Authenticate Macs Against Active Directory

Written by Greg Keller on September 22, 2020

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As Apple® adoption continues across the enterprise, Macs® are increasingly in the fabric of IT in modern organizations. In fact, 100% of the Fortune 500 companies use Apple® devices.

But managing Macs in the infrastructure has become a headache for IT organizations. The vast majority of user and device management tools were built for a Microsoft Windows® world. Now that there are more types of devices to manage, traditional IT management tools struggle to keep pace.

One of the core challenges for IT organizations is how to authenticate Macs against Microsoft Active Directory®. However, IT administrators can address this challenge with new cloud-based technology, which we’ll explore further here.

When Microsoft AD Ruled the World 

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Microsoft dominated the OS market. The company capitalized on that lead by building enterprise management tools. Microsoft Exchange became the email server of choice. AD and Exchange were complementary. AD controlled user access to the machine, Windows applications, and the network — often referred to as the Windows domain. 

Although AD performed device management, Microsoft also released a specific Windows device management solution then called Systems Management Server (SMS), which subsequently became SCCM. More recently, Microsoft further complicated the Windows IT management stack by adding Azure Active Directory and Intune.

The common thread for each of these solutions is the assumption that the world is Windows-driven and located on-premises. And, now with Azure, the assumption includes that cloud platform and services there.

Apple Devices Grow in the Enterprise

As we know, that world changed in the mid- to late-2000s. Amazon released its Infrastructure-as-a-Service platform, AWS, and Google introduced its Apps solution that included hosted email and a productivity suite — now called G Suite. That was a big blow to the once-dominant Exchange. Even today, more than six million organizations use G Suite as their primary productivity platform.

Then Apple’s innovations rocked the masses with a new category of computing: sleek mobile devices. Their innovations with the Mac platform made the iPhone, and later the iPad, highly sought-after devices. The world started to shift.

Enterprise IT environments that were once completely on-prem were now mixed with cloud applications and infrastructure. Windows started to give way to Macs and Linux® devices. Despite its strengths in other areas of IT, AD cannot manage Macs natively in the way that it does Windows devices, though.

Bobbing for Solutions to Authenticate Macs against Active Directory

With these titanic changes, IT admins struggle to manage and connect users to these various platforms. Historically, IT relied on AD as their centralized user management platform. But AD makes non-Windows devices into second-class citizens — difficult to manage and insecure.

Legacy options can address this, but they are far from efficient. Organizations might authenticate Macs via LDAP to AD, but then subsequently struggle to manage the user accounts on the machines, as well as the machines themselves. This creates an added layer for IT to manage and integrate. Essentially, organizations end up with a handful of “mini directories” instead of one centralized, authoritative directory when they try to federate access to a wide range of IT resources.

Extending AD to the Cloud

If you’re ready to move on from the outmoded AD model, modern approaches exist to authenticate Macs against Active Directory. The first approach is to extend AD to a cloud directory platform and use that platform as a comprehensive identity bridge to the resources that AD struggles to manage.

Modern cloud directory platforms enable agent-based control of a wide array of operating systems, including Macs. Those same platforms manage user identities and access — so admins have full control over users and their access to corporate resources via secured devices. Such platforms also introduce the ability to execute commands and tasks on Macs, as well as enforce security controls like multi-factor authentication (MFA) and full disk encryption, FileVault 2.

Complete Cloud Directory Migration 

Another path is to simply migrate off Active Directory and transition to a cloud directory platform. The cloud directory platform serves as a centralized place to manage user identities, access, and devices — from anywhere. It enables admins to provision users to resources, including devices, applications, files, and networks to users, via industry-standard protocols.

All major platforms are treated equally. It’s no different to manage a Mac than it is to manage a Windows system or Linux server. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether those devices are located on-prem, in the cloud, or around the world with remote users.

Further, those same Mac credentials can be extended to G Suite™, Microsoft 365™, AWS™, and SAML-based applications, as well as LDAP applications and on-prem storage systems.

Getting Started with a Cloud Directory Platform

One such solution is the JumpCloud directory platform. JumpCloud is a comprehensive directory platform that is entirely cloud-based. You can use JumpCloud to extend AD to virtually all resources, or migrate your AD users to the cloud and eliminate your on-prem domain controllers entirely. 

Drop us a note to learn more about how JumpCloud can authenticate Macs against AD — as well as introduce deep controls and security commands with JumpCloud Apple MDM. If you’re a hands-on learner, try the platform for yourself with a JumpCloud Free account. Your first 10 users and 10 systems are free, and our customer engineering team is available for 24×7 chat support during the first 10 days free of charge.

Greg Keller

JumpCloud CTO, Greg Keller is a career product visionary and executive management leader. With over two decades of product management, product marketing, and operations experience ranging from startups to global organizations, Greg excels in successful go-to-market execution.

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