Is there a free LDAP server?
Supporting one of the most popular identity management authentication protocols, LDAP servers have been in high demand, but the cost of some options make it less appealing than other methods of authentication.
Free LDAP Server
Broadly speaking, there are two components to an LDAP server: the LDAP software acting as the directory service and carrying out the protocol’s authentications, and the server hardware hosting said software.
Unfortunately, while there are free LDAP server software solutions available, the physical server hardware required to stand up an LDAP instance is generally not free.
On average, an LDAP server can cost an IT organization anywhere from $4K to $20K, depending on the model and capabilities. Used or refurbished servers are considerably less expensive, but they bear a history of wear and tear that might reduce performance in the long run and necessitate the need for upgrades.
With the advent of Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) through AWS, Azure, GCP, and others, IT organizations can have their LDAP software hosted in the cloud. Per-minute compute charges for these services, however, are most certainly not free and can add up quickly when considering redundancy, load balancing, security, monitoring, backups, and more.
Although there seemingly aren’t any 100% free LDAP server options, IT admins can at least leverage LDAP software for free. Let’s look at some of the free LDAP software solutions that admins can employ.
One of the most popular free LDAP software options is OpenLDAP. The open source solution is widely known by the IT industry. As an offering, OpenLDAP was one of the first LDAP-based software solutions available, along with Microsoft Active Directory, the legacy commercial directory service which, too, supports LDAP.
The main drawback of OpenLDAP is its implementation and configuration. There is a high technical bar for entry with OpenLDAP, which for some, makes the software seem almost more trouble than it’s worth. IT admins using OpenLDAP are required to stand up the software manually, with additional tuning after the fact to ensure that everything continues to run properly and securely as needed for the organization.
389 Directory Server
Another open source LDAP software option is 389 Directory Server. 389 was developed by open source champions, Red Hat. Ironically, Red Hat also used to support OpenLDAP, but has since removed the software from their radar. Some may be led to believe that this move away from OpenLDAP was driven by Red Hat’s intent to provide greater support for 389 (their own solution) by diverting the resources from OpenLDAP.
Regardless of whether this was the reason or not, admins can utilize Red Hat support for implementation of 389. Unfortunately, in order to receive 389 support from Red Hat, organizations need to pay a subscription for support services. What’s more, depending on how it’s implemented, 389 will not operate as a standalone LDAP instance and requires additional paid services from Red Hat to properly function.
Apache Directory Server
An open source LDAP software that is unrelated to OpenLDAP is Apache Directory Server. The LDAP implementation is bolstered by the addition of the Kerberos protocol, which puts it more in the league of Active Directory than other LDAP implementations.
From solely an LDAP perspective, Apache is fairly comparable to the solutions above. This also means Apache is ultimately difficult to implement like its other open source counterparts.
The Caveat of “Free” LDAP Software
Despite the fact that these open source software solutions are considered “free,” there is a major caveat. They all require hosting on a server, which can be pricey. A server could be stood up via a cloud infrastructure service (AWS, Azure, GCP, etc.), but this is also expensive in the long-run.
Plus, it’s not just the server that IT admins ultimately pay for. They need to install the open source software, configure the directory service, and then connect their systems and applications to the directory. Additionally, because authentication is a 100% uptime service, IT admins must ensure redundancy and high availability of the platform. This all requires extensive time, effort, and expertise on the part of IT and adds significant overhead.
Another cost to consider is integration time and effort. LDAP needs to be integrated into the fabric of an IT organization. And, because there are often other authentication protocols in use, LDAP needs to connect into the overall architecture. Of course with multiple identity management solutions, the chances of things breaking increases.
Ideally, an IT organization would find a “best of both worlds” scenario, one where they can leverage a cloud-hosted LDAP server to avoid both steep hardware prices and offload the challenges of LDAP software implementation. This cloud LDAP instance would most likely be offered via the “as-a-Service” delivery model.
Thankfully, Cloud LDAP does exist, available as a part of the JumpCloud Directory Platform. JumpCloud is the world’s first cloud directory service. Our platform equips IT admins with the ability to manage all users and their access to virtually any IT resources including systems, applications, networks, file servers, infrastructure, etc. JumpCloud is the next generation of Active Directory and LDAP, and enables managed end users to leverage a single secure set of credentials to access all of these resources.
JumpCloud’s Cloud LDAP offering utilizes a global network of pre-configured OpenLDAP servers and completely alleviates the burden of implementing LDAP. What once took hours of work can now take a few simple clicks in JumpCloud’s browser-based admin console. IT admins simply point their users towards it, and JumpCloud takes care of the rest.
Try JumpCloud for Free
IT admins seeking a cloud-based LDAP server can try JumpCloud’s Cloud LDAP for free when they sign up for a trial of our cloud directory platform. Your trial not only gives you access to managed LDAP, but to the full functionality of the platform as well.