In computing, an organizational unit (OU) provides a way of classifying objects located in directories, or names in a digital certificate hierarchy, typically used either to differentiate between objects with the same name (John Doe in OU “marketing” versus John Doe in OU “customer service”), or to parcel out authority to create and manage objects (for example: to give rights for user-creation to local technicians instead of having to manage all accounts from a single central group).
Organizational units most commonly appear in X.500 directories, X.509 certificates, Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directories, Active Directory (AD), and Lotus Notes directories and certificate trees, but they may feature in almost any modern directory or digital certificate container grouping system.
In most systems, organizational units appear within a top-level organization grouping or organization certificate, called a domain. In many systems one OU can also exist within another OU. When OUs are nested, as one OU contains another OU, this creates a relationship where the contained OU is called the child and the container is called the parent. Thus, OUs are used to create a hierarchy of containers within a domain. Only OUs within the same domain can have relationships. OUs of the same name in different domains are independent.
In Sun Java System Directory Server and Microsoft Active Directory (AD), an organizational unit (OU) can contain any other unit, including other OUs, users, groups, and computers. Organizational unit in separate Domains may have identical names but are independent of each other.
OUs let an administrator group computers and users so as to apply a common policy to them. Organizational Units give a hierarchical structure, and when properly designed can ease administration.