Introduction to Microsoft® Active Directory®

Written by Zach DeMeyer on February 28, 2019

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Microsoft® has built a number of industry-leading solutions. One of them is their identity and access management (IAM) platform, Microsoft Active Directory® (MAD or AD). This article is an introduction to Microsoft Active Directory, what it’s used for, and its relevance in our modern, cloud-forward world.

From Humble Beginnings

In the late 1990s, Microsoft introduced Active Directory as their solution to help connect users to the Windows® -based IT resources they needed. MAD’s conception came on the coattails of the LDAP and Kerberos protocols, both of which serve as backbones for the Microsoft directory service. As an identity provider (IdP), MAD would give IT admins control over user access and, with the concept of the domain, enable end users to simply login to their Windows laptop or desktop, connect to the network, and subsequently access whatever Windows resources were on-prem. Due to these capabilities, MAD quickly became a pivotal tool in the IT admin’s belt.

From a business standpoint, Microsoft’s move with Active Directory was critical to their long-term success. IT organizations were able to centralize management for almost all of their Windows-based applications and systems, reinforcing Microsoft’s dominance. This sort of vendor lock-in allowed Microsoft a virtual monopoly in both identity management and IT as a whole.

Winds of Change

But, as we know, IT networks didn’t remain static. With the introduction of the Internet, the average IT environment started to change dramatically. On-prem Windows applications fell in favor of web-based applications. On-prem data centers started to be replaced by the likes of AWS® and GCP™. Windows file servers were replaced by more cost-effective on-prem and cloud options. Mac® and Linux® systems started to infiltrate among the Windows laptops and desktops. And, most importantly, WiFi started to replace wired networks. All of these changes and more started to cause major problems for Microsoft Active Directory.

IT admins relying on MAD were in a pickle. With entire networks based around it and not many AD alternatives on the market, MAD needed additional tools to help it bridge the gap to the cloud. Some of these solutions include web application single sign-on (SSO), governance, identity bridges, and other add-ons. The standard of identity management, as it was known, was becoming more cumbersome, despite the fact that the rest of IT was streamlining.

Shifting Security

Along with these significant changes in IT resources, the way networks were architected also morphed. No longer was there a perimeter. With a mobile workforce, WiFi, and all of the cloud and web solutions, the concept of the MAD domain didn’t make as much sense. In fact, new security models, such as Zero Trust Security, emerged to deal with the modern realities of a perimeter-less network.

Reimagined Active Directory

These challenges and more pushed IT organizations to rethink their identity and access management approach. Thankfully, a new cloud directory service has hit the market, which has reimagined Active Directory for the modern IT network. This solution is platform-agnostic, which, unlike MAD, federates access to virtually all IT resources, regardless of their provider, protocol, platform, or location. For IT organizations that value freedom of choice and cloud-forward agility, this directory service, JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service® , is a complete replacement for Active Directory.

While this was simply an introduction to Active Directory, you can dive deeper into the subject on our blog. You can also contact us with your questions, or check out our YouTube channel for more content. If you are looking to replace Active Directory, you can try JumpCloud, absolutely free. Your first ten users are on us, forever.

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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