Limitations of the Active Directory Domain

Written by Cassa Niedringhaus on April 13, 2020

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The recent shift to remote work has exposed limitations in the Windows® domain model. As distributed users access organizational resources on laptops from their home offices, admins need tools to maintain the same level of security they enjoyed when work was more contained to traditional office settings.

The challenge now is to secure every user and device from a central point of command, no matter where they’re located. Here, we’ll explore the history of Active Directory® (AD) and the domain — and an emerging architecture that allows admins to expand AD everywhere it’s needed and begin to move identity and access management (IAM) functions to the cloud.

History of the Domain

Active Directory revolutionized IAM because it enabled admins to establish an internal network — their domain — to manage users, secure devices, and centralize authentication to on-premises resources. This model worked well when all resources were on-prem: workstations, files servers, and networks. However, new resources and new ways of working emerged that challenged the traditional domain model.

Whether admins want to manage macOS® laptops, Linux® workstations, SaaS applications, or all-remote workforces, they need ways to extend the domain to encompass them. An emerging cloud-based architecture can help admins fill AD’s gaps and prepare for a future in which they manage all IAM from the cloud in the domainless enterprise model.

The principal technology in the domainless enterprise is a cloud directory service, which can serve as the authoritative identity repository. Through a cloud directory service, admins can oversee all access control and device management from any location — for users and devices in any location — without on-prem servers or other infrastructure. It can also serve in conjunction with AD, rather than replacing it outright.

Now might not be the time to reinvent your stack, but it can be the time to implement technology that will immediately enable remote employees and position your organization for new ways of working when we return to “normal” and into the future.

Cloud Directory Integration with AD

AD admins don’t need a wholesale transition to a cloud directory service to begin realizing benefits from it. A cloud directory service can expand the domain, serve as a comprehensive identity bridge, and federate AD identities everywhere they’re needed. It can run in parallel to AD and mirror changes to user and group objects, as well as passwords. It can reflect those changes to non-Microsoft® and cloud resources, too.

By implementing the two in tandem, admins avoid major disruptions to their environment but can consolidate and centralize their AD add-ons. They can begin to manage AD functions from a web-based console, such as provisioning users and deploying policies on machines. 

Cloud Integration with IT Resources

A cloud directory service can also integrate with resources that AD has historically struggled to manage.

Centrally Control Systems

It can extend AD identities and agent-based control to all systems in a fleet, whether they’re Windows, Mac, or Linux machines. That way, end users access their machines with their core AD credentials, and admins can enforce policies on those machines, like enforcing full disk encryption or managing patches. Ideally, a cloud directory service can write back changes, such as system-based password changes, to AD. 

Manage Networks: WiFi & VPN

By integrating a cloud directory service with AD, admins can achieve cloud RADIUS functionality without additional on-prem infrastructure, and they can ensure users log into WiFi networks and VPN clients using the same core AD credentials they use to access their other resources.

Admins can enable multi-factor authentication (MFA), which is especially useful to secure the VPN through which users access the internal network and on-prem resources. 

Establish SSO to SaaS Applications

The same solution should also enable web application single sign-on (SSO) to SaaS applications. Users input their same AD credentials to access a web-based portal, through which they can access all the apps they need to do their jobs.

Learn More About the Domainless Enterprise

JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® can serve as a comprehensive identity bridge with cross-platform system management capabilities, and it can enable a transition IAM to the cloud. Click here to learn more about the benefits of the domainless enterprise model.

Cassa Niedringhaus

Cassa is a product marketing specialist at JumpCloud with a degree in Magazine Writing from the University of Missouri. When she’s not at work, she likes to hike, ski and read.

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