How to sync on-premises Active Directory to Azure Active Directory with Azure AD Connect?

Synchronizing users’ identities between local and cloud directories is a great way to let users access different resources on both on-premises and cloud environments with just a single set of credentials. To achieve that, you need to use Azure AD Connect to integrate your on-premises Active Directory with Azure AD.

In this article, you will find some guidance on how to use Azure AD Connect to sync on-premises Active Directory with Azure Active Directory.

Azure AD Connect

Azure AD Connect is a tool that connects functionalities of its two predecessors – Windows Azure Active Directory Sync, commonly referred to as DirSync, and Azure AD Sync (AAD Sync). Azure AD Connect will be now the only directory synchronization tool supported by Microsoft as DirSync and AAD Sync are deprecated and supported only until April 13, 2017.

Before installation

Before starting the installation process, make sure that you:

  • are on the server that will handle the synchronization
  • checked all the prerequisites. You can find out more details here.
  • downloaded Azure AD Connect. You can download it from this Microsoft’s website.
  • have a verified domain in Azure Active Directory – non-reputable domains (such as .local) may not sync properly.

NOTE: Instead of a non-reputable domain, Microsoft recommends using a verified domain that seamlessly matches a verified domain in Office 365. If you have a non-reputable domain see this article on how to fix it.

Installation

There are a few ways to install Azure AD Connect depending on your preferences. As the installation via Express Settings is perhaps the most commonly used scenario, I will use it as an example in this article.  Express Settings is an option to go if you have a single-forest and use password synchronization.

NOTE: all actions below are performed on a test Office 365 environment.

  1. Once you downloaded Azure AD Connect, navigate to Windows Installer Package (.msi) and double-click on the file.

    Double-click Azure AD Connect file to start it.
  2. In the Microsoft Azure Active Directory Connect wizard, agree to the license terms by checking the box. Click Continue.

    Azure AD Connect - welcome page.
  3. If you have a verified domain, the Use Express Settings option will be highlighted to go with. Click on it to start the configuration. If you are using a non-reputable domain, like .local, the wizard will recommend going with the Customize option.

    Azure AD Connect - Customize settings.
  4. In the resulting window, provide your Azure AD global administrator credentials. Click Next.

    Azure AD Connect - connect to Azure.
  5. Now, connect to AD DS using your enterprise administration credentials. Click Next.

    Azure AD Connect - connect to AD DS.
  6. If you didn’t add or verify your domain in Azure AD, you will see the Azure AD sign-in configuration section in the wizard. Make sure that you followed this instruction to add or verify the domain.

    Azure AD Connect - sign-in configuration.
  7. In the Ready to configure window, you can put some final touches to the configuration by checking or unchecking available options. In this instruction, I do not want the synchronization to start automatically, so I unchecked the “Start the synchronization process when configuration completes” option.

    Azure AD Connect - ready to configure page.
  8. Install Azure AD Connect.

Use PowerShell to manage synchronization

If you unchecked the “Start the synchronization process when configuration completes” box in the Configure section in Azure AD Connect, you need to start the synchronization manually. You can do it via PowerShell.

Check current synchronization settings

To check the current state of the synchronization settings, use this cmdlet:

Get-ADSyncScheduler

Cmdlet Get-adSyncscheduler

Manually start the synchronization

To start the initial synchronization run this cmdlet:

Start-ADSyncCycle –PolicyType Initial

Cmdlet Start-adsync -policytype initial

To start the delta synchronization use this cmdlet:

Start-ADSyncCycle –PolicyType Delta

Cmdlet Start-adsync -policytype delta

Customize the synchronization time intervals

To change the default 30-minute (00:30:00) sync cycle interval, execute the following cmdlet:

Set-ADSyncScheduler –CustomizedSyncCycleInterval 00:40:00

To customize the sync interval, use the HH:MM:SS format, e.g. 00:40:00 will set 40-minute sync cycle interval.

Change time interval for AD SyncScheduler.

NOTE: Setting interval time under 30 minutes is not supported. This is what I get when trying to set up the customized interval to e.g. 10 minutes:

Customize interval time.

Run the Get-ADSyncScheduler cmdlet to check your settings. The time interval you set should appear next to the CustomizedSyncCycleInterval parameter.

Check time interval settings.

Monitor the synchronization via Synchronization Service Manager

To monitor and manage directory synchronization, you can use the Synchronization Service Manager console:

  1. To open Synchronization Service Manager, go to Start menu and type Synchronization Service. It should appear under the Azure AD Connect.
  2. In the Synchronization Service Manager console, under Operations tab, you can monitor the synchronization progress. The upper part of the window shows ongoing sync cycles and the lower part presents what number of modifications is already synchronized.

    Results of cmdlet start-adsynccycle.
  3. Sign in to Office 365 portal.
  4. In Office 365 portal, go to Users >Active Users to see, which users are already synchronized with Azure AD.

    Users in Azure AD after synchronization.

Filter Organizational Units before synchronizing them to Azure AD

If you need to limit the synchronization to only selected Organizational Units (OUs), you can use the filtering option in Azure AD Connect.

Important! Before adjusting any filter options, disable Azure AD Sync Scheduler. Thanks to that, you will not push any unwanted or not verified changes to Office 365. You can use the following cmdlet to disable the scheduler:

Set-ADSyncScheduler –SyncCycleEnabled $False

To enable the scheduler again, run the following cmdlet:

Set-ADSyncScheduler –SyncCycleEnabled $True

To filter Organizational Units:

  1. Open Azure AD Connect.
  2. In the Domain and OU filtering section, unselect the OUs you don’t want to synchronize (by default all OUs are selected).

    Domain and OU filtering in Azure AD Connect.

If for some reason you are not able to run Azure AD Connect wizard, you may filter Organizational units via Synchronization Service (although it is not a preferred method):

  1. Open Synchronization Service from the start menu.
  2. Go to the Connectors tab.
  3. Right click on the domain of Active Directory Domain Services type and select Properties.

    Active Directory Domain Services - Properties.
  4. In the resulting window, click on Configure Directory Partitions, select the domain in the Select directory partition section, and click Containers.

    Configure directory partitions.
  5. Provide your admin credentials:

    Provide admin credentials to access a list of containers with OUs.
  6. Now you can unselect OUs you don’t want to synchronize to Azure AD. Click OK.

    Select containers you want to unselect in directory synchronization.
  7. As a final step of this configuration, Microsoft suggests to verify the changes before exporting them to Azure AD.
  8. After you verify your configuration and accept the changes, go to Connectors. Right click on Azure AD Connector, then click Run.
  9. In the Run Connectors dialog box, select Export.
  10. Now you can enable the Azure AD Sync Scheduler again. To start it, use the following cmdlet
    Set-ADSyncScheduler –SyncCycleEnabled $True

    or Task Scheduler.

That’s it! Now you have local Active Directory synchronized with Azure Active Directory and all changes made to on-premises AD will be reflected in the Cloud, as per your settings.

Check also:

2 thoughts on “How to sync on-premises Active Directory to Azure Active Directory with Azure AD Connect?


  1. Hello Adam,
    as I understand it this would be a two-way-sync, right? Could you confirm that the following scenario is possible using AD Connect?

    So imagine the following scenario:
    – A user adds a new contact to his adress book in the 365 environment (or it is added automatically by a 3rd party like Zapier)
    – Its synced to appear in the on premise Exchange server
    – He can use the contact object within his usual outlook client

    Is this scenario possible?

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