Active Directory Domain Controller Backups – Part 1

I decided to write down for posterity and my own forgetfulness the workflow I developed for backing up domain controllers running Windows 2008 R2. I didn’t really reinvent the wheel, I merely adapted and put together some disparate pieces of code I found on the Internet.

Backup Overview

I guess this is the time we should ask ourselves the 5 Ws:

  • Who is being backed up?
  • What to backup?
  • Why do we need the backups?
  • When will backups run?
  • Where will backups be stored?


Our backup sources must be at least 2 domain controllers / domain. Why 2? Well because 2 is better than 1, in the remote case one of the backups is not working properly you are in trouble, having 2 backups, at least diminishes this chance. Also I would advice that your backup targets are, if possible, among the FSMO roles holders in the domain, so in case of a forest/domain recovery to avoid doing FSMO role seizing. Suppose you are managing a single forest, multiple child domain infrastructure. The forest root domain DCs that make the best candidate for backup are:

  • PDC Emulator
  • RID Master
  • Schema Master

I’m not saying the Domain Naming Master and Infrastructure master are not important, only that in a Forest/Domain Recovery Scenario, you must make sure you have the roles above working properly, and not have to go through the trouble of seizing them from dead DCs. Domain Naming Master is useful for setting up new domains – not something you do in a recovery, and Infrastructure masters are not so much used, if all your DCs are Global Catalogs, a common situation in my opinion  nowadays). On domain level I would pick servers that are PDCs (Primary Domain Controllers) and RID Master Servers, for mostly the same reasons above.


  • System State (at least), Critical Volume Recommended
  • List of objects (distinguishedNames) – useful for restoring data
  • GPOs (contents)
  • GPO-Links


Well, the “System State” is an obvious choice, since that is the entire operating system, and in the case of DCs, the Active Directory files (database, logs, etc). Keep in mind though, that your restore options, for a supported setup are limited, as explained here.

The “List of Objects ” (object name and DN) is needed, because in some restore cases (e.g.: object restore from accidental deletion) you must provide a DN for the restored object, that is not included in deleted objects information in AD.

The “GPO objects” are backed up for convenience sake (they are included in the “system state backup”). In case we need to restore a GPO from backup, it is more easy to have it backed-up separately, compared to restoring a system state backup, mounting the backup, searching for the files, etc). The GPO links are something special that are not backed-up with the usual GPO backup tools. Also special care must be taken so that GP-links to GPOs outside of the domain where the GPO exists are also backed-up.


In my case I did a backup to network share, which was included in the regular backup policy of the company. So the answer would be: “At a time of low activity on the server, before the regular backup runs over your backup location?”


The backup destination in my case was a network share in the same subnet and datacenter as my domain controllers. This obviously lowers backup duration and any load on the WAN links. I am fortunate enough to be able to have most of the DCs for my entire forest, with at least 1 member in a single datacenter, where I setup a network share to store the backups.

A word about security here. Take as much care in securing this network share and the OS that hosts it, as you would if it were a very sensitive system. Remember, this is where all of your domain controller backups are stored. Anyone gaining access to this share would be able to mount your AD files, view the content, steal password hashes from the backups, the attack possibilities are quite numerous. If you are setting up this share on a windows machine CHANGE the default security settings to only allow the Domain Administrators and Backup Operators access to it.

Tools and Requirements

To setup the workflow that I will describe you need to have these resources/permissions:

1. Domain Admin over all domains/child domains

2. You should be running Windows 2008 R2 with Powershell installed on your DCs (including AD-Modules)

I will discuss later on about specific requirements for the backup itself, when the time comes.


Some links and resources helped me build this workflow are below:

A good deep-dive video explaining a lot of the concepts around Domain Controller backups, and restore techniques, presented at TechEd US this year. I picked up form here what needs to be backed up, and some command for doing the backup.

This Technet gallery script for backing up GPO objects, the stuff there is pretty accurate.

This is it for an introductory post, giving an overview of how we will get the job done. Part 2 will cover the scripts/commands used to achieve this backup.