Active Directory and SSO integration for VMware Solutions in IBM Cloud

VMware Solutions instances in IBM Cloud are deployed with a built-in Active Directory domain with one or two directory controllers. Recently IBM Cloud changed the domain name requirements to require three qualifiers (e.g., cloud.example.com) rather than two (e.g., example.com). The reason for this is that we want to ensure you can integrate with your existing domain and forest without experiencing conflict. The domain controllers are configured as SSO provider for vCenter and NSX, and also as DNS provider for the infrastructure components. IBM Cloud creates an administrator userid in this domain which it uses for subsequent operations, such as logging into vCenter to add a new host, updating DNS records for that host, and creating utility accounts for add-on services like Veeam.

This Active Directory domain is your responsibility to secure and manage, including backup, patching, group policy, etc.

In order of integration from loosest to tightest coupling:

1. No integration

You are free to leverage your instance domain directly for user management within the instance. You can point additional components to the instance’s domain controllers for SSO; for example, the IBM Cloud automation does this for you when it deploys and configures HyTrust Cloud Control. You can join other devices to the domain and also use this for DNS management beyond the instance infrastructure.

2. Additional SSO provider

This option and all of the following options each entail some kind of integration with your instance and your existing Active Directory forest. You will first need to establish network connectivity between your instance and your existing Active Directory forest. You might accomplish this with either a VPN connection or a direct link between IBM Cloud and your on-premises environment. As always, you should take great care to secure your domain controllers, so you should explore security measures such as the use of read-only directory controllers, session recording, bastion servers, and gateway firewalls.

You can leverage your own Active Directory domain for SSO purposes by configuring your directory controllers as additional SSO providers for vCenter and NSX manager and by granting your users and groups appropriate permissions. You will need to determine how you configure DNS; some customers manually duplicate the DNS records from their instance domain into their existing Active Directory domain, but it is also possible to establish mutual DNS delegation between the two Active Directory domains.

This approach may allow you to limit the cloud connections to your directory controllers so that you are only opening up LDAPS and DNS ports.

3. One-way trust

You can establish one-way trust from your instance’s Active Directory domain controllers to your existing Active Directory domain. This will enable you to expose and authorize your existing users and groups to vCenter and NSX manager without having to add these directly as SSO providers. You may need to make additional provision for DNS updates, either copying them to your existing domain or establishing DNS delegation to the instance’s domain.

4. Two-way trust

This option requires your existing domain to establish mutual trust with your instance’s domain. If you are comfortable doing this, it could simplify your DNS management between the two domains.

5. Forest merge

I am not aware of any IBM Cloud customers who have done this, and I do not recommend it since it is a disruptive and potentially risky operation. The idea here is to merge the instance’s forest with your existing forest and to configure the instance’s domain as a child domain of your existing domain.

6. Rebuild

IBM Cloud’s VMware Solutions Shared offering implements a variation of the forest merge. It deploys VCS instances and builds VMware Cloud Director environments on top of them. This solution leverages an existing internal Active Directory forest and domain. After each new VCS instance is deployed, our process removes the VCS instance from its domain and reconfigures it to point to the existing domain.

A variation of this option is to create a new child domain in your existing forest for your VCS instance, and leverage the controllers for this child domain for use with your VCS instance.

There are a few important points to observe:

  1. You should either deploy your instance with the same domain name that you intend to convert it to, or else you should accept the fact that your infrastructure components will have host names in a different DNS domain from your Active Directory domain. Changing the DNS domain of infrastructure components is not supported by IBM Cloud automation.
  2. You will need to re-create the IBM Cloud automation user in your existing domain as an administrator and ensure that this user has administrative permissions in vCenter and NSX manager. This user may in the future create additional users or DNS entries. After performing the reconfiguration, you should open a support ticket to the VMware Solutions team asking them to update the automation user’s password in the IBM Cloud database for your instance, and provide the updated password.

Because this process is complex it is error prone, and you should consider this option only if the options above do not work for you. Additionally, you should practice this with a non-production or pre-production VCS deployment, including the test of adding a new host to the environment, before you implement it in production.

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