Is There an Open Source Active Directory?

Written by Natalie Bluhm on April 24, 2018

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Microsoft® Active Directory® is one of the most popular IT management tools on the planet. However, the IT landscape has significantly changed since Active Directory was built. So, IT admins are wondering, “Is there an open source Active Directory alternative?” Afterall, it would be highly advantageous if they could modify an open source identity provider and adapt it to work in their cloud-forward, modern environment.

The answer is that there is a solution that’s even better than an open source Active Directory alternative, called JumpCloud Directory Platform. It’s not open source, but it does integrate with virtually any IT resource regardless of the location, protocol, platform, and provider. To better understand why this might be the solution modern IT organizations are looking for, let’s take a closer look at the problems many face with Active Directory. Then we’ll also discuss why open source alternatives don’t necessarily address the challenges IT admins are interested in solving.

The Rise and Decline of Active Directory

Microsoft’s AD platform became the leading identity and access management solution in part because of Microsoft’s dominance with the Windows® operating system. Most organizations were Windows based and on-prem at the time AD was introduced in 1999. So, it made sense that a user management system tightly tied to Windows would benefit IT organizations.

Over the years, however, the IT landscape started to shift. Web applications started to become more popular. AWS® introduced cloud servers and infrastructure solutions effectively eliminating the on-prem data center. File storage started to shift to cloud solutions such as Dropbox and Box as well as on-prem NAS appliances and Samba file servers.

These changes and many others are driving IT organizations to search for alternatives to Active Directory. This is because AD wasn’t built to manage user access to non-Windows, cloud-based resources. The average organization uses approximately 1,427 cloud services, so not being able to properly manage user access to this many resources has been a major headache for IT admins. They have either had to employ multiple add-on solutions, manually manage user access, or not manage access to these resources at all. Any of these options have a negative impact on time, security, and costs.

Ideally, IT organizations would only need one solution to centralize authentication to all of the IT resources in their environment. Open source solutions are known for their flexibility, so it’s a natural conclusion to wonder if there is an open source Active Directory alternative that IT admins could adapt to work in their progressive IT environment. There are a few options, but let’s take a look if they are comprehensive enough.

Problems with an Open Source Active Directory Alternative

cloud ldap

Of course, OpenLDAP has been long considered an alternative to AD, but in general its focus on just the LDAP protocol has made it less desirable as an alternative to AD because of the wide variety of different solutions and protocols that are in use these days. For example, SAML and OAuth are widely used as authentication protocols for web-based applications. So, an identity management solution that just focuses on LDAP isn’t what many IT admins have in mind.

IT organizations have also considered utilizing FreeIPA or Samba as an open source directory service, but these also have the same drawback as LDAP. They tend to be focused on one protocol or platform. So, an open source Active Directory alternative is probably not the route IT admins want to go if they are looking to leverage just one solution to manage all of their IT resources.

Like we mentioned at the beginning, there are other alternatives to Active Directory beyond just open source solutions. The primary one that many IT admins are exploring is a cloud identity management solution called JumpCloud Directory Platform.

JumpCloud – Better Than Open Source

Using JumpCloud, IT admins only need one solution to secure user authentication to systems (Mac, Linux, and Windows), on-prem and web-based applications (via LDAP and SAML), physical and virtual file storage (using Samba), and wired and WiFi networks (via RADIUS). Not only do IT organizations achieve secure control over all of their IT resources, but they also gain the benefits of a cloud-based directory service. They no longer have to allocate time to hardware and software maintenance, configuration or management or stress about high-availability. JumpCloud takes care of all of that, while you simply get to enjoy optimized user and system management.

Learn More

Still have some questions about, “Is there an open source Active Directory?” Feel free to drop us a note. We’d be happy to walk you through why our cloud-based directory service could be what you’re looking for. You can also find out for yourself by signing up for a free account. Your first ten users and ten devices are free, and you’ll be able to evaluate every single feature.  

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.

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