Is Azure AD Equal to Cloud Active Directory?

Written by Jon Griffin on June 21, 2017

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The short answer is no, it’s not. There’s a rush in IT circles to crown Microsoft® Azure® Active Directory as the replacement to Active Directory®. Microsoft has done itself a disservice by naming their cloud IAM product Active Directory as well. Even Microsoft says that their Azure Active Directory solution is not equal to a cloud Active Directory service.

Hear more about it from this Spiceworks post:

Azure Active Directory is not designed to be the cloud version of Active Directory. It is not a domain controller or a directory in the cloud that will provide the exact same capabilities with AD. It actually provides many more capabilities in a different way.

That’s why there is no actual “migration” path from Active Directory to Azure Active Directory. You can synchronize your on-premises directories (Active Directory or other) to Azure Active Directory but not migrate your computer accounts, group policies, OU etc.

As you can see here Azure Active Directory is an identity and access management solution for hybrid or cloud-only implementations. It can extend the reach of your on-premises identities to any SaaS application hosted in any cloud. It can provide secure remote access to on-premises applications that you want to publish to external users. It can be the center of your cross-organization collaboration by providing access for your partners to your resources. It provides identity management to your consumer-facing application by using social identity providers. Cloud app discovery, Multi-Factor Authentication, protection of your identities in the cloud, reporting of Sign-ins from possibly infected devices, leaked credentials report, user behavioral analysis are a few additional things that we couldn’t even imagine with the traditional Active Directory on-premises.

Even the recently announced Azure Active Directory Domain Services are not a usual DC as a service that you could use to replicate your existing Active Directory implementation to the cloud. It is a stand-alone service that can offer domain services to your Azure VMs and your directory-aware applications if you decide to move them to Azure infrastructure services. But with no replication to any other on-premises or cloud (in a VM) domain controller.  

If you want to migrate your domain controllers in the cloud to use them for traditional task you could deploy domain controllers in Azure Virtual Machines and replicate via VPN.

So to conclude, if you would like to extend the reach of your identities to the cloud you can start by synchronizing your Active Directory to Azure AD.

Azure AD: Not the Cloud Replacement Needed

Cloud Active Directory vs Azure AD

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Azure AD is the cloud replacement to AD. But, the reality is that it’s not. Azure AD isn’t a solution for applications, on-prem system authentication,  WiFi / network authentication, or device management. Microsoft specifically urges IT organizations to leverage AD on-prem, and Azure AD in the cloud.

Even still, many IT organizations will not be able to leverage these in combination. With so many non-Windows systems and platforms being used, the likelihood that an organization is homogeneous Microsoft is low. AWS has one million business customers. Google’s G Suite™ has 5 mil. business customers. Non-Windows® devices (Mac®, Linux®, iOS®, Android®) represent four out of five devices in enterprises (Forbes). Azure Active Directory and Active Directory struggle with modern IT environments.

Directory-as-a-Service: What Azure AD Should Have Been

JumpCloud directory-as-a-service

Many IT organizations are turning their attention to an alternative to Active Directory and Azure AD called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®. As an independent cloud hosted directory service, JumpCloud securely manages and connects user identities to the IT resources they need including systems, applications, and networks.

If you would like to learn more about whether Azure Active Directory equals a cloud Active Directory, drop us a note. Alternatively, take a look at Directory-as-a-Service as a true AD replacement in the cloud. Your first 10 users are free forever.

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