Benefits of a Cloud Directory

Written by Vince Lujan on February 26, 2019

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As IT organizations move more of their infrastructure to the cloud, many are realizing the benefits of a cloud directory. In short, the benefits of a cloud directory are increasing productivity and agility while reducing cost and management overhead. The longer story is how, which is what we’ll discuss in this blog post.

A Directory is Born

The story of the modern directory service begins in 1992. The scene is set at the University of Michigan, where a young Tim Howes is working in the University’s information technology division. Howes has just completed an assignment to deploy an X.500 directory service for the campus, but in doing so, he realizes that X.500 is far too complicated and heavy of a protocol for the machines on most people’s desktops. Howes then resolves to create a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol to replace X.500, and subsequently, LDAP is born.

The birth of LDAP marked the advent of a new era in identity management. At the time, there were many different services such as email, catalog services, commerce services, and the web—all of which would have you create users in multiple places. That is, until Howes said, “Let’s abstract out the place where users go, where authentication occurs, and where user profile information is stored.” And that became the modern directory service.

Enter Active Directory

Fast forward to 1999, and LDAP is now the standard for authentication. OpenLDAP, an open source iteration of the LDAP protocol and directory, has also come to market and helps IT admins manage on-prem networks of systems and servers. Yet, the majority of these systems and servers run a popular operating system (OS) known as Windows®, which offers a variety of applications and services that would again have you create users in multiple places. Microsoft recognizes the potential of the LDAP directory to centralize identity management for Windows-based networks, and subsequently combines LDAP with Kerberos® and other proprietary elements (e.g. GPOs or Group Policy Objects) to create Active Directory® (AD).

Microsoft introduced Active Directory to play the role of the on-prem directory service for Windows-based networks. Given the ubiquity of Windows OS in the late 1990s and early 2000s, having a Windows-focused directory service made a lot of sense. Much like LDAP had done in the past, AD offered a single source of truth for user identities, which could be federated to virtually all of the IT resources a user could need at the time. However, as the IT landscape continued to evolve through to the present day, AD has ultimately reached a similar fate as LDAP did years before and has inspired the creation of more powerful directory services solutions that support a wider range of IT resources.  

Enter the Cloud

cloud directory services

The identity management landscape is now set in the modern era. AD remains center stage, but is accompanied by non-Windows innovations including web applications, cloud infrastructure, third-party storage solutions, and networks spanning multiple locations. Yet again, these new innovations would have users created in multiple places. This time, however, AD struggles to remain in the limelight by employing an entourage of identity federation services to extend AD user identities to these new innovations. While effective, AD’s entourage of identity federators continues to grow as more innovations appear on the horizon. In the midst of this growing complexity, a challenger enters the identity management space.

While the future of AD remains to be seen, one thing we can be sure of is that history tends to repeat itself. Today, admins find themselves in yet another environment filled with disparate IT resources. In this instance, it is cross-platform system environments, web and on-prem applications, legacy and cloud-based file storage solutions, and networks spanning multiple locations that are disparate and would have users created in multiple places. Fortunately, if history does in fact repeat itself again, then a new solution must have recently come to market that was built for the modern era of IT.

Enter the Cloud Directory

As a matter of fact, a new solution did come to market that can centralize identity management throughout modern networks. This time, it securely manages and connects users to virtually any IT resource—regardless of the platform, provider, protocol, or location—and is delivered holistically as a comprehensive cloud-based solution. It’s called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®, and it is effectively a reimagination of the directory for the modern era of IT.

JumpCloud empowers admins with the freedom to choose the best of breed solutions to suit their specific IT environment. This can include cross platform system environments, web and on-prem applications, Samba file servers and cloud storage solutions, WiFi authentication via RADIUS and dynamic VLAN tagging, multi-factor authentication (MFA) and SSH key management, and much more. Of course, these are just a few of the benefits of a cloud directory. The bigger picture is that much like our advisor and friend, Tim Howes, did years before with LDAP, JumpCloud has abstracted out the place where user information is stored and authentication occurs to the cloud. The result is that IT organizations can take advantage of all the benefits of a cloud directory, as a service.

What’s Next?

Contact JumpCloud to learn more about the benefits of a cloud directory called Directory-as-a-Service. You can also check out our YouTube channel for more JumpCloud stories. Or, sign up for a free account and see the benefits of a cloud directory in action today. We offer 10 users free forever to help get you started.

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