in different Availability Zones in the AWS Region of your choice.

As a managed service, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) configures directory replication, automates daily snapshots, and handles all patching and software updates. In addition, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) monitors and automatically recovers domain controllers in the event of a failure.

AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) has been optimized as a primary directory for small and midsize businesses with the capacity to support approximately 5,000 employees. With 1 GB of directory object storage, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) has the capacity to store 30,000 or more total directory objects (users, groups, and computers). AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) also gives you the option to add domain controllers to meet the specific performance demands of your applications. You also can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) as a resource forest with a trust relationship to your on-premises directory.

2. How can I use it?

With AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition), you can share a single directory for multiple use cases. For example, you can share a directory to authenticate and authorize access for .NET applications, Amazon RDS for SQL Server with Windows Authentication enabled, and Amazon Chime for messaging and video conferencing.

The following diagram shows some of the use cases for your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory, including the ability to grant your users access to external cloud applications and allow your on-premises AD users to manage and have access to resources in the AWS Cloud. Click the diagram to see a larger version.

Diagram showing some ways you can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition)--click the diagram to see a larger version

Use case 1: Sign in to AWS applications and services with AD credentials

You can enable multiple AWS applications and services such as the AWS Management Console, Amazon WorkSpaces, and Amazon RDS for SQL Server to use your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory. When you enable an AWS application or service in your directory, your users can access the application or service with their AD credentials.

For example, you can enable your users to sign in to the AWS Management Console with their AD credentials. To do this, you enable the AWS Management Console as an application in your directory, and then assign your AD users and groups to IAM roles. When your users sign in to the AWS Management Console, they assume an IAM role to manage AWS resources. This makes it easy for you to grant your users access to the AWS Management Console without needing to configure and manage a separate SAML infrastructure.

Use case 2: Manage Amazon EC2 instances

Using familiar AD administration tools, you can apply AD Group Policy objects (GPOs) to centrally manage your Amazon EC2 for Windows or Linux instances by joining your instances to your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) domain.

In addition, your users can sign in to your instances with their AD credentials. This eliminates the need to use individual instance credentials or distribute private key (PEM) files. This makes it easier for you to instantly grant or revoke access to users by using AD user administration tools you already use.

Use case 3: Provide directory services to your AD-aware workloads

AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) is an actual Microsoft AD that enables you to run traditional AD-aware workloads such as Remote Desktop Licensing Manager, Microsoft SharePoint, and Microsoft SQL Server Always On in the AWS Cloud. AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) also helps you to simplify and improve the security of AD-integrated .NET applications by using group Managed Service Accounts (gMSAs) and Kerberos constrained delegation (KCD).

Use case 4: SSO to Office 365 and other cloud applications

You can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) to provide SSO for cloud applications. You can use Azure AD Connect to synchronize your users into Azure AD, and then use Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) so that your users can access Microsoft Office 365 and other SAML 2.0 cloud applications by using their AD credentials.

Use case 5: Extend your on-premises AD to the AWS Cloud

If you already have an AD infrastructure and want to use it when migrating AD-aware workloads to the AWS Cloud, AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) can help. You can use AD trusts to connect AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) to your existing AD. This means your users can access AD-aware and AWS applications with their on-premises AD credentials, without needing you to synchronize users, groups, or passwords.

For example, your users can sign in to the AWS Management Console and Amazon WorkSpaces by using their existing AD user names and passwords. Also, when you use AD-aware applications such as SharePoint with AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition), your logged-in Windows users can access these applications without needing to enter credentials again.

3. What are the key features?

AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) includes the features detailed in this section.

Extend your AD schema

With AWS Microsoft AD, you can run customized AD-integrated applications that require changes to your directory schema, which defines the structures of your directory. The schema is composed of object classes such as user objects, which contain attributes such as user names. AWS Microsoft AD lets you extend the schema by adding new AD attributes or object classes that are not present in the core AD attributes and classes.

For example, if you have a human resources application that uses employee badge color to assign specific benefits, you can extend the schema to include a badge color attribute in the user object class of your directory. To learn more, see How to Move More Custom Applications to the AWS Cloud with AWS Directory Service.

Create user-specific password policies

With user-specific password policies, you can apply specific restrictions and account lockout policies to different types of users in your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) domain. For example, you can enforce strong passwords and frequent password change policies for administrators, and use less-restrictive policies with moderate account lockout policies for general users.

Add domain controllers

You can increase the performance and redundancy of your directory by adding domain controllers. This can help improve application performance by enabling directory clients to load-balance their requests across a larger number of domain controllers.

Encrypt directory traffic

You can use AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) to encrypt Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) communication between your applications and your directory. By enabling LDAP over Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)/Transport Layer Security (TLS), also called LDAPS, you encrypt your LDAP communications end to end. This helps you to protect sensitive information you keep in your directory when it is accessed over untrusted networks.

Improve the security of signing in to AWS services by using multi-factor authentication (MFA)

You can improve the security of signing in to AWS services, such as Amazon WorkSpaces and Amazon QuickSight, by enabling MFA in your AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) directory. With MFA, your users must enter a one-time passcode (OTP) in addition to their AD user names and passwords to access AWS applications and services you enable in AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition).

Get started

To get started, use the Directory Service console to create your first directory with just a few clicks. If you have not used Directory Service before, you may be eligible for a 30-day limited free trial.


In this blog post, I explained what AWS Microsoft AD (Standard Edition) is and how you can use it. With a single directory, you can address many use cases for your business, making it easier to migrate and run your AD-aware workloads in the AWS Cloud, provide access to AWS applications and services, and connect to other cloud applications. To learn more about AWS Microsoft AD, see the Directory Service home page.

If you have comments about this post, submit them in the “Comments” section below. If you have questions about this blog post, start a new thread on the Directory Service forum.

– Peter