Overview of Azure® Active Directory

By Zach DeMeyer Posted February 26, 2019

Azure AD AAD

With the shift to Azure® for many organizations, a common question is what is Azure Active Directory and what can it be used for? Microsoft® has been shifting a number of their solutions to the cloud including Office and Windows® Server, among others. But, there is a great deal of confusion around the Active Directory® family of solutions. We’ll answer questions around this and more in our overview of Azure Active Directory.

What is Azure Active Directory?

Azure Active Directory (or AAD) is the user management segment of the Azure cloud platform. With it, Azure admins can authenticate, authorize, and manage user access in Azure. Additionally, Azure AD features basic single sign-on (SSO) functionality to connect user identities to select web applications.

Given that it is a cloud identity management program, some people are curious if Azure Active Directory is Microsoft’s move to replace their on-prem directory service, Active Directory. Active Directory is the most widely used on-prem identity management platform in the enterprise today. With IT’s general shift to the cloud, it makes sense to move the directory service with it. So, is Azure AD equal to a cloud Active Directory?

Is it a Cloud Active Directory?

Active Directory

Quite simply, Azure AD is not a replacement to the on-prem Active Directory. Microsoft created Azure AD to be a complement to their on-prem market share leading directory service. Their goal wasn’t to disrupt organizations that already were using AD on-prem, but rather provide a way to extend identities to Azure services as well as third party web applications.

From Microsoft’s perspective this makes a great deal of sense. It doesn’t disrupt customers with their existing identity provider (IdP), but yet provides a path to leverage those identities in Office 365™ and other Azure services. It also provides an easier way for IT organizations to leverage identities for web applications rather than implementing the complex AD FS platform or purchasing third party web application SSO solutions.

What About Using Non-Windows Solutions with Azure AD?

The challenge for most organizations with this approach is that it continues to lock them into Microsoft solutions at a time when they are branching out and using macOS® and Linux® systems, cloud infrastructure from AWS®, web applications, non-Windows file servers, WiFi, and more. So, for organizations that are mixed platform and not willing to be locked into Microsoft solutions, there is a different approach to cloud directory services that enables IT admins to connect their users to the IT resources they need. These include Mac, Windows, and Linux systems, cloud servers from AWS, the productivity platforms G Suite™ and Office 365, web and on-prem applications via LDAP and SAML, physical and virtual file servers such as NAS appliance / Samba file servers, and wired and WiFi networks via RADIUS.

The Actual Cloud Active Directory

Thankfully, there is a cloud-based replacement to Active Directory that federates access to virtually all IT resources, regardless of platform, provider, protocol, or location. This Directory-as-a-Service® is serverless and has reimagined Active Directory for the modern era and integrates with Azure AD to manage Azure resources, such as O365 and Azure compute services. The solution is available from JumpCloud®.

This overview of Azure AD simply scratched the surface of the future of cloud identity management with Azure and JumpCloud. To learn more, reach out to us with your questions here. If Directory-as-a-Service sounds like the all-in-one solution for you, feel free to sign up for the product. Signing up is free and comes with ten complimentary users to get you started.

Zach DeMeyer

Zach is a writer and researcher for JumpCloud with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He loves being on the cutting edge of new technology, and when he's not working, he enjoys all things outdoors, making music, and soccer.

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