Cloud GPOs (Group Policy Objects)

By Vince Lujan Posted December 4, 2019

Cloud GPOs (Group Policy Objects) are an intriguing concept. A critical function of the on-prem, Microsoft Active Directory® (AD) platform, traditional GPOs enable IT admins to execute tasks across fleets of domain-bound Windows® systems. 

Traditional GPOs are used to configure Windows system policies like screen lock timeout, BitLocker encryption, and USB port functionality to name a few examples. AD offers IT admins the ability to deploy a library of GPOs remotely across Windows system groups.

Yet, as the IT landscape shifts to the cloud and expands to include macOS® and Linux® systems, traditional GPOs start to feel limited. Admins need a GPO-like alternative that supports the diverse system environments of the modern era. 

Do Cloud GPOs Exist in AD?

Traditional GPOs are a Microsoft construct inherent to the AD platform. A strictly on-prem directory services solution, the concept of cloud GPOs doesn’t exist within the native AD domain.  

While it is possible to host a traditional AD domain in the cloud via Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) providers, IT admins will still suffer the pitfalls of the legacy directory services solution. Primarily, the lack of group policy management for macOS and Linux remains. 

Fortunately, there are third-party directory extension technologies that offer GPO-like functionality for macOS and Linux. These solutions often layer on top of AD on-prem. However, this approach seems counterintuitive for cloud-forward IT admins as it further entrenches organizations with legacy identity management infrastructure. 

Does Azure AD Have Group Policy?

Another thought is that IT organizations can leverage Azure® Active Directory (AAD) to provide cloud GPOs. Azure AD is Microsoft’s cloud identity management solution for Azure infrastructure, and many thought it would be the cloud replacement for AD. 

Unfortunately, AAD is not a replacement for on-prem AD. Azure AD is realistically designed to be another add-on to AD, providing user management for Azure infrastructure and single sign-on (SSO) capabilities for web applications. Not only does Azure lack GPOs for macOS and Linux, but Windows systems as well.

Consequently, IT admins will still need a traditional AD implementation to have GPOs for Windows and to fully sync users with on-prem and cloud systems. That’s in addition to directory extensions of macOS and Linux as well. 

Clearly, Azure AD will not suffice if the goal is to provide cloud GPOs for Windows, macOS, and Linux. 

Do I Need Cloud GPOs?

The modern IT landscape is no longer the Microsoft-exclusive environment that it used to be. Now, it’s a mixture of Windows machines and a great deal of macOS and Linux systems, both on-prem and in the cloud. 

Presently, it’s essential to control and manage devices with a cross-platform approach. Active Directory doesn’t have the functionality of cross-platform GPOs, nor cloud GPOs via Azure AD, and it’s forcing IT admins to find other ways to manage their macOS and Linux systems remotely.

As the IT landscape evolves into a diverse ecosystem of systems and servers, the need for cloud GPOs cannot be denied. Adapting to the changing environment is simply the logical approach. 

Cloud GPO Alternative to AD

Fortunately, the concept of cloud GPOs isn’t a Microsoft construct. A new generation of cloud identity management platform called Directory-as-a-Service® reimagines Active Directory and LDAP, in this case by providing a cross-platform, cloud GPO-like solution. 

Called Policies, these command templates execute standard tasks in cross-platform system environments. They also grant the ability to execute customized commands and scripts on Windows, macOS, and Linux devices. 

With these commands and scripts, admins ensure that their systems are properly secured and that they meet compliance, regardless of the location or vendor. Directory-as-a-Service delivers next generation system and identity management capabilities from the cloud.

Alternatively, admins can leverage the JumpCloud AD Integration utility to extend AD user identities to unbound domain resources. In this respect, it is possible to leverage cross-platform cloud GPOs while retaining AD as the authoritative IdP. 

More on Cloud GPO-like Functionality

Video link: https://jumpcloud-1.wistia.com/medias/upz1bgkdb1

Contact us to learn more about the Directory-as-a-Service platform and how it can provide a cloud GPO solution for cross-platform system environments. Sign up for a free account and check it out for yourself. Your first 10 users are free forever.

Vince Lujan

Vince is a writer and videographer at JumpCloud. Originally from a small village just outside of Albuquerque, he now calls Boulder home. When Vince is not developing content for JumpCloud, he can usually be found doing creek stuff.

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