Free Active Directory®

By Natalie Bluhm Posted April 11, 2018

Free Active Directory®

Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) has been the go to identity and access management (IAM) platform for almost two decades now. Active Directory is included within Windows Server®, but is licensed in a complex way. Many IT admins wonder if a free Active Directory (as some people believe) is really free and ultimately worth it.

Why Microsoft Can Offer a Free Active Directory

Microsoft Active Directory

Microsoft has always been clever with their licensing. Their goal has been to lock IT organizations into their products for the long term. So, while AD was technically free, the licensing costs added up year over year. Ultimately, this work out best for Microsoft’s bottom line. Now, though, IT organizations are faced with licensing challenges because the IT environment is much different than it was twenty years ago at the height of Microsoft’s dominance.

Most organizations used to be centered around the Microsoft Windows® platform, so it made sense for IT organizations to structure deals around all of Microsoft’s solutions. Microsoft in turn would make it advantageous to use as many of their tools as possible. Called an ELA (enterprise licensing agreement), this model was Microsoft’s way of saying that really Active Directory was free to you because you were already paying for everything.

Is a Free Active Directory Still Worth It?

Active Directory fails in the cloud

It’s important for IT admins to understand that the IT landscape is shifting towards non-Windows IT resources. Mac® and Linux® systems are more popular than ever. On-prem Windows servers are giving way to AWS® Linux servers. Millions of organizations have replaced Microsoft Exchange® and Office with G Suite (formerly Google Apps). That’s just the start of the list.

With the IT world moving away from Microsoft-based resources, the Microsoft ELA is no longer a slam dunk, and neither is the fact that you’ll be able to repurpose Windows Server CALs and licenses. This essentially eliminates the “free” in Microsoft’s approach to a free Active Directory. Would an IT organization pay for all of those costs related to Windows Server if they weren’t utilizing Active Directory? Many would not. Cost is just one factor, though, that is causing many to move away from Active Directory.

Active Directory wasn’t built to manage user access to modern resources like cloud servers and Mac systems, so AD’s functionality has become rather limited. These days, IT organizations are choosing to leverage new, modern cloud identity management solutions that solve a wider range of IAM problems. These more comprehensive identity solutions connect users to Mac and Linux systems, web and on-prem applications, AWS and GCP cloud servers, cloud and on-prem storage solutions, and WiFi networks among other IT resources. One such solution is called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®.

JumpCloud – A Modern Cloud Identity Management Solution


Regardless of where the resources are, who the provider is, and what IT protocols and platforms they utilize, JumpCloud is providing IT admins with centralized control over all IT resources. For end users, this means they only need one set of credentials to seamlessly access everything they need to do their job. From systems, servers, and networks to applications and file storage, users gain One Identity to Rule Them All® while IT admins achieve One Directory to Rule Them All®.

So, now you have to ask yourself, “Even if a solution is free, is it worth it if it’s not effective?”

Learn More about a Free Active Directory Alternative

If you would like to continue the discussion on why a free Active Directory might not be the best route to go, drop us a note. We’d be happy to walk you through why our cloud-based directory service can help you centralize all of your IT resources. If you’re ready to start testing JumpCloud’s identity management platform, sign up for a free account. The whole platform is available to you, 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.

Recent Posts