Overview of Microsoft® Active Directory®

Written by Zach DeMeyer on March 26, 2019

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With a changing IT landscape, many admins are conducting an overview of Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) to see whether it is still beneficial to them in the modern, cloud era. This approach makes a great deal of sense considering that many new cloud identity and access management (IAM) solutions have emerged. If you need an overview of Microsoft Active Directory, look no further. Let’s dive in to the traditional IAM solution.

Microsoft Active Directory Origins

Active Directory

Microsoft introduced Active Directory in 1999, but had been working on the identity provider for a number of years. Microsoft was building on the success of solutions such as Novell eDirectory and LDAP to cement their stature in the enterprise. At the time, Microsoft already owned the desktop with the Windows® operating system, Office® productivity suite, and Exchange® email server. By introducing a solution to tie all of these disparate solutions together through controlling user access, Microsoft brilliantly ensured their long-term success.

The concept behind Active Directory and the domain controller was to create a network domain where end users would simply login to their laptops or desktops while connected to the network, and then have access to whatever resources they needed. This early single sign-on (SSO) approach was seamless to end users as long as they were Windows-based and on-prem. IT admins could easily control what Windows-based IT resources the end user had rights to while also enforcing security policies and configuration management through the concept of Group Policy Objects (GPOs).

The Dominance of AD

The idea of a domain and system management were core reasons why AD would go on to become perhaps the largest market share product in Microsoft’s history. This approach to the market worked extremely well for Microsoft for a number of years. It wasn’t until the IT landscape started to shift that Active Directory started to struggle.

A Shifting Landscape

A wave of new IT resources changed the way the workforce worked. Cloud infrastructure from AWS®, web applications such as Slack, GitHub, and Salesforce®, productivity platforms including G Suite™ and Office 365™, macOS® and Linux® systems, and more began to flood the market with efficiency and freedom of choice. There were too many non-Windows, off-prem solutions emerging, and IT organizations needed a way to manage them.

AD Declines

Of course, many admins still leveraged AD on-prem and as the core, authoritative identity provider. In the face of a changing IT market, organizations supplemented their IAM posture with identity bridges, web application SSO, privileged identity management, and more. This approach works to authenticate identities to most resources, but it certainly is not a holistic view of identity management. These added-on tools can also rack up costs for IT organizations, as well as increase admin time spent on configuring and maintaining each instance.

And, as more IT infrastructure shifted to the cloud, IT admins have realized that AD was managing a smaller and smaller portion of their network, while these supplemental add-on solutions were covering more and more. So, admins have started to search for a new generation of centralized identity management solutions akin to AD’s earliest days.

Active Directory Reimagined

Thankfully, a solution is rising in the IAM scene that offers centralized user and system management, leverageable from the cloud. This all-in-one directory service is platform-agnostic; meaning regardless of your end users’ choice of resource, this Directory-as-a-Service® will authenticate those end users’ access to it. For example, systems (Windows, macOS, Linux), applications, (on-prem and cloud), infrastructure, networks, servers, and more can each be authenticated into via Directory-as-a-Service.

JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service has reimagined Active Directory for the modern era. If this overview of Microsoft Active Directory and how it has fallen out of favor has resonated with you, consider Directory-as-a-Service for your IAM approach. You can try JumpCloud absolutely free, with ten users included forever to boot. You could also schedule a demo to see the product in the hands of an expert. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

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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