Is Azure® AD the future of Active Directory®?

Written by Zach DeMeyer on August 6, 2018

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With all the talk of changing directory services in the identity management sector, there’s a great deal of confusion about what the future holds. Long time industry leader, Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD or MAD), seems to be losing its grip on the market, and it’s creating an apparent vacuum in the directory services space. Microsoft Azure® AD might be able to fill that vacuum, although many are still unsure. Foundationally, IT admins are wondering, is Azure AD the future of Active Directory?

A Pressing Question

The question is a complicated one because it touches on a number of areas of the identity and access management market. To start, Azure Active Directory is not a replacement to Active Directory. In fact, it doesn’t even seem as though Microsoft wants to replace AD with Azure AD. Certainly, given AD’s dominant hold on the IT industry, Microsoft feels no need to cannibalize it any time soon. Therefore, it’s clear that Microsoft wants Azure AD to be a complement to Active Directory. More importantly though, Azure AD is meant to be the mechanism that entices IT organizations towards using Azure, and subsequently keeping them there.

From a business standpoint, Microsoft doesn’t want to make it easy for IT organizations to shift to their competitors, such as G Suite, Google Cloud Platform, or AWS®. They do, however, want to make it interesting enough to draw IT organizations towards their platform. Often, a choice for IaaS also includes ancillary solutions that support the ability to manage and secure cloud infrastructure, hence why Microsoft needs a cloud IAM tool to be competitive with AWS IAM and Google IAM.

Microsoft’s Identity Management Plans for the Future

So, while Azure AD isn’t a replacement for Active Directory — even by Microsoft’s own admission via this post on Spiceworks — that doesn’t mean that they don’t view Azure AD as a key part of their future. Microsoft is working to shift their entire business to the cloud, and Azure AD is integral to their plans. Azure AD ties directly to cloud infrastructure, the latest Windows 10 machines, and web applications. While it’s similar to other first-generation IDaaS platforms, Azure AD is effectively a web application SSO solution with built-in Azure user management.

The upshot is that an Azure AD identity can be used across the web for select applications, but not for core infrastructure that is not on Microsoft platforms. And, where does Microsoft want to compete? In core platforms. They aren’t worried about competing with tens of thousands of SaaS application vendors that offer tiny slices of functionality. They’re concerned that people continue to use their OS, productivity platforms, file servers, and cloud servers, and build their applications on their infrastructure stack. After all, this is where the money is, and Microsoft is, of course, very savvy when it comes to locking in and monetizing their customer base.

What’s Next?

If Azure AD is the future of Active Directory, but it isn’t a replacement, how do IT organizations think about making the move to a cloud directory service? The opportunity for IT organizations is to rethink their approach to directory services. Rather than be locked in to another generation of Microsoft technology, leverage a neutral, third party cloud identity provider that can be utilized for IT resources in the cloud and on-prem without regard to platform, protocol, and provider. Or, in other words, leverage a cloud directory that will let your organization use whatever IT resources they want without locking you in. Now, shouldn’t that be the future of Active Directory?

Well, luckily for those who are looking for a reimagination of Active Directory for the future, there is just such a solution. It’s called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®, and it’s revolutionizing the directory services scene. The cloud-based centralized user management system can authorize users’ identities across any platform (Windows, Mac®, or Linux®), and is accessible remotely, so sysadmins can control their user base no matter the location.

Is Azure AD the Future of Active Directory?

The answer is technically no, but from an operations standpoint, JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service just might be the ideal solution. To learn more about how JumpCloud may hold the key to the future of Active Directory for its users, feel free to contact our support team with questions or concerns. To see if JumpCloud is right for your organization, schedule a demo or try it yourself for free for up to ten users.

Zach DeMeyer

Zach is a Product Marketing Specialist at JumpCloud with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. He loves being on the cutting edge of new technology, and when he's not working, he enjoys all things outdoors, music, and soccer.

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