OpenLDAP to Active Directory Migration

Written by Cassa Niedringhaus on December 9, 2019

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IT admins with an OpenLDAP directory often examine their alternatives when deciding to migrate to another directory service.

Although it’s well-suited for *NIX environments, OpenLDAP can be difficult to master and doesn’t provide broad functionality in managing Mac and Windows systems.

Microsoft Active Directory (AD) likely comes to mind as an alternative because of its widespread popularity and comprehensive suite of Group Policy Objects, for example, but there are a host of variables to consider before switching to a legacy directory like that.

Let’s examine OpenLDAP and AD, how they differ, and why an IT admin might want to migrate from one to the other.

Understanding OpenLDAP Uses

OpenLDAP, an LDAP server implementation, is open-source and flexible, and its most common use is in authenticating users in *NIX environments. LDAP also serves as the preferred protocol for open-source systems like Kubernetes and Docker and infrastructure like Samba file servers and NAS appliances.

However, OpenLDAP poses challenges in implementation and maintenance because it requires a great deal of technical legwork. It’s flexibility is a double-edged sword because it can provide responsive solutions but is often not straightforward or intuitive.

Beyond that, OpenLDAP struggles in connecting to macOS, Windows, and other non-Linux devices, as well as web-based applications. Even though it’s easier to use with Linux, it still needs some manual configuration.

Understanding Active Directory Uses

Active Directory has reigned on-prem for upward of two decades, and with good reason.

Beyond its (Windows-focused) strength as a central source of truth for identity and access management (IAM), AD is appealing because of its suite of Group Policy Objects, or GPOs. IT admins can enforce GPOs to improve their enterprise’s security. These might include policies that grant administrator rights, terminate the use of system features, or install patches.

Similarly to OpenLDAP, however, AD struggles in connecting to non-Microsoft systems and web-based applications. It still has a ways to go to meet the SaaS and IaaS offerings around it.

Scoping Migration from OpenLDAP to Active Directory

There is a dearth of documentation on how to migrate OpenLDAP to AD. IT admins have reported challenges (examples herehere, and here) in migrating passwords without doing so in plaintext, which is, of course, against best practice recommendations.

Microsoft technicians have recommended using the company’s Active Directory Migration Tool (ADMT), as well as its User State Migration Tool (USMT). ADMT is a software package that supports Windows Server 2003, 2008, 2008 R2, 2012, and 2012 R2, and it requires an SQL server database instance that will need configuration prior to migration.

The simplest way to implement the migration is likely to export from LDAP via LDIF, massage the data to match with AD’s APIs, and then import. However, that still won’t migrate passwords, so users will need to reset their passwords after migration.

This migration is not a process to be taken lightly, and IT admins should evaluate their needs and review other options before doing so. We’ll examine these considerations in the following section.

Evaluating Directory Needs

IT admins should understand their technical needs and business goals and how a directory service can best match their technical environment before migrating to AD, which would lock them in on-prem infrastructure and Client Access Licenses (CALs).

Migrating from OpenLDAP to AD does not provide comprehensive benefits in today’s environment, particularly if a business uses Mac systems or cloud resources. Plus, a business currently using OpenLDAP likely has Linux devices, which AD is not designed to manage natively.

IT admins examining this decision might ask and answer in their evaluation, for example: 

  • What IT infrastructure priorities does the company have? 
  • Will an Active Directory implementation help the company reach those priorities more quickly than an OpenLDAP implementation?
  • What digital tools and applications are people using to get work done? 
  • What factor does the cloud play in moving the IT organization forward?

Other Directory Options

Another option for IT admins who are considering migrating off OpenLDAP is a cloud directory service. Vendor-neutral, platform-agnostic providers have emerged in the modern age and are designed to harmonize with a variety of systems, applications, files, and networks.

If you use OpenLDAP, you likely also have a need to secure Linux and non-Windows resources, so a neutral directory service would help you manage those resources. If you’d like to learn more about the concept, you can give it a try today.

Cassa Niedringhaus

Cassa is a product marketing specialist at JumpCloud with a degree in Magazine Writing from the University of Missouri. When she’s not at work, she likes to hike, ski and read.

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