Flexible Directory

Written by Ryan Squires on November 4, 2018

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For many organizations, freedom of choice in systems, platforms, and providers is a key differentiator when it comes to making IT decisions. While employees love the freedom to choose whatever system or platform they want, freedom of choice is mostly just a headache for IT admins. With a flexible directory to manage employee choices, headaches no longer have to be the norm, and a directory service can actually end up benefiting both parties.

This might seem obvious, but when a user feels comfortable with the hardware and software they’re using daily, they’re more likely to be productive. In fact, according to a recent survey, 68% of people working in the enterprise say they’re more productive when they get to choose their work device. If IT admins could find a flexible directory to manage these systems, without jumping through hoops, creating workarounds, or buying a bunch of add-ons, that could be the difference between working late and getting home at a decent time. Luckily for them, in the cloud era, a flexible directory has emerged that can support the system choices employees make. But, to see how far we’ve come, we first have to take a look back.

The Inflexible Past

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When we consider the late ‘90s and the turn of the century, Microsoft® was positioning Active Directory® (MAD or AD) and the domain controller to be the on-prem directory services solution to beat. And, spoiler alert, AD became the commercial leader due to their positioning work. But why? Microsoft already owned where the computing was happening—on Windows endpoints and applications—so it was only natural that a Microsoft-built solution would manage that computing power. It was not their intention to create a flexible directory though, one that could accommodate other systems or non-Windows resources. Instead, they were interested in keeping people locked into the Windows ecosystem. As a result, their dominance began to wane when web applications stepped onto the IT scene and began to challenge the grip that AD once had.

Of course, these web applications would all get lumped into one overarching category that we now colloquially refer to as SaaS, or Software-as-a-Service, applications. The capabilities of these solutions pretty much run the gamut. They include everything from customer relationship management (CRM) tools from Salesforce®, to productivity applications like G Apps™ (now G Suite™) and the business-minded messaging application, Slack. As non-Windows resources though, they require some work to integrate with AD, confronting its inflexibility.

IT organizations were keen to give these applications a shot anyway though. Why? Web apps don’t require the heavy upfront costs and an investment in on-prem hardware that the more traditionally delivered software solutions did. Plus, these services don’t have to be replaced when newer versions are released. Web applications are continually managed and secured by dedicated teams, which means no on-prem maintenance work for IT admins.

But, because Active Directory still served as the identity provider (IdP), IT admins had to weigh the advantages of web apps against the reality that they would need to add-on solutions in order for their users to extend their Windows credentials to these new resources. In most cases, it was a wise decision to utilize these add-ons, because users began to use more and more web applications which could easily lead to identity sprawl—that is, many sets of credentials across many services. But, new challenges would arise.

Adoption of New Systems

As all this web application single sign-on patching to AD was going on, users were beginning to adopt new systems. They were migrating to Mac® and Linux® endpoints, which once again left Active Directory struggling. See, AD was created for Windows devices. So, with the new platforms making inroads, IT admins once again had to add-on to AD with identity bridges so that AD could still manage the new systems that users were clamoring for. Now, with those two add-ons federating access to both web applications and non-Windows systems, if one were to crash or stop working, it could lead to a lot of work for IT admins.

A Flexible Directory Rises

JumpCloud is the Key

Thankfully, we’re a long way from 1999. A flexible directory, JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®, has emerged to provide the benefits of SaaS to the directory. No longer do you need to pay huge upfront costs just to implement a directory. Now, with the power of the cloud, admins can manage their users and virtually all the tools they decide to use from a single console. Anywhere there is a network connection, True Single Sign-On™ provides users access to pretty much everything they use including both legacy and web applications via LDAP and SAML respectively. JumpCloud streamlines SSH key management for all your cloud infrastructure as well, and you can even protect your network with RADIUS. Again, all this and more can be accessed with one identity, making life easier for both IT admins and their users.

If you’re interested in hearing more benefits of a cloud-based, flexible directory, feel free to give us a shout. We would love to discuss how our SaaS directory solution can step in and help you manage your systems, applications, files, networks, and more. If you use the product to see it in action, sign up for a free account today. Our free account requires no credit card to use and allows you to manage 10 users for free, forever. Once you’ve signed up, check out our Knowledge Base for helpful information to get the most out of your account.

Ryan Squires

Ryan Squires is a content writer at JumpCloud, a company dedicated to connecting users to the IT resources they need securely and efficiently. He has a degree in Journalism and Media Communication from Colorado State University.

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