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Looking to understand workgroup vs domain in an IT environment? You’re in the right place! While a domain allows network admins to use servers to control all their assets that exist within the domain, a workgroup uses a LAN to communicate, and within a workgroup, no single machine or computer will have control over any other. Instead, they just share resources. Need some more info? This article will explain the differences in more detail. Ready? Let’s go!

What is a domain?

These terms are all about computer networking, the way that computers communicate with one another across a network. Let’s start with understanding what a domain is. If you use a domain, you will have one centralized database that’s on a domain controller. In fact, you might even have more than one domain controller. All user accounts, machines, and even additional hardware like printers etc will be registered with the domain controller. You can have as many devices as you want that are all within the same domain, and they could even be in different locations, enabling remote working while keeping the same security rules or corporate policies for all assets and employees.

The main purpose of a domain managed by a domain controller is so that an IT admin or service can control the network, including any security issues and permissions all from one centralized location. When a network administrator makes a change to one device, it will be automatically made for all of the other devices that exist within the same domain. It also allows users to collaborate and share equipment and assets with greater ease. If a user has credentials to a specific domain, they will be able to use any machine without necessarily having an account for a specific computer or device. You can immediately see how for a large or complex network, this will save a lot of time, admin and overhead.

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What is a workgroup?

A workgroup is a whole different ball game from using a domain. A far simpler one. Within a workgroup, no computers have any control over the behavior, permissions or security of any other computer inside the workgroup. Instead, they share common responsibilities and resources with a peer-to-peer (P2P) model. This means any computer could start a communication session, and could operate as either the client or the server in the communication, and they communicate over a Local Area Network (LAN). Every device or asset inside the workgroup needs to be connected to the same LAN or subnet.

Unlike in a domain, a LAN is usually limited to a smaller physical area, usually an office or facility like a manufacturing plant, a hospital, or a school or university. Within a workgroup, each computer will have user accounts which are accessed using account credentials. Just because an employee works in the same facility and shares resources like printers, files and folders, or security technologies, that doesn’t mean that they can use the shared workgroup to access other devices. Each device will have its own dedicated storage.

There is also a limit to the number of devices that there will be within a workgroup, usually between 10 and 20.

What are the practical differences when thinking about domain vs workgroup?

If you’re looking for a way to easily control a whole logical group of assets or computers, then you’ll need domain functionality through a domain controller. In a workgroup, all computers only communicate as peers, and therefore you cannot simply update one machine and expect to see the changes reflected across the whole group.

Another difference is to do with user accounts, as on a domain any user can log in to any specific computer within the same domain, and in a workgroup each computer has its own account alongside specific credentials, and no user can access a device that is not their own.

There are also practical differences between domain vs workgroup. A domain can be distributed anywhere in the world, while in a workgroup there will be small coverage over a specific geographic area. There’s also the clear difference of capacity. A workgroup is very limited in number of users, while a domain can work for hundreds of users/devices.

Do I need a workgroup or domain for my IT environment?

As an MSP or an IT professional, you might be considering how to manage a specific network of computers and other networking devices, and whether to choose a workgroup or a domain. The following table might help you to make the right choice for your business requirements.

Work Group VS Domain Table

The results are in! While a workgroup is the best choice for small businesses that don’t need to cross locations or rely on centralized management and control, you’ll want to start thinking about using a domain for your computers and other devices if you’re ready to take the next step in business growth. While a domain is more complex and expensive to set up, it will allow for tighter security, and provide a higher level of control for the network administrators to manage devices across the network with ease. 

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