Do I Need Active Directory if I have Office 365 (O365)?

Written by Rajat Bhargava on February 19, 2019

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Every day, we hear this question from companies: “We are shifting our business to the cloud and leveraging Microsoft Office 365; do I need Active Directory if I have Office 365?”

Let’s cut right to the chase. No! You don’t need to continue to leverage Active Directory as you make the move to the cloud. In fact, you don’t need to do a lot of the things the same way you’ve been doing them in the past. That said, we get it. It is easy to get confused by this topic. There have been some big changes in IT, and even before that, Microsoft’s identity management plans have always been a little difficult to understand. Let’s see if we can clarify them.

The New Roles of Active Directory and Office 365

Active Directory is Microsoft’s on-prem identity management software that has been used for just about two decades now (it was released in the back half of 1999). Perhaps due to Microsoft’s timing or the fact they owned where most computing was happening at that time, on Windows® machines, they’ve had a virtual monopoly on the market ever since. As a result, Active Directory is the only directory service that many IT admins even know.

With the shift to the cloud, though, Microsoft has started to build a completely separate product called Azure Active Directory (AAD or Azure AD). This product doesn’t share the same code base and is largely meant to serve as a complement to existing, on-prem AD implementations. The problem with going with a cloud Microsoft product like Azure is two-fold. You still need to leverage on-prem AD, and Microsoft wants to keep you firmly in their ecosystem. What do we mean by this?

If you’re solely focused on leveraging Azure and don’t need system management for Linux® and macOS® systems, cloud servers at AWS®, G Suite™ integration, or any number of non-Microsoft solutions, then the cloud-based directory service Azure AD may fit your needs just fine. For most organizations, however, in order to have directory services with O365, you’ll end up requiring both on-prem AD and Azure AD. If moving to the cloud is your focus, you won’t be able to fully make that transition. You can still make this a reality, however, you just need to look outside the Microsoft AD family of products.

A Complete Directory Solution with Office 365 is Possible

That’s where the JumpCloud Directory Platform comes in. As a SaaS-based cloud directory service, you don’t need to have both Active Directory and Azure AD. You can simply leverage JumpCloud as your core identity provider (IdP) and connect it to Office 365 which integrates with Azure AD.

This connection allows you to provision, deprovision, and sync to Office 365 from JumpCloud, which is ultimately a tight integration with Azure AD. An integration as such allows you to shift your business completely to the cloud, rather than having one foot in the cloud and another on-prem.

Modern organizations live on their G Suite and/or O365 implementations—after all, those solutions are your core productivity solutions. The challenge is how do you manage those resources, particularly your users and what they need to access? Creating your users and managing them in G Suite or O365 creates a silo, and you’ll end up creating a number of ‘mini directories’ rather that one centralized user management platform.

In comparison, when you leverage a cloud identity provider like JumpCloud, the benefits can be significant. Centralization, heterogeneity, increased security, and greater efficiency are just a few. The biggest benefit is perhaps the fact that your decision making will not be confined to any one particular provider’s platforms— i.e. Azure or Windows. For example, if you use G Suite, you can implement the same integration. In fact, JumpCloud is powerful enough to allow you one identity to log in to both services. So, no messy cross-platform identity juggling, just a frictionless experience to help you and your employees get to work.

O365 Without Microsoft Weighing You Down

Many organizations are making the leap to Office 365, but the common question of whether you need AD with it has been answered. No, you don’t. Rest assured, you can make the move to O365 without being locked in to using Microsoft’s directory services options.

We understand that Office 365 may only be one of your concerns. Getting rid of AD does leave some other gaps. What about system management? Well, with JumpCloud, you get the ability to deploy GPO-like Policies to more than just your fleet of Windows systems. In fact, they work cross platform. Now you can enforce full disk encryption (FDE) to Mac® and Windows, push OS updates, and set screen lock timers all remotely. This is just a small overview, but ultimately, JumpCloud is a complete replacement for Active Directory. In fact, JumpCloud reimagines Active Directory for the cloud era. 

Try JumpCloud For Free Today

Give JumpCloud a try today by signing up for a free account. You can manage up to 10 users and 10 devices for free with this account—and you don’t even need to reach for your credit card. Additionally, if you need some technical information, be sure to check out our Knowledge Base or drop a line to one of our product experts. If you’re itching to learn more about AD, check out our Active Directory FAQ

Rajat Bhargava

Rajat Bhargava is an entrepreneur, investor, author, and CEO and co-founder of JumpCloud. An MIT graduate with over two decades of high-tech experience, Rajat is a ten-time entrepreneur with six exits including two IPOs and four trade sales.

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