Introduction to Directory Services

Written by Natalie Bluhm on March 15, 2019

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What is at the center of making work happen for most organizations? For many, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the internet, their computer, or maybe a web-based application of some sort. While all of those tools are important for tackling work every day, the true hub for making work happen is the directory service. If this is new to you, read on for an introduction to directory services.

What is a Directory Service?

The concept of directory services (also called an identity provider) is fairly simple. A directory server stores a repository of users and their access rights to IT resources. In other words, imagine a three dimensional spreadsheet with a list of users in “Column A”. Now, let’s pretend there is a user named John Smith on row 4. All of the IT resources that John Smith has access to would be listed on row 4 in Columns B and beyond. Each IT resource can have varying levels of access as well, adding depth to each cell. This is an oversimplification of the kind of information a directory service stores, but it gives you the general idea.

The Value of a Directory Service


You might be thinking, “Why not just use the spreadsheet? Why use a directory service at all?” Well, when an organization gets to a decent size, user management via a spreadsheet becomes very inefficient and prone to human error. Managing user access to systems, apps, networks, and file storage is much easier in a directory service because it centralizes all of this information into one place. Modern directory services also have built in mechanisms to securely manage and connect user identities to their various endpoints. This ends up empowering you with automation, greater security, and increased productivity for everyone in your organization.

For example, take the task of onboarding. When centralization is lacking, it can take almost a week to grant new hires access to all of their IT resources. That means IT admins spend a good part of their week just onboarding new employees while new hires have to wait a week before they can start providing real value to the company. When a directory service is in place that centralizes all users and their access to digital tools, organizations experience radical time savings with tasks like onboarding.  

However, in today’s cloud-forward, heterogeneous IT environment, not all directory services are able to provide the level of centralization that is needed.   

Identity Providers Through the Ages

For the past 20 years, Microsoft® Active Directory® has been the leading on-prem directory service. Microsoft built their identity provider so that it functioned best with other Microsoft products like Windows®, Exchange®, Outlook®, Office®, and others. In the early 2000’s, this was fine because most workplaces were already using Windows-centric IT resources, and AD worked great in this era. As you probably know, though, we are no longer working in a Microsoft dominated IT landscape.

Now, many organizations are using Mac® and Linux® systems, web-based applications, cloud servers, wireless networks, and new file storage solutions. Active Directory wasn’t built for a location-agnostic, vendor-independent landscape. Thus, many IT organizations have found it challenging to consolidate all IT resources into one identity management solution, causing decentralized environments to abound.

The good news is that a next generation cloud based directory service has recently emerged that can connect users to IT resources regardless of location, platform, protocol, and provider. It’s called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®.

Introduction to Cloud Directory Services

JumpCloud is an open directory service that centralizes user access to systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux), LDAP and SAML-based applications, wired and WiFi networks, and physical and virtual file storage. As a result, you can gift your end users with frictionless access to everything they need to Make Work Happen™. What’s in it for IT admins? Well, you benefit by gaining more time to tackle interesting projects because user management tasks take up very little time. You’ll also achieve widespread visibility, greater control, and stronger security. All in all, a modern directory service like JumpCloud is a huge win for everyone in your organization.

Find Out More

This introduction to directory services covers just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re interested in greater depth, consider reading this article on the value of directory services. Additionally, please reach out to us if you’re ready to have a conversation about how JumpCloud can help solve your identity management needs. Prefer to start with some testing? Sign up for a free account. You won’t have to reach for a credit card, it’s fully featured, and your first ten users are free forever.  

Natalie Bluhm

Natalie is a writer for JumpCloud, an Identity and Access Management solution designed for the cloud era. Natalie graduated with a degree in professional and technical writing, and she loves learning about cloud infrastructure, identity security, and IT protocols.

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