Understanding Read-Only Domain Controllers (RODCs)

One of the new features that received close attention in Windows Server 2008 was a new breed of domain controllers referred to as Read-Only Domain Controllers, also known as RODCs. The RODC hosts a copy of the Active Directory (AD) database like any other writable domain controller, but as its name implies, the contents replica of the domain database residing on the domain controller is read-only and write operations are not supported. It is equally important to mention that the RODCs do not participate in Active Directory replication in the same fashion as writable domain controllers. The fundamental difference between RODC replication and the typical multimaster replication model between writable domain controllers is that RODC replication is unidirectional. This means all changes from a writable domain controller are propagated to the RODCs. As a result, the RODC receives changes, but does not partake in or perform outbound replication with other domain controllers. This characteristic of RODCs provides an extra layer of security as any unauthorized data changes, especially changes made with the intent to hurt the organization, will not replicate out to other domain controllers. Unidirectional replication also reduces the workload of bridgehead servers in the hub site and the effort required to monitor replication.

Another new RODC functionality that improves security is commonly witnessed when replication transpires between a writable domain controller and an RODC. Here, user account information is replicated, but account passwords are not replicated. This is a new phenomenon because of the existence of Windows domain controllers. Security is bolstered in this situation as the only password that resides on the RODC is the local administrator’s password and Krbtgt accounts (the account used for Kerberos authentication). In essence, the read-only philosophy of an RODC is similar to the NT 4.0 Backup Domain Controller (BDC); however, with the NT 4.0 BDC, all user information is replicated from the Primary Domain Controller (PDC), including passwords. Although Microsoft fields numerous questions on this new Active Directory technology, the question that is asked the most is where does the RODC fit in? RODCs are most often used to provide Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) to remote locations and branch offices where heightened security is essential, where Windows Active Directory administrators are lacking, and where the promise of physical security is practically nonexistent. In many cases, RODCs offer a practical headache-free solution for branch office environments that in the past had to endure solutions that always put them in compromising
situations. If needed, it is also possible to configure credential caching of passwords for a specific user account to an RODC. Moreover, by default, security groups with high privileges such as Domain Administrators and Enterprise Administrators are configured to never allow their passwords to replicate to RODCs.

Source of Information : Sams - Windows Server 2008 R2 Unleashed

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