Introduction to Azure® Active Directory®

By Natalie Bluhm Posted March 24, 2019

With so much interest in cloud-related services, Azure® is one of the fastest growing parts of Microsoft®’s business. There are a wide range of solutions on the Azure platform, and one of them is Azure Active Directory® (AAD). What do you need to know about this Microsoft offering? Well, in this article, we’ll provide an introduction to Azure Active Directory and seek to answer some of the questions you may have.

What Azure Active Directory Is Not

Right off the bat, we should dispel one common misconception with Azure AD: Azure AD is not a cloud replacement to Active Directory. While they share the same name, they don’t share the same intent and focus, as a Microsoft representative documented in this Spiceworks post. So, instead of thinking of Azure AD as an alternative to Active Directory, think of Azure AD as a complement to the legacy on-prem identity provider. You can also think of Azure AD as a key part of Microsoft’s strategy to shift organizations to Azure, their cloud computing platform.  

What Azure AD Can Do

So what can Azure AD actually do? Azure Active Directory is primarily a user management platform for Azure services, namely Office 365™ and Azure compute services. Azure AD can also provide web application single sign-on for a number of web-based applications and can be used to federate on-prem Active Directory identities to web apps. So, in Microsoft’s ideal world, organizations use AD on-prem, and then they extend those identities to Azure AD via a tool called Azure AD Connect. From there, Azure’s various AAD services such as Azure AD Domain Services can create a domain and user access to Azure services. For Microsoft-centric organizations, this is a compelling approach, even with the four or five disparate solutions, because everything ties together for on-prem and Azure related Windows resources. If they’re using web-based applications, Azure AD can cover some of those as well.

However, for organizations that use a mix of platforms or providers like macOS®, Linux®, AWS®, G Suite™, NAS / Samba file servers, etc., the Azure AD approach quickly breaks down. This is because Azure AD and Active Directory weren’t created to natively support non-Microsoft resources. Consequently, organizations that use a mix of IT resources generally have two options: one, extend on-prem identities via a cloud identity bridge to a variety of non-Windows resources or, two, implement a cloud directory service not tied to the Windows platform. So, how do you narrow down which option is right for you?

Cloud Identity Bridge Vs Cloud Directory Service

Well, if you are heavily invested in Active Directory, Azure, and Windows-based IT resources with a minimal amount of non-Microsoft tools, a cloud identity bridge might be the way to go.

If you are leveraging a wide variety of non-Windows or non-Microsoft systems, applications, file storage, and networks, then you should seriously consider a cloud-based directory service that isn’t tied to any one platform, provider, protocol, or location.

The good news is JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® can help with either scenario. If you have a lot of Windows-centric IT resources with a few of non-Microsoft tools, our AD Integration feature can help. AD Integration uses a lightweight agent that enables you to extend AD identities to IT resources that aren’t bound to Active Directory, like Mac systems, remote Linux servers, and web-based applications.  

Additionally, JumpCloud is also a complete replacement to Active Directory. Our cloud identity provider securely connects users to their systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux), LDAP and SAML-based applications, physical and virtual file storage, and wired and wireless networks. As a result, IT admins gain centralized control and end users are empowered with frictionless access to everything they need to Make Work Happen™.

Going Beyond an Introduction

Need help reevaluating your identity management needs after reading this introduction to Azure Active Directory? Consider dropping us a note. We’d be happy to help you figure out what you truly need in a cloud identity management solution. You are also more than welcome to sign up for a free JumpCloud account. It comes with unlimited access and ten users on the house forever.

Natalie Bluhm

Natalie is a writer for JumpCloud, an Identity and Access Management solution designed for the cloud era. Natalie graduated with a degree in professional and technical writing, and she loves learning about cloud infrastructure, identity security, and IT protocols.

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