Benefits of Active Directory

Written by Ryan Squires on January 28, 2019

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For two decades now, Microsoft Active Directory (MAD or AD) has been a mainstay in IT environments. But, with the IT industry shifting to the cloud, IT organizations are following suit. So, that leaves many wondering what the benefits of Active Directory are in the modern era. And, with that knowledge, should IT organizations be on the lookout for AD alternatives?

The Benefits of Active Directory Have Peaked

To see where we’re going, we have to first look at where we’ve been. So, before we get into the challenges of leveraging identity and access management (IAM) solutions in the modern IT environment, let’s take a step back, so that we can better understand the benefits of Active Directory in traditional networks.

AD was launched in 1999 and quickly became the market share leader in identity management. Microsoft was able to gain this position based on some very shrewd decision making. AD became the market share leader because it was a “free” addition to Windows Server, and most networks (at the time) were exclusively Windows-based. It made sense for IT admins to leverage Active Directory to control access to Windows-based resources. Microsoft had a killer feature for IT admins up their sleeve as well, Group Policy Objects (GPOs). GPOs enabled IT admins to seamlessly manage Windows machines with Policies like OS updates, screen lock, and more. All of these capabilities, in a Windows environment, provided IT admins with a certain level of control that would soon fade.

Non-Windows Tools Require 3rd Party Fixes

replacing AD with a cloud based IdP

Recently, the workplace has been flooded with a variety of non-Windows based resources like cloud infrastructure from Amazon Web Services (AWS), web applications (G Suite, Salesforce, GitHub), macOS and Linux systems, non-Windows file servers (Samba, NAS appliances), and WiFi networks. Suddenly, Active Directory found itself trying to manage IT environments that were filled with non-Windows based IT resources—the kinds of tools that are difficult for AD to control.

That challenge was met with new additions that could be stacked on top of AD to help manage these new resources. Tools such as identity bridges, web application single sign-on solutions (SSO), privileged identity management, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and more were each built to help solve AD’s inherent shortcomings. This approach worked for a while, but IT admins started to realize they could move their IT infrastructure to the cloud and wanted to bring AD to the cloud alongside them. But, of course, AD and all of these add-ons further cemented their identity management approach on-prem.

Lost Benefits

Where did LDAP come from?

What resulted was that the benefits of Active Directory started to dwindle. Where AD once controlled an entire IT environment, it now primarily managed a small number of Windows-based IT resources. The addition of secondary solutions added cost and management overhead. So, IT admins realized AD’s dwindling benefits and began to search for a heterogeneous Active Directory alternative. One that could enable IT admins with centralized management over all of the IT resources and users in their environment.

A Cloud-based Alternative

Active Directory, AD

With these requirements in mind, IT admins were thankful to find a cloud-based directory that could provide user and system management for all the new resources in their networks. The solution they found is called JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service. JumpCloud enables IT admins to provide their end users with True Single Sign-On, or in other words, one set of credentials to log in to virtually all of their tools. That means one set of credentials to access their systems (Windows, Mac, Linux), applications (via both LDAP and/or SAML), virtual and on-prem file servers (Box, G Drive Samba/NAS devices), wired and WiFi networks through RADIUS, and much more.

Learn More About JumpCloud


If you’ve noticed decreased benefits of Active Directory, don’t hesitate to give JumpCloud a try today. Sign up for a free account, and you will have full-featured access to Directory-as-a-Service, which will enable you to manage up to 10 users for free, forever. When evaluating, be sure to visit our Knowledge Base and YouTube channel to help you get the most out of your account.

Ryan Squires

Ryan Squires is a content writer at JumpCloud, a company dedicated to connecting users to the IT resources they need securely and efficiently. He has a degree in Journalism and Media Communication from Colorado State University.

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