By George Lattimore Posted January 31, 2019
With so many IT management tools moving to the cloud, maybe you’re wondering, what are the benefits of Azure® Active Directory? How do these benefits relate to my organizational needs? Before diving into the details of Azure AD, we need to step back and look at the identity and access management (IAM) space to see how it’s changing. Then, we can zoom back in to understand some key differences between Active Directory and Azure AD.
The Ripple Effect of Active Directory
It’s pretty obvious that the IAM space has been experiencing a resurgence lately because of the massive changes in the IT landscape. Traditionally, the purpose of the identity management space has been to connect users to their IT resources. This was mainly done by way of the legacy solution, Microsoft Active Directory. Because networks were largely Windows-based, Microsoft capitalized on an opportunity to take advantage of their market dominance by building their own on-prem directory service.
As the IT landscape began to change, valuable resources and solutions emerged that existed outside of Active Directory in the cloud. These solutions included identity bridges, privileged identity management, web application single sign-on (SSO), multi-factor authentication (MFA), and more. The result was that another group of solutions was then needed to control and connect users to IT resources, such as systems, applications, files, and networks. Microsoft saw this happening, and had to find a way to wrangle all the complexity of the cloud and third-party add-ons back in with Active Directory, or risk losing their stronghold.
Readjusting the Boundaries of IAM
To compensate, Microsoft came up with the Azure platform which houses Office 365 as well as its compute infrastructure. As part of their cloud build, they created Azure Active Directory. Many thought and expected that Azure AD would be the cloud version of Active Directory they needed. According to a Microsoft representative, however, that simply isn’t true. Azure AD is a user management platform for Azure services and a web application single sign-on solution. Think of Azure AD as much like AWS IAM, or Google Cloud IAM, but with web app SSO. The semantics here can be confusing, but they’re incredibly important when it comes to IT infrastructure.
So, why use Azure AD? Well, that really is a question that’s more about your infrastructure than anything else. Think about how your network is setup and what kinds of platforms and devices your employees rely on. If you are all Microsoft and leveraging Office 365 and Azure services, then Azure AD can be an excellent complement to your on-prem Active Directory server.
On the other hand, for those organizations that are heterogeneous, the drawbacks often outweigh the benefits of Azure Active Directory. These include being tied to Microsoft infrastructure and Windows. Further, because Azure AD isn’t a comprehensive directory service, you’ll undoubtedly need another cloud directory to connect you to the other IT resources that Azure AD doesn’t manage.
Cloud Directory Alternative: Directory-as-a-Service
JumpCloud’s Directory-as-a-Service enables organizations to centrally manage and connect users to the applications and resources they need. Regardless of if these resources are on-prem or in the cloud, in contrast to Azure AD, Directory-as-a-Service provides secure cross-platform access without having to cobble together add-on solutions for support. Want to speak with a product expert to understand more about a cloud directory and the benefits of Azure Active Directory? Drop us an email and a representative will follow up soon after. Also, feel free to go ahead and test the platform yourself, as signup is free for up to 10 users.