Updated on January 29, 2024
As IT admins weigh their options for RADIUS servers, they will inevitably come across two mainstays of the industry: FreeRADIUS and Windows Network Policy Server (NPS). When comparing FreeRADIUS vs. Windows NPS, which RADIUS option is best? We will dive into each of these RADIUS implementations to reach a verdict, although the final answer may not be what you would expect.
The use of RADIUS for IT infrastructure is becoming more popular than ever. It seemed that, a few years ago, IT admins and DevOps engineers were moving away from RADIUS use altogether. But, as WiFi security and VPN administration become more and more critical, the RADIUS protocol has experienced a renaissance of sorts.
FreeRADIUS vs. Windows NPS
So with that in mind, it makes sense that IT admins and DevOps engineers are seeking out RADIUS server solutions, such as FreeRADIUS and Windows NPS. When it comes to their functionality, both options are relatively similar, although there are some key differences.
FreeRADIUS has been a mainstay in the IT community for a number of decades. The open-source RADIUS server implementation is arguably the most popular RADIUS solution on the market today. As an open-source tool, FreeRADIUS is, for all intents and purposes, free. Looking past the pocketbook, however, FreeRADIUS does have it’s own costs.
First and foremost, FreeRADIUS requires server hardware to operate. Servers are obviously not free, and they also require physical office space if hosted on-prem. The other major drawback of a FreeRADIUS implementation is the fact that it needs to be properly installed, configured, and managed. Such tasks take precious time out of an IT admin’s day and necessitate intensive technical knowledge.
Microsoft Windows NPS is also a popular RADIUS tool. Offered as a part of Windows Server, it seamlessly integrates with other Microsoft solutions. This is especially true in regards to its Windows Server feature counterpart, the domain controller, Active Directory (AD). By using NPS in conjunction with AD, it is considerably easier to manage and implement an entirely Windows-based network.
Of course, in the modern era of IT, the entirely Windows-based network is quickly becoming a relic of the past. Today’s IT environments are fast-paced and heterogeneous, with recent influxes of non-Windows systems (Mac and Linux) as well as web apps and cloud infrastructure flipping the IT game on its head. Due to this, solutions like NPS and AD are falling out of favor in light of “as-a-Service”-delivered IT solutions.
Which is the Ideal Solution?
When evaluating FreeRADIUS and Windows NPS, a few things become clear. First, both solutions are popular RADIUS server implementations. FreeRADIUS is free cost-wise, but needs to be configured with care. Windows NPS is included with Windows Server, but is really optimized for other Microsoft tools.
Perhaps most importantly, however, is that both options are based on-prem, and ultimately require a link to an identity provider to properly operate. In the modern era of IT, many organizations do not have the luxury of housing infrastructure on-prem, nor the time or resources to maintain highly technical network tools. An ideal RADIUS solution would be hosted from the cloud, allowing IT admins all the benefits of a RADIUS implementation, but with none of the required maintenance or configurations. Clearly, neither FreeRADIUS nor Windows NPS fit this profile.
An Ideal RADIUS Server from the Cloud
Thankfully, such a solution is available for IT admins and DevOps engineers, delivered from the cloud. It is called Cloud RADIUS, and it uses a global network of pre-implemented FreeRADIUS servers to provide RADIUS functionality as a microservice, offloading all the required work that goes into installing/managing RADIUS. Much like Windows NPS, Cloud RADIUS is directly integrated into an adjacent identity provider, called the JumpCloud Directory Platform.
This open directory platform is the world’s first cloud directory service, enabling over 75,000 organizations to manage their users and their access to virtually all IT resources from a single cloud admin portal. Unlike AD + Windows NPS, with JumpCloud, all IT resources are first class citizens, be them from Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Meraki, Cisco, Juniper, Ubiquiti, or any other vendor. With an integrated RADIUS implementation through Cloud RADIUS, JumpCloud admins can tightly secure their network access with ease.
Try Cloud RADIUS Free
As the smoke of FreeRADIUS vs. Windows NPS clears, it’s more obvious that neither option may be ideal for modern IT. If you are interested in Cloud RADIUS, sign up for a trial of JumpCloud to not only explore Cloud RADIUS, but the entire directory platform.