Introduction to Active Directory®

Written by Zach DeMeyer on April 17, 2019

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Although many have heard of it, the reality is that the concepts behind Microsoft® Active Directory® are somewhat vague. The identity management solution has been a long-time staple of IT, but, ultimately, it’s final days seem to be upon us. So, in order to understand why, an introduction to Active Directory should explain its standing today.

Rise of Active Directory

Active Directory has become one of the leading on-prem directory services solutions on the planet. In fact, we could argue that AD, as it is also known, could be the leading market share solution Microsoft has ever created. As such, it has been the backbone behind many of their on-prem offerings.

The concept of Active Directory came into full swing in the late 1990s. Microsoft already owned the IT landscape with Windows® , and subsequently solutions such as Office® and Exchange® . By creating a core identity provider (IdP) in AD, Microsoft gave admins an opportunity to control access to their Windows-based IT resources. But AD also served another purpose.

By controlling all resources under one solution, Microsoft focused in on completely centering organizations around their offerings. Along with the domain controller, the concept of Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) was born, and Microsoft aggressively pursued it by including the directory service as a free component of Windows Server. For Microsoft, the concept of Active Directory was less about making money directly from AD and more about locking in customers to their platforms.

What AD Did/(Does)

AD made it easier to manage Windows-based systems, servers, applications, and networks. Because it was easier to manage access on Windows, IT organizations bought more Windows solutions. It was a self-reinforcing cycle, leading Microsoft upward to more profits.

AD set the standard for how IT admins should manage user identities across their organizations. By federating identities across systems, networks, apps, etc., admins ensured that only the right employees were accessing the right resources.

Forcing the Hand

Over time, as we know, AD would go on to become the most widely used on-prem directory services solution. Nobody would venture to compete against AD since it was so entrenched in IT organizations. This entrenchment was so prevalent that solution categories formed around AD when IT organizations struggled with an identity management function outside of AD’s wheelhouse.

For instance, identity bridges were created to cover authentication to macOS® and Linux® machines. Additional solutions included web application single sign-on (SSO) tools to connect to web apps, privileged identity management (PIM) for servers and networking equipment, and more. While these add-ons would help admins to further manage their modernizing organizations, they also created sharp increases in costs and management time for IT admins.

Active Directory Today

Fast forward to today, and AD struggles to manage the modern IT network. Add-on solutions have only gotten the AD identity stance so far. As a result, IT organizations have started to look for cloud-based directory services alternatives.

Thankfully for these seekers, there exists on the market a solution that has completely reimagined Active Directory for the modern, cloud era of IT. This solution offers user and system management akin to AD’s glory days, but can be used cross-platform (Windows, macOS, Linux). The cloud directory also features single sign-on with LDAP and SAML, and network authentication and management through RADIUS. All of this and more is available from JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® .

Learn More About JumpCloud

You can try JumpCloud Directory-as-Service absolutely free for your first ten users, forever. With a JumpCloud account, you get full reign of the Directory-as-a-Service platform. You could also schedule a demo to see the product live in the hands of an expert. If you would like to learn more beyond this introduction to Active Directory, please visit our blog, or contact us.

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