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Azure AD Management

How to deploy Azure AD Connect with Custom Group Filtering Options

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) Connect is the bridge between your on-premises directories and the Azure AD, enabling you to maintain a common user identity for your workforce and setting the stage for complex hybrid identity solutions. One of the most powerful features of Azure AD Connect is its ability to filter which objects are synchronized to the cloud directory, based on attributes, allowing for a tailored and streamlined identity synchronization that fits the unique business needs of an organization. This customization is particularly pertinent when dealing with group memberships that govern access controls and permissions across enterprise applications and services.

The deployment of Azure AD Connect with custom group filtering options is a strategic process that enhances security and efficiency. Custom group filtering ensures that only the necessary data is synchronized to Azure AD, reducing the overhead on the directory service and simplifying the management of cloud identities. This article aims to provide a detailed academic and technical exposition on deploying Azure AD Connect with a focus on implementing custom group filtering. We will dissect the prerequisites for a successful deployment, delineate the installation process, explain the intricacies of configuring custom group filters, and address post-deployment considerations to ensure a secure and optimal setup.


Before embarking on the deployment of Azure AD Connect with custom group filtering options, organizations must meticulously prepare their environment to meet specific technical prerequisites. These prerequisites ensure that the system is primed for a successful installation and that the subsequent operation of Azure AD Connect is both effective and secure.

System RequirementsAs of the latest guidance before April 2023, the server designated for Azure AD Connect must be running Windows Server 2012 R2 or later. The system should also have at least a 1.6 GHz CPU, 4 GB of RAM, and 70 GB of free disk space for a standard installation. For larger infrastructures that may require a full SQL Server installation rather than the default SQL Server Express, ensure you have SQL Server 2012 or later and allocate additional resources accordingly.
Necessary Permissions and RolesThe account performing the Azure AD Connect installation should have the ‘Enterprise Admins‘ group membership in the on-premises Active Directory.
In the Azure environment, the same or a different account needs to be assigned the ‘Global Administrator‘ role. This setup is crucial for enabling the necessary directory and attribute permissions required during the synchronization process.
Directory CleanupPrior to Azure AD Connect installation, on-premises directories should be scrubbed to maintain data integrity. This includes standardizing attribute formats, resolving any user or group object inconsistencies, and eliminating duplicate entries. Manageengine’s ADManager Plus provides automated AD cleanup which helps save significant time by eliminating the need to use command line tools and PowerShell scripts. It also helps to identify and remedy directory errors in preparation for synchronization.
Network and ConnectivityNetwork infrastructure must be evaluated to ensure uninterrupted connectivity to Azure services. The server should have direct internet access or a properly configured proxy to connect to Azure AD endpoints. Firewalls and network security configurations must permit outgoing connections to Azure AD on the required ports.
Pre-deployment ConsiderationsConduct an audit of the existing Active Directory structure to map out the synchronization plan. Decide whether to implement a full sync or select specific organizational units (OUs) and groups for synchronization. For group filtering, assess which attributes — such as ‘department‘, ‘groupType‘, or custom attributes — are relevant for your filtering rules. Additionally, consider the synchronization frequency and how changes such as group membership updates will propagate to Azure AD.
Versioning and UpdatesVerify that you are using the most recent version of Azure AD Connect. Microsoft frequently updates Azure AD Connect to introduce new features, improvements, and security patches. Using an outdated version can result in compatibility issues or missing functionalities. Always download the installer from the official Microsoft website to get the latest release.
Backup and DocumentationEnsure that you have comprehensive backups of your current Active Directory and Azure AD states. Document your current configuration settings and have a recovery plan in place. This documentation is essential for understanding the pre-deployment state and can be invaluable if a rollback is necessary.

Adhering to these actionable prerequisites will lay a robust foundation for deploying Azure AD Connect. The preparation steps will mitigate the risk of deployment issues, ensure compliance with Microsoft’s best practices, and help in achieving a customized, efficient synchronization process that aligns with the organization’s specific needs.

Step 1: Launch Azure AD Connect Configuration  

  1. Log in to the Windows Server where you’ve installed Azure AD Connect.
  2. Launch the “Azure AD Connect” application from the Start menu.

Step 2: Configure Custom Group Filtering  

  1. In the Azure AD Connect wizard, click “Customize synchronization options” and then click “Next“. This step is crucial as it allows you to define your custom group filtering options for the synchronization process.
  2. Select the “Synchronize selected groups” option, and then click “Add“. This is where you specify which Active Directory groups you want to synchronize with Azure AD. This is a critical configuration, as it dictates which groups will be included in the synchronization process.
  3. In the “Select groups” dialog, you will see a list of available groups in your on-premises Active Directory. To select specific groups for synchronization, follow these steps:
    • Filtering by Group Name: You can use the search box to filter the list of groups by their names. This is helpful when you have a large number of groups and want to quickly find the ones you need.
    • Selecting Multiple Groups: To select multiple groups for synchronization, hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard while clicking on the desired groups. Alternatively, you can select all groups by clicking on the top checkbox, which selects all displayed groups.
    • Single Group Selection: If you only want to synchronize a single group, simply click on that group.
  4. After adding the desired groups, click “Add” to add them to the list of groups to synchronize. These selected groups will be listed in the “Selected groups” box. You can always come back to this step and modify the selection by adding or removing groups.
  5. Review the list of groups you’ve selected in the “Selected groups” box. Ensure that it accurately represents the groups you want to synchronize with Azure AD. This is a critical step, as any changes made here will affect the synchronization process.
  6. Click “Next” to proceed with the Azure AD Connect configuration. This will take you through the remaining steps, such as specifying your Azure AD credentials, configuring password synchronization options, and defining any other required settings.
  7. Once you’ve completed the wizard and clicked “Install“, Azure AD Connect will start synchronizing the selected groups to Azure AD based on your custom group filtering options.

Step 3: Verify Custom Group Synchronization  

  1. To verify that the custom group filtering is working as expected, go to the Azure portal and log in with your Azure AD credentials.
  2. Navigate to “Azure Active Directory” > “Groups“.
  3. You should see the groups you selected for synchronization in the list of Azure AD groups.
  4. Additionally, you can check the synchronization status in the Azure AD Connect tool on your Windows Server to ensure that the custom group filtering is running successfully.

If you are interested to know about How to configure Azure AD Federation with OpenID Connect, check out the link.

By following these steps, you have successfully deployed Azure AD Connect with custom group filtering options, allowing you to synchronize only specific groups from your on-premises Active Directory to Azure AD. This level of customization helps you maintain control over which groups are available in your Azure AD tenant, ensuring a more efficient and organized synchronization process.

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