What is the Purpose of Active Directory?

Written by Ryan Squires on December 8, 2018

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In the modern cloud era, many IT organizations are wondering, “What is the purpose of Microsoft® Active Directory® (MAD or AD)?” Of course, AD has a long history in the enterprise and has remained the directory service of choice for nearly two decades now. But, due to shifts in the IT landscape, sysadmins are searching for cloud-based replacements to Active Directory. In that light, this blog post will identify reasons why IT admins are seeking a change in their identity and access management approach as well as offer a potential IAM solution.

Active Directory’s Original Purpose

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IT admins have historically leveraged Active Directory to connect users to their on-prem Windows®-based IT resources such as systems, servers, file servers, and applications and have been doing so since around 1999 when Microsoft released Active Directory. This all sounds fine and good, but in order for Active Directory to work at its best, it requires Windows-based resources. In other words, Active Directory out of the box serves as the identity provider for Windows-based resources. Unfortunately, the simple fact is that most shops aren’t Windows-only these days. In fact, according to a report from 2017, 91% of enterprises have Mac® systems in their midst. That number will most likely rise as we move into 2019, too. But, it isn’t just new Mac devices in work environments, there are a multitude of additional IT resources to consider as well.

New Resources, Same Active Directory

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IT networks have shifted away from on-prem implementations and Windows-based resources. Now, organizations are leveraging cloud servers hosted at Amazon Web Services® (AWS®), G Suite™ for productivity, on-prem Samba file servers as well as file servers in the cloud like Box™, WiFi, and many more non-Microsoft resources. With all of these changes, IT organizations are starting to question the reasoning behind utilizing a vendor-specific tool such as Active Directory. It is clear that a significant amount of resources are no longer Windows-based. Ultimately, in their new IT networks, IT admins are wondering what is the purpose of Active Directory now?

The challenge here is getting back to the simplicity that Windows and Active Directory once offered prior to AD and its requisite add-ons. AD’s need for add-ons has exploded with the introduction of all these new resources. Now you need directory extensions or identity bridges to Mac® and Linux® systems, web application single sign-on (SSO) solutions, multi-factor authentication (MFA) mechanisms, and event logging and other governance tools. Clearly, these add-ons result in a lot of work for IT admins who have to balance what their users want against the realities of what is possible with the time they have. Ultimately, what IT admins are really looking for is a centralized way to manage user access to systems, applications, files, and networks without all the integration work generally required of AD and its add-on approach.

The Purpose of a Cloud-based Directory

JumpCloud is the Key

The good news for IT admins in this boat is that a modern IAM tool is emerging that is platform-neutral and focused on enabling IT organizations to securely manage and connect their users to their IT resources. It’s called JumpCloud Directory Platform, and it is a cloud-based directory that provides users with a single identity across all of the disparate resources we find in today’s IT environments. It’s so powerful you can use a single set of credentials to log in to competing solutions like Office 365™ and G Suite™ or AWS and Azure®. We think that speaks to the platform-agnostic approach we strive to create, which works to benefit both users and IT admins alike as modern IT environments become more cloud-focused and nimble.

Learn More About JumpCloud

So, what is the purpose of Active Directory in your IT environment? If you find that its efficacy is decreasing over time, feel free to sign up for a free account and see how a centralized identity management platform can save you time and money. You can also peruse our blog, Knowledge Base, and YouTube channel for additional information.

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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