Microsoft Entra Connect Sync: A Practical Guide

What Is Microsoft Entra Connect Sync? 

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync, formerly known as Azure AD Connect, is a tool that facilitates the synchronization of identity data between an organization’s on-premises directory (like Active Directory) and Microsoft’s cloud services, including Azure Active Directory and Microsoft 365.

This synchronization enables users to have a unified identity across on-premises and cloud environments, simplifying the user experience while enhancing security and access management. Entra Connect Sync supports various scenarios such as password hash synchronization, pass-through authentication, and federation integration, providing flexibility in how authentication and synchronization are handled.

The primary goal of Microsoft Entra Connect Sync is to ensure that users have seamless access to cloud resources using their existing on-premises credentials, eliminating the need for multiple usernames and passwords and thereby improving security and user productivity. It is an essential component for organizations looking to adopt a hybrid identity model, allowing for a smooth transition to cloud services while maintaining a strong security posture.

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync vs. Cloud Sync: What Is the Difference and Why Does Microsoft Recommend Cloud Sync?

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync and Cloud Sync are both integral components of Microsoft’s identity and access management ecosystem, serving to bridge on-premises directories with Azure Active Directory (Azure AD). However, they cater to different organizational needs and architectures, resulting in distinct functionalities and recommendations from Microsoft.

The main difference between Microsoft Entra Connect Sync and Cloud Sync lies in their deployment and synchronization mechanisms: 

  • Entra Connect Sync is designed for comprehensive synchronization tasks, offering detailed customization options for attribute flow, filtering, and transformation. It supports complex scenarios like multi-forest environments and advanced provisioning. 
  • Entra Cloud Sync is built for simplicity and ease of use, providing a lightweight and more straightforward approach to synchronization. It is optimized for scenarios where rapid deployment and minimal configuration are prioritized.

Another significant difference is their infrastructure requirements: 

  • Entra Connect Sync requires a dedicated server infrastructure on-premises, which adds to the maintenance and operational overhead for IT teams. Scalability may require additional configuration and infrastructure adjustments to handle increased loads effectively.
  • Entra Cloud Sync minimizes this burden by leveraging a cloud-based service model, with only a lightweight agent deployed on-premises, reducing the need for extensive on-premises infrastructure. It offers faster synchronization cycles and is designed to scale up on demand with organizational size and complexity.

Microsoft recommends Cloud Sync for most organizations due to its streamlined setup, ease of management, and lower infrastructure requirements. In addition, according to Microsoft’s documentation, new features that improve the sync experience will be introduced through Cloud Sync, not Connect Sync. 

Learn more about Cloud Sync in the official documentation.

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync Architecture and Concepts 

The diagram below shows the basic architecture of Microsoft Entra Connect Sync. We’ll describe the key components below.

Source: Microsoft


The Connector in Microsoft Entra Connect Sync serves as the bridge between the on-premises directory and Azure AD. It is responsible for translating and transferring identity data from the source directory (such as Active Directory) to the cloud. 

Connectors are designed to interact with specific directory services, ensuring that data is accurately synchronized according to the configured rules and policies. They play a crucial role in the synchronization process, handling changes, deletions, and updates to ensure that the cloud directory reflects the current state of the on-premises directory.

Each Connector is configured to manage specific objects and attributes, with customization options available to meet the unique needs of an organization. The flexibility and configurability of Connectors enable organizations to synchronize the necessary data while excluding sensitive or irrelevant information.

Attribute Flow

Attribute flow in Microsoft Entra Connect Sync refers to the rules and processes that govern how individual attributes of identity objects (such as users, groups, and contacts) are synchronized from the on-premises directory to Microsoft Entra AD. These rules define what attributes are included in the synchronization, how they are transformed or modified during the process, and the direction of the synchronization flow. 

Attribute flow is critical for ensuring that the necessary data is accurately represented in both environments, supporting authentication, authorization, and user profile information.

Customizing attribute flow allows organizations to align the synchronization process with their specific requirements, including compliance mandates and operational needs. By carefully defining attribute flow rules, administrators can avoid unnecessary data exposure and ensure that only relevant and appropriate information is synchronized to the cloud.

Connector Space

The Connector space, also known as the staging area, is a component of Microsoft Entra Connect Sync where data from the source directory is temporarily stored before being processed and synchronized to Microsoft Entra AD. It acts as an intermediary storage that holds a copy of the objects and attributes to be synchronized, allowing for transformations, filtering, and conflict resolution to occur before the final synchronization. 

This staging area enables the system to efficiently manage changes, updates, and deletions, ensuring that only the intended modifications are applied to the cloud directory. It also plays a key role in error handling and debugging, providing a snapshot of the data before it is synchronized, which can be invaluable for troubleshooting issues.


The Metaverse in Microsoft Entra Connect Sync is a central repository that aggregates and integrates identity data from multiple sources, including on-premises directories and cloud services. It represents a unified view of identity information, serving as the core data model where synchronization logic and transformations are applied. 

The Metaverse ensures consistency and coherence of identity data across different systems, resolving conflicts and applying rules to maintain the integrity of the synchronized data. By centralizing identity information, Microsoft Entra Connect Sync can more effectively manage complex synchronization scenarios, including multi-forest environments and hybrid identities.


Provisioning in Microsoft Entra Connect Sync involves the process of creating, updating, and managing identity objects in Microsoft Entra AD based on the synchronized data from the on-premises directory. This includes the automation of account creation, attribute updates, and deprovisioning of accounts when they are no longer needed or when the corresponding on-premises account is deleted or disabled. 

Provisioning ensures that user and group objects in Microsoft Entra AD accurately reflect the current state of the on-premises directory, supporting efficient access management and security controls.

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync Limitations 

Entra Connect Sync is a powerful tool but has several important limitations. The issues below were reported by users on the G2 platform.

Usability and Configuration Challenges

Entra Connect Sync faces usability hurdles primarily due to tenant and resource creation limits, which can stymie scalability and collaborative efforts in larger projects. Additionally, the user experience is further complicated by the need to navigate multiple websites to access different related tools, adding unnecessary complexity to workflow management. 

Single Sign-On (SSO) configuration issues and authentication challenges, particularly with the Authenticator not generating codes or pushing notifications, also disrupt the user experience.

Synchronization and Performance Limitations

Synchronization delays, especially noticeable in the propagation of Active Directory user details across platforms like Teams and Outlook, directly impact productivity and communication within organizations. 

For data analysts, the platform’s performance issues and the limited ability to customize the analysis environment according to specific needs further exacerbate the challenge. These performance bottlenecks and limited customization options negatively affect the user experience.

Complexity, Documentation, and CIAM Support

The complexity of Microsoft Entra Connect Sync, coupled with insufficient documentation, presents a steep learning curve that can overwhelm new users. The initial setup process, characterized by numerous configuration options and the need for system integration, demands a more streamlined approach or guided tutorials to enhance user onboarding. 

The platform was also reported to lack support for features like CIAM for SaaS products. This limitation necessitates the use of separate tools for organizational and customer identity management.

Customization Limitations

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync places restrictions on tenants, allowing users to create a maximum of 200 directories. In addition, it can be challenging for non-administrators to create resources non admin might pose challenges when scaling applications or working on larger projects.

In addition, for deeper customization, there is a dependency on PowerShell scripting skills, which not all users or administrators may possess. This requirement can create a barrier for those less familiar with advanced scripting or those without dedicated IT support.

Pricing Flexibility

The cost structure of Microsoft Entra Connect Sync can also present challenges, particularly for smaller organizations or those with tight budgets. The platform’s most powerful features, such as advanced identity management and secure access capabilities, are gated behind paid subscriptions. These costs can accumulate significantly, especially for larger enterprises or those looking to scale their operations.

Microsoft Entra Connect Sync Best Practices 

Here are a few best practices that can help you make more effective use of Entra Connect Sync.

Use a Dedicated Service Account

Using a dedicated service account for Microsoft Entra Connect Sync operations is a best practice that enhances security and operational reliability. This account should have the minimum necessary permissions to perform synchronization tasks, following the principle of least privilege. 

A dedicated account helps isolate synchronization activities from other administrative functions, reducing the risk of unauthorized access or changes to the synchronization process. It also simplifies auditing and monitoring, as all synchronization activities can be tracked to a single account.

Regularly Review and Update Synchronization Rules

Regularly reviewing and updating synchronization rules is essential to ensure that they remain aligned with organizational policies, compliance requirements, and operational needs. Changes in the organizational structure, user attributes, or security policies may necessitate adjustments to synchronization rules to prevent data inconsistencies or exposure. 

Periodic reviews help identify and rectify outdated or inefficient rules, optimizing the synchronization process and enhancing security.

Monitor Synchronization Health

Monitoring the health and performance of Microsoft Entra Connect Sync is crucial for identifying and addressing issues promptly. This includes tracking synchronization errors, performance bottlenecks, and potential security concerns. 

Effective monitoring enables administrators to maintain a high level of operational reliability and ensures that identity data remains consistent and accurate across on-premises and cloud environments.

Leverage Filtering

Filtering in Microsoft Entra Connect Sync allows organizations to control which objects and attributes are synchronized to Microsoft Entra AD, minimizing unnecessary data transfer and enhancing security. 

Filtering can be based on organizational units, groups, or specific attribute values, providing flexibility in defining what data is included in the synchronization process. Careful configuration of filtering rules helps ensure that only relevant and appropriate information is synchronized, reducing the risk of data exposure and optimizing performance.

Implement High Availability

Implementing high availability for Microsoft Entra Connect Sync is a best practice that ensures continuous operation of the synchronization process, minimizing the impact of failures or downtime. This can involve deploying multiple instances of Entra Connect Sync in a failover configuration or using cloud-based services that offer built-in redundancy and resilience. 

High availability strategies help ensure that identity synchronization remains uninterrupted, supporting seamless access to cloud services and maintaining operational continuity.

Frontegg: The Ultimate Microsoft Entra Alternative

The industry standard today involves the use of authentication providers to “build the door”, but what about Authorization (the door knob)? Most authentication vendors don’t go that extra mile, forcing SaaS vendors to invest in expensive in-house user management development. This often leads to delays in core technology development, which negatively impacts innovation and time-to-market (TTM) metrics. 

Frontegg’s end-to-end user management platform allows you to authenticate and authorize users with just a few clicks. Integration takes just a few minutes and a few lines of code, thanks to its plug-and-play nature. It’s also multi-tenant by design and self-served by nature, something that helps reduce friction and improves user satisfaction. Also, all roles and permissions can be managed via a centralized dashboard. It’s really that easy.


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