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Active Directory Group Policy Design Principles

with 3 comments


This blog entry was written on Aug 2006. Since much of it is still relevant in today’s Windows Server 2008 R2 Active Directory, I took the liberty of reviewing and reposting it in my new techblog. – Jay Paloma

Finally we go to Group Policies. Personally, I find this feature one of the more compelling reasons to make the move to Active Directory. Properly designing and implementing it.

Group Policy processing rules of thumb

These are my 5 rules of thumb I tried to remember when I was taking up the Active Directory Implementation and Active Directory Design exams, and in my subsequent Group Policy design exercises.

Rule 1 – Execution Order: L > S > D > OU. Local policies are procesed first. Then follows the Site GPO’s, then Domain GPO’s, then OU GPO’s from top level OU until the direct container of the user or computer object. Any conflicting settings and the last processed GPO will prevail.

Rule 2 – Inheritance. GPO setings are inherited from the top level containers containers to the direct container of the user or computer object. If we need to remove the Run Menu from all users in our domain, we simply need to create the GPO for this and link it to our domain, instead of linking it on all OU’s where there are user accounts. There are of course, exceptions to the rule.

Rule 3 – Block Inheritance. Block Inheritance is applied to the container and ensures that any policy in the upper level containers are not applied to the container that it is applied to and the downstream containers. This is intended as an exception to Rule # 2 on Inheritance. The proper application to this is a downstream container.

Rule 4 – Link Enforced. Enforcing the link ensures that the GPO will be executed no matter what downstream GPO’s are applied to downstream containers. This provides an exception to Rule # 1 on Execution Order. The proper application to this is an upstream link. Note that Enforced is applied to the link, meaning the should GPO may be linked to more than one container, only those that we applied Enforced are those that will be enforced. Enforcing the link is a powerful exception that overrides the Block Inheritance exception

Rule 5 – GPO Access Control. If, for example, one would intend to enforce a specific GPO only to a subset of user accounts in an OU, we only need to change the default Access Control List of the GPO to allow both Read and Apply Group Policy to those user accounts that need to be enforced with the policy (we need to remove Authenticated Users from this ACL in the process). On the other hand, if we wish that a specific subset of users, say for example, Administrators SHOULD NOT be enforced with, say for example, a restrictive GPO, then we can just grant them Deny permissions on Apply Group Policy. Note that the Enterprise Admins, Domain Admins and Administrators groups are not subject to Group Policies because these group accounts are not given the Allow permission in Apply Group Policy permission by default, but they are also not explicitly given a Deny permission. This means that, making a user account a member of these groups does not necessarily liberate that user account from restrictive Group Policies. For really restrictive policies that endanger an administrative account being locked out, it is best to explicitly give the said group accounts the Deny permission on the Apply Group Policy access control entry.


Key pointers in designing and implementing Group Policies

  1. Although one can link a GPO to the Site container, it is not adviseable, given the fact that a site can contain multiple Domain Controllers from different domains.
  2. As mentioned in the OU Design document, implementing a wide but shallow OU structure is better than a narrow but deep structure for performance purposes. The deeper the OU, the more Group Policies that need to be processed and the longer it takes to start up the machine and/or log on the user. Although a wide but deep structure would eventually mean more GPO’s and more links, less GPO’s need to be enforced during the startup or logon process.
  3. Ensure that the Distributed File System (DFS) is working properly between domain controllers in the same domain. DFS is the means for the Group Policy files to be transferred between domain controllers. If DFS is malfunctioning, it is possible that multiple, copies of the same GPO get propagated and enforced on the client machines. Depending on the nature of the GPO, this can pose a serious security threat to the network.
  4. Download and install the Group Policy Management Console (GPMC)
  5. Learn the proper usage of Block Policy Inheritance and Link Enforced. Refrain from using these exceptions if you can get away with it. Remember: Block Policy Inheritance is applied to a downstream container, while Link Enforced is applied to an upstream Link.

The Group Policies design caps off our series on Active Directory Design. For more information or comments, feel free to get in touch with me using the email address below.

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Written by jpaloma

January 19, 2011 at 11:38 AM

3 Responses

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  1. […] Active Directory Group Policy Design Principles […]

  2. very nice short note on group policy

    gautamnaina03jay Gautam

    June 30, 2011 at 1:41 PM

  3. […] Active Directory Group Policy Design Principles […]


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