For Active Directory Administrators in Education With Tight Budgets

Written by Megan Anderson on October 22, 2019

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As the sysadmin of an educational institution, you are the unsung hero of many class presentations, lectures, lesson plans, group projects, research papers, and more. Your work is invaluable to the people who use any sort of computer technology in the school, but your job is not always easy.

Chances are, you — like most schools’ IT admins — use Active Directory® (AD) to manage who has access to the tech resources your school provides. However, AD can be a struggle for the IT environment of modern schools (think every student having a computer and mobile device, G Suite access, WiFi, content controls, and more). Plus, the amount of money it takes to upgrade outdated hardware combined with the renewal of a Windows® license can put a lot of strain on your already strict budget. You may feel like AD isn’t worth it, but you may also wonder if the work required to move off of AD is just as stressful.

Fortunately, you are not alone. Here we look at the IT heads of two educational institutions and how they were able to overcome the restrictions AD placed against them.

The True Cost of Active Directory

Active Directory is already on the pricey side to begin with. It requires the setup of on-prem servers, Windows licensing, and often necessitates the purchase of add-ons or extensions to get it to do what you need it to.

To calculate the total cost of ownership (TCO) for AD, the price of several variables need to be added up. Among them are:

  • Servers
  • Software
  • Hosting/data center space
  • Backup
  • Security
  • Monitoring
  • VPNs
  • IT staff salary
  • Third-party software
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Governance/auditing

When you have a tight budget to work with, the total bill can be debilitating. Let’s put that into context and take a look at the cost of AD through the lens of two real-life educational institutions. 

The IT heads of Minnesota’s Saint Thomas Academy and the Rock Island-Milan School District (RIMSD), located in Illinois, discovered the hidden costs of AD when it came time to renew their Microsoft licenses and upgrade their hardware. They were faced with either losing their directory altogether or breaking their budgets.

Replacing the Old Comes at a Price

The system and network administrator at Saint Thomas Academy realized the school’s aging AD hardware was not fit to accommodate their mixed-platform environment. AD was designed for a homogenous, PC-driven environment and Microsoft® never intended to make it easy to integrate other platforms with their product. However, with the rising popularity of macOS®, trying to enforce a Windows-only policy was not viable.

In addition to having a mixed-platform environment, the school had a “2003 AD server… 2008 DHCP and DNS servers…” and “an entire department of Windows machines that [were] about a year away from the end of life.”

Upgrading the hardware coupled with the price of renewing the Windows license would be over $12,000. There simply wasn’t room in the budget to address the school’s technology issues while sticking with Active Directory.

Mixed Platforms and Overburdened Bandwidth 

RIMSD faced similar issues when their AD hardware became outdated. They needed a solution that would manage a mixed-platform environment, strengthen control over their networks, and integrate with G Suite™ and Office365™.

Their first instinct was to see what else Microsoft® had to offer. There was Microsoft’s cloud-based AD extension, Azure®, but adding that on top of AD pushed the boundaries of RIMSD’s budget. Regardless, AD did not offer as tight of management over network access as the district’s IT leads would have liked.

With AD, students were discovering the passphrases to get on the school’s wireless networks and “constantly consuming the bandwidth.” Ideally, students and staff would “have their own credentials and authenticate individually.” This was not something for which AD alone had the capacity. 

If you can identify with any of the complaints aired against AD above, rest assured that there is a solution. Not only does it come in at a much lower cost than the on-prem AD servers, Azure AD Connect, and Windows licensing, but it allows you to do more than you might expect.

The Modern Solution

When you have a tight budget, outdated AD servers, and a mixed-platform environment that doesn’t even play well with half of your systems to begin with, what do you do? For these two schools, the answer was simple: JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®.

Exceeding Expectations While Under Budget

For Saint Thomas Academy, JumpCloud not only saved them from blowing their budget, but it also cut down on their IT department’s man hours.

Where it previously took their sysadmin an hour or more to set up an individual faculty member’s account with all of their necessary resources connected, JumpCloud allowed him to do as much in 20 minutes or less. Even better, the transition was seamless. No one outside the IT department noticed when he made the leap from AD to JumpCloud.

All-in-One Package for Education

RIMSD was searching for greener pastures beyond AD, and they discovered that cloud-based services were gaining acclaim. These services were more scalable than AD and would allow students to access the school’s private resources when off-campus.

Among those applications was JumpCloud, which came out on top as the most affordable, comprehensive service with the least complicated implementation. JumpCloud was the only service that combined Single Sign-On (SSO) and network access control in one package.

Plus, RIMSD was able to use RADIUS for staff accounts, which allowed them to login to their devices at any school within the district using the same credentials. Because JumpCloud is compatible with pGina —  an open source plugin that generates credentials in the absence of a credential provider —  students were able to log into any system within the school using one ID.

This also freed up time for RIMSD’s IT department, as pGina, in conjunction with JumpCloud, allows students to “authenticate against the entire LDAP directory” and gets them into their G Suite automatically.

Make the Leap to JumpCloud

When Active Directory becomes too big a burden to bear, it’s time to make a change. Get started with JumpCloud for free today and see how much more you could be doing for less. JumpCloud offers special pricing for educational institutions to help IT administrators stay within their tight budgets.

Megan Anderson

Megan is a content writer at JumpCloud with a B.A. in English from MSU Denver. Colorado-born and raised, she enjoys hiking, skiing, and all manner of dogs.

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