Is Active Directory® or OpenLDAP™ Better?

By Jon Griffin Posted February 16, 2018

It’s an age old question – when looking for a directory solution, is Active Directory® or OpenLDAP™ better? This question has been asked frequently over the past two decades, and is still getting asked today. With the advent of next generation cloud identity management solutions, many admins are beginning to revisit the idea. What is the best directory solution out there?

Difference Between Active Directory and OpenLDAP

LDAP was initially created at the University of Michigan by Tim Howes, a JumpCloud advisor, and some of his colleagues. This invention kicked off the modern era of identity management. From the creation of LDAP, two major directory services spawned: Microsoft Active Directory, and OpenLDAP. Since they both came from the creation of LDAP, both of these solutions had the LDAP protocol at their core.

As time went on, the Microsoft solution evolved. Microsoft added Kerberos as a key protocol for Active Directory, and then tightly tied the directory service to the Windows platform. This led to AD’s commercial success, as it perfectly matched the IT environment of the early 2000s. For Windows-based networks, Active Directory quickly became the ideal choice. For non-Windows resources like Mac and Linux systems, web applications, and others, Active Directory ended up being problematic.

While Microsoft became the main commercial option, OpenLDAP went on to become the open source directory services leader. LDAP thrived with Linux based systems and more technical applications. Unfortunately, it still presented similar problems as AD. OpenLDAP struggled with managing Mac and Windows machines. Of course, OpenLDAP only authenticated LDAP-based requests, so if an IT resource didn’t play well with LDAP, then you’d need an alternate authentication method. Again, not an ideal solution.

Choosing a Directory Solution

The challenge presented by these directories is that admins need to figure out which directory best fits the needs of their IT environment. Are you a Windows shop that has all of your resources on-prem? Active Directory might work for you. Are you an on-prem Linux focused company? Then OpenLDAP may be a decent solution. But the truth of the matter today is that it is exceedingly rare to have an on-prem, platform exclusive IT environment. While this was the norm in 2000, the IT world has changed a lot since then. Nearly all companies today have some form of web applications, cross-platform systems, LDAP, other protocols, and a whole wide range of other IT resources.

This leaves many admins wondering what the best solution is to manage all of these miscellaneous IT resources. One thing that becomes clear: neither Active Directory nor OpenLDAP are the best choice. These solutions are far too outdated, and both require complexity and workarounds to even make functional in today’s environment. As a result, admins are taking a new approach. They are starting to evaluate what their requirements are, and then are trying to figure out the best way to shift to the cloud with a modern approach to identity management.

Modern Approach to Identity Management

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The good news is that there is an alternative to both Active Directory and OpenLDAP, and it comes in the form of a cloud based directory service for modern IT networks. This approach to cloud identity management is called JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service®, and it is a cloud directory that securely manages and connects users to their IT resources. With it, admins can easily manage authentication to systems (Linux, Windows, Mac), applications (via SAML, LDAP), files (Samba, NAS, Box), and networks – regardless of platform, protocol, provider, and location.

You can learn more about the platform by seeing it for yourself. Sign up for a free account, and you get 10 users free forever without even needing to put in a credit card. This way you can see the full platform first-hand and find out exactly how it will work for you. You can also sign up for a live demo of the platform if you are more interested in that. Have any questions? We’d be happy to help. Just reach out to us! Don’t stress over the “is Active Directory or LDAP Better” question. Check out a modern directory like JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service instead.

Jon Griffin

Jon Griffin works as a writer for JumpCloud, an organization focused on bringing centralized IT to the modern organization. He graduated with a degree in Professional and Technical Writing from the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, and is an avid learner of new technology from cloud-based innovations to VR and more.

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