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I'm the sole IT admin for a small org. I'm eager to improve our security with MFA by setting up AD FS, and for lots of reasons I was hoping to do that in the cloud. There is a helpful tutorial in Microsoft's docs (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/hybrid/how-to-connect-fed-azure-adfs). But that setup requires six VMs: two DCs, two WAPs, and two LBs.

Is all that really necessary? It would be pretty expensive for our org just to gain additional authentication security and flexibility. I know we would gain other things, too, like federated domain join and stuff, but I'm wondering if, in practice, there is a smaller-scale solution that provides reasonable reliability for a small org without extreme uptime demands.

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You don't need an entire ADFS setup if you only want MFA, there is Azure MFA both in a Cloud Version and a MFA server for on-prem. The following link helps you decide what you need. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/authentication/concept-mfa-whichversion

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If you only want MFA, then the path you should choose really depends on your environment.

  1. If you have on-prem AD You don't really need ADFS to authenticate in Office 365 using your on-prem AD credentials. Using password hash sync or pass-through auth will be enough. You would need at least one server for AD Connect though. You can find more information on authentication methods here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/active-directory/hybrid/plan-connect-user-signin
  2. if you don't have on-prem AD You can simply join your Windows 10 machines to Azure AD.

Either option will allow you to use MFA

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