Cloud-Based Active Directory® Alternative

Written by Vince Lujan on March 28, 2019

Share This Article

Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) has been the most popular on-prem directory services platform for twenty years now. However, as more IT organizations shift their on-prem identity management infrastructure to the cloud, more IT admins are searching for a cloud-based Active Directory alternative.

In this blog post, we will discuss a new solution called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® that is effectively Active Directory and LDAP reimagined for modern networks. But first, let’s outline AD at a high level.

What is Active Directory?

Active Directory

AD was introduced in 1999 to help IT administer Windows®-based users and their access to Windows-based IT resources such as systems, applications, files, and networks. At the time, IT networks were predominantly Windows-based and everything was on-prem. The dominance of Windows enabled Microsoft to establish AD as the default directory services solution in IT organizations around the turn of the century. The benefit for IT admins was they could connect users to basically any IT resource that was available at the time from one centralized location.

Today, Windows remains one of the most dominant operating systems on Earth, which has enabled AD to remain one of the most popular directory services platforms since it was released 20 years ago. Microsoft has introduced other proprietary elements that have enabled AD to thrive as well. Perhaps most notably are Group Policy Objects (GPOs), which enable IT professionals to administer system policies for groups of Windows-based systems remotely.

However, while AD is still a powerful tool, the legacy platform hasn’t remained as effective as is once was at connecting users to the resources they need. Let’s take a closer look at GPOs to begin to illustrate this point.

What are Group Policy Objects?

GPOs are essentially predefined commands and task execution templates that enable IT admins to remotely manage and configure Windows system policies. These system policies can include screen lock timeout, USB port functionality, and control panel access to name a few examples.

The ability to administer system policies remotely and from one centralized location is a huge advantage, especially as an IT organization scales. Specifically, AD GPOs have been regarded as the crème de la crème with respect to group-based policy management, primarily due to the dominance of the Windows OS.

The challenge is that traditional GPOs only work for Windows-based systems. In fact, the native functionality of the AD platform only works for on-prem, Windows-based networks. And while this wasn’t really an issue back when AD initially came to market, understanding the limitations of the legacy platform is critical in the modern era, especially for cloud-forward IT organizations.

Limitations of Active Directory

Essentially, the challenge for IT admins is that basically all of the advantages of AD are effectively limited to on-prem, Windows-based users and resources. Specifically, with respect to GPOs, IT admins are generally out of luck if they wish to leverage GPO-like capabilities for Mac® and Linux® systems in a pure AD environment.

Another issue with Active Directory is that the legacy platform is effectively locked on-prem in an era of cloud computing and innovation. Consequently, IT organizations are forced to implement and maintain a costly on-prem data center just to support AD, and they still won’t be able to manage cloud infrastructure, web applications, virtual storage solutions, and networks spanning multiple locations in a pure AD environment.

To be fair, there are third-party add-on solutions available (e.g., single sign-on, privileged identity management, directory extensions, etc.) that can be integrated with an on-prem Active Directory instance to extend AD functionality to non-Windows and cloud resources. However, the trouble with the add-on approach is that it adds even more cost and the complexity that comes with having to implement and manage multiple identity management solutions.

Ideally, IT admins would be able to leverage a single identity and access management platform that could securely manage and connect users to ALL of their systems, applications, files, and networks from one centralized location. The same solution would also be delivered as a service, thus enabling IT to shift their on-prem data center to the cloud, and work just as well for virtually any IT resource—regardless of platform, provider, protocol, or location. Finally, to be a truly cloud-based Active Directory alternative, the solution must offer cross-platform GPO-like capabilities for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The good news is that a new solution called JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service has emerged that fits the bill.

Next Generation Active Directory Alternative

The JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service platform is a cloud-based Active Directory alternative that is essentially AD reimagined for modern IT networks. This is because the JumpCloud platform can securely manage and connect users to virtually any IT resource that leverages secure protocols such as LDAP, SAML, RADIUS, SSH, and even includes cross-platform GPO-like capabilities for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, called Policies in the JumpCloud parlance. All of which is delivered from a comprehensive cloud-based identity management platform.

Don’t hesitate to contact JumpCloud or schedule a demo to discover additional use cases or answer any questions. You can also sign up for a free account and explore the full functionality of our cloud-based Active Directory alternative at no cost. We’ll even throw in 10 users free forever to help get you started.

Vince Lujan

Vince is a writer and video specialist at JumpCloud. Originally from the horse capital of New Mexico, Corrales, he has lived in Boulder, Colorado for three years. When Vince is not developing content for JumpCloud, he can usually be found at the Boulder Creek.

Continue Learning with our Newsletter