A Breakdown of Azure® AD

Written by Natalie Bluhm on February 15, 2019

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What is Azure® AD (Active Directory®? Is it a cloud alternative to Microsoft®’s leading on-prem directory service, Active Directory? What can Azure AD do? If you’ve been asking these questions, you’re not alone. Microsoft has confused a number of IT admins with its naming of Azure Active Directory, and many can’t help but initially think of Azure AD as a replacement to the on-prem Active Directory. However, that’s not really the case. So, to help clear things up for IT professionals, this blog post will serve as a breakdown of Azure AD. And that starts with taking a look at it’s on-prem namesake, Active Directory.

What to Know About Active Directory

The concept of Active Directory has been around for almost two decades, and it has served as the core, authoritative identity provider for many organizations. Historically, Active Directory Domain Services has enabled a user to login to their Windows® machine when connected to the network and gain access to virtually any Windows-based IT resource they were entitled to. Not only did this make life a breeze for end users, but IT admins were also able to centrally manage their entire IT environment. Needless to say, this approach to directory services worked incredibly well for a long period of time.

As the IT landscape started to shift, though, Microsoft’s on-prem digital kingdom started to experience pressure from the likes of Google with G Suite™ (formerly Google Apps) and AWS® with their cloud infrastructure. In an effort to keep their skin in the game, Microsoft fought back by releasing their own cloud offering, the Azure platform.

What is Azure?

The strategy with Azure was to shift a great deal of the on-prem Microsoft business to the cloud in order to compete with G Suite and AWS. So, Microsoft introduced Office 365™ and Azure infrastructure services. Microsoft started to move many of their on-prem services to the cloud, but as IT admins quickly realized, it wasn’t a one-to-one mapping. Microsoft’s incredible legacy product and customer base was a huge profit center, so they were interested in complementing those solutions rather than replacing them.

A Look at the Breakdown of Azure AD

Azure AD

In the spirit of complementing, Azure Active Directory was born with the concept of connecting users to Azure related services. Active Directory would remain on-prem and federate identities to Azure AD through a mechanism called Azure AD Connect. Those identities could then be used for cloud services at Azure and be connected to their web application single sign-on platform. Microsoft also created a suite of Azure AD related services such as Azure AD DS for domain services and Azure AD B2C for identity management with software and mobile applications.

With this breakdown of Azure Active Directory in mind, IT admins should really think of Azure AD as a piece in Microsoft’s identity management puzzle that still relies heavily on an on-prem Active Directory instance. So, if you were hoping to shift your IAM solution completely to the cloud and still maintain the ability to do things like remotely manage systems and centrally control user access to systems, file storage, applications, and networks, Azure AD is not the solution for you. Plus, if you have non-Microsoft resources in your environment like Mac and Linux systems for instance, you’ll just end up experiencing even more hassle in the long run using Active Directory and Azure AD.

However, if you are keen on a complete cloud replacement to Active Directory that can support Windows and non-Windows tools, the good news is one does exist, just not from Microsoft. It’s called JumpCloud®  Directory-as-a-Service®.  

The Complete Cloud AD Alternative: JumpCloud

Cloud Active Directory DaaS

JumpCloud is a cloud-based identity provider that securely connects users to virtually all of their IT resources regardless of protocol, platform, provider, and location. This includes the following: Windows, Mac®, and Linux® systems; on-prem and cloud servers; LDAP and SAML based applications; wired and wireless networks; and physical and virtual file storage. Additionally, JumpCloud is truly and completely cloud-based, allowing IT organizations to eliminate their on-prem identity management infrastructure. As a result, IT professionals using JumpCloud no longer have to use their time to configure, maintain, and manage hardware. Instead, they can focus on the tasks that bring the company the most value.

So, if you’re ready to get back to that sweet spot where users have frictionless access to everything they need to do their jobs and you can efficiently run your IT environment, consider learning more about JumpCloud.

How to Find Out More

For more information on the breakdown of Azure Active Directory consider viewing the video above. Have questions pertaining to Azure AD or JumpCloud? Please reach out to us here. One of our technical experts will be happy to answer your questions and help you narrow in on your identity management needs. If you’re ready to begin testing JumpCloud, sign up for a free account. You don’t need a credit card, you’ll have unlimited access to the platform, and your first ten users are free forever.

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