Can OpenLDAP Replace Active Directory?

By George Lattimore Posted May 3, 2019

Let’s face it. Identity management with Microsoft® Active Directory® can get expensive. As IT admins look to replace Active Directory (AD), some turn to OpenLDAP™ as a more cost-effective option. But, can OpenLDAP replace Active Directory?

Technically, no. Although both heavily rely on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) for authentication, the scope and extent of their abilities differ greatly.

The Differences Between AD and OpenLDAP

The story of AD and OpenLDAP begins with the advent of LDAP, created in the 1990s by Tim Howes and his colleagues at the University of Michigan. LDAP was used to create pathways that could be used to authenticate systems, server-based applications, and databases among many other IT resources.

LDAP would soon go on to be used by developers to create OpenLDAP, an open-source server implementation of LDAP. The protocol, along with Kerberos, also served as one of the cores of Active Directory, which would become the most popular commercial directory service.

While both can be used for similar purposes, there are several key differences between AD and OpenLDAP. Since they are both LDAP-based in some way, they both can be used to manage access to on-prem implementations of applications. AD, though, can be used to manage access to Windows® systems and apps as well as the laptops and desktops themselves, with tools like Group Policy Objects (GPOs) to facilitate management at scale.

AD can also manage access to on-prem networks, and, through the use of web application single sign-on and other tools, access to cloud resources like Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps and Azure® infrastructure.

So, Can OpenLDAP Replace Active Directory?

In a one-to-one comparison, OpenLDAP is not capable of being a full replacement for Active Directory. At the same time, many organizations are growing concerned about being cemented on-prem by AD. What’s more, as costs of client access licenses (CALs) grow, cost-conscious organizations are feeling the pressure to find a better alternative.

There is, however, a cloud-based solution that leverages OpenLDAP which is also a complete replacement for AD, available from the cloud, and free for ten users or less. This solution uses a global network of OpenLDAP servers, along with the support of the SAML and RADIUS protocols to provide a True Single Sign-On™ experience for end users. This means that, with one set of credentials, a user can be authorized to access all of their apps (on-prem and cloud) and networks.

But True Single Sign-On doesn’t stop there. Of course, an employee can’t access their IT resources without a workstation. This cloud directory service also features cross-platform (Windows, Mac®, Linux®) user access and system management with GPO-like functions akin to those of Active Directory. These Policies can be used to enforce system security tools like full disk encryption and multi-factor authentication, among many others.

Try a Cloud OpenLDAP and AD Replacement Free

This cloud directory service is JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®, the modern cloud identity management solution. You can try JumpCloud free today, with ten complimentary users included in the platform forever. If you would like to learn more, please contact us, or check out our YouTube channel.

George Lattimore

George is a writer at JumpCloud, a central source for authenticating, authorizing, and managing your IT infrastructure through the cloud. With a degree in Marketing and an MS in Public Communications and Technology, George enjoys writing about how the IT landscape is adapting to a diversified field of technology.

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