Introduction to a Cloud Directory

Written by Natalie Bluhm on March 14, 2019

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Historically, the directory service has been provided on-prem via solutions such as Microsoft Active Directory or OpenLDAP. This made a great deal of sense because most networks were on-prem and Windows -based.

As you probably know, however, the IT landscape hasn’t stayed this way. Instead, it has changed and shifted by moving to the cloud. In response, a new generation of directory service is emerging that is delivered from the cloud, and this article will serve as an introduction to a cloud directory.

Evolution of a Cloud Directory

In the early part of the cloud movement, on-prem identity and access management (IAM) solutions could be delivered from the cloud.

However, the provider typically just managed the server the solution was hosted on; IT organizations were still responsible for the software, configuration, security, load balancing, and other tasks associated with a directory service.

For a while, there was little thought on how to take advantage of the characteristics of the cloud to deliver an identity provider as a service. In other words, IAM players weren’t thinking about how to deliver a cloud IAM solution that takes on the configuration, maintenance, and security, so that IT organizations can simply focus on managing users and systems in the directory service.

As time went on, the cloud matured and directory service providers did start to innovate as they brought next generation capabilities into their cloud solutions, including the “as-a-Service” component.

Now, true cloud directory services are available, and they offer support for virtually all IT resources, no on-prem hardware or software required. These aspects makes them quite attractive against their on-prem, legacy counterparts. Why?

The Challenge with Traditional Identity Providers

You see, Microsoft Active Directory was the leading traditional approach for identity management. At the time of its creation, most IT networks were on-prem and Windows-based, and AD was built with this in mind. Then, IT networks started to change with the addition of macOS and Linux systems, web applications, cloud infrastructure from AWS, NAS appliances and Samba file servers, WiFi, and more.

This transformation caused the legacy directory service approach to break down. Some organizations resorted to patching AD with identity bridges, web app SSO, MFA, and other point solutions to create some semblance of secure user management. Others have started to look into the new alternative: the cloud directory.

The Benefit of a Cloud Directory

A cloud directory service is appealing because it takes a neutral approach to securely managing and connecting users to their IT resources. This approach enables IT admins to manage user authentication to Windows, Mac, and Linux systems; on-prem and cloud servers from AWS, GCE, Azure , and others; web and on-prem applications via LDAP and SAML; physical and virtual file servers such as NAS/Samba or Dropbox/Box/G Drive; and wired and WiFi networks through RADIUS.

In short, a cloud directory enables you to leverage the best IT resources for your organization without being locked into the Microsoft Windows ecosystem. At least from JumpCloud ’s point of view, that is what a cloud directory service delivers.

Learn More

Ready to go further than this introduction to a cloud directory? Read “The Value of Cloud Directory Services” for greater insight into how it will help you increase productivity, strengthen security, and reduce costs.

If you’re interested in starting a conversation about how JumpCloud’s cloud directory can solve your IAM needs, drop us a note. You are also more than welcome to start testing JumpCloud by signing up for a free account. Your first ten users are free forever.

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