By Rajat Bhargava Posted April 13, 2018
IT is more critical to an overall organization than ever before. What used to be seen as just a major drain on costs, is now increasingly being viewed as a strategic asset. Modern organizations are leveraging IT to create a competitive advantage with better information systems, data, and tools. However, using cutting-edge resources comes with management needs. At the core of virtually every modern IT organization is their ability to control access to IT resources. These systems – called identity providers or directory services – have largely been left unchanged over the last two decades. But, as the IT landscape transforms, there is a now a strong business case for the cloud directory.
To fully understand the business case for the cloud directory, we need to take a step back and look at where directory services started.
Directory Services Were Windows-Centric
Two decades ago, identity management hardly generated any attention, even from IT leaders. But, IT admins knew that the main role of an identity management solution was to control access to the network, and that was done through the market leading solution Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD). There weren’t any comparable alternatives, and since most networks were all Windows, there wasn’t really a debate on what approach to take for identity and access control management.
Modern IT is No Longer On-Prem and Windows-Centric
Fast forward to today, and the IT landscape is vastly different. The cloud, remote users, and mobile devices have transformed the way that IT organizations need to build and manage their IT infrastructure. Additionally, they also have to contend with new security concerns, compliance requirements, and critical business requirements. Without a doubt, IT admins have had a tough time growing and scaling their IT infrastructure. Finding solutions that can help them manage their modern IT environment hasn’t been easy either. Part of this has to do with the move away from homogenous environments like those dominated by Microsoft solutions.
IT networks and environments have historically been tied to a single vendor or small group of vendors, but that is no longer the case. There are web applications for just about every business problem, numerous cloud infrastructure vendors to replace data centers, and multiple platforms for desktops and laptops. The days of a homogenous environment have passed, and the new era favors responsiveness and finding the right solution for the task at hand.
Of course, this mixed approach places tremendous pressure on IT organizations. Managing heterogeneous environments and end users that can be located on-prem or remotely around the globe can be a significant challenge. Nowhere has the challenge been more acute than with identity management.
Why IT Needs a Modern Cloud Directory
Like we mentioned earlier, connecting users to the IT resources they need has traditionally been handled by the Windows-centric solution, Active Directory. This worked when users were almost exclusively using Windows® systems, Microsoft Office®, Exchange®, and Windows File Server®. However, with the dramatic shift to Mac and Linux systems, web applications, cloud and on-prem file servers such as Samba and NAS appliances, WiFi networks, and cloud infrastructure such as AWS®, the traditional approach to identity management no longer works.
The challenge for IT admins, though, is that inertia and history are hard to overcome. IT personnel are used to controlling identities on-prem because Active Directory has been the conventional choice for almost two decades. Is the cloud ready for critical IT management solutions that require virtually 100% uptime? It can be difficult to create a business case for the cloud directory for legacy organizations, but change and transformation is always difficult.
The good news is that there are a number of benefits to shifting to a modern directory service. So, what can a cloud directory deliver? A modern cloud identity management solution offers support for a wide range of platforms, protocols, providers, and locations. IT organizations shouldn’t be limited to a single platform or vendor when the average company is using 50+ SaaS products. Additionally, a cloud-delivered directory service enables IT organizations to eliminate some of the on-going burden of managing and running the identity management platform internally. For instance, IT admins don’t have to use valuable time to configure and manage hardware like LDAP or RADIUS servers. Finally, a cloud directory can increase security and availability. For example, users only have to keep track of one set of credentials as opposed to the 191 that the average LastPass business user keeps track of. In terms of availability, a cloud identity management platform leverages a wide variety of cloud service providers that are spread across the globe. This helps the cloud directory to be resilient in the face of any number of networking, infrastructure, physical, or other challenges.
Now that we have a clear understanding of what modern cloud identity management can deliver for an organization, let’s take a look at each of these points more closely and their value in the business case for the cloud directory.
The Business Case for the Cloud Directory
Freedom of Choice
Perhaps the most critical benefit of a cloud directory is freedom of choice with IT resources. Unlike legacy solutions that dictate the platforms or protocols that you can use internally, a cloud directory service enables IT admins to support virtually any type of IT resource regardless of platform, protocol, provider, or location. This means that the business can use whatever IT technology is best for them, which can dramatically increase the effectiveness of employees and contractors. For example, a study by Jamf revealed that employees are 72% more productive when they can use the system of their choice. If employees can use the right tools, that can clearly translate into significant business benefits.
Freedom of choice can greatly increase productivity, but there are a couple additional productivity aspects that are impacted by a cloud directory. With central control over user access, IT admins don’t need to manage or spend time on integrating multiple solutions. IT admins simply leverage one platform for their entire identity management needs. This can have a tremendous impact on tasks like onboarding/offboarding. Take Tamr, for instance. Using a cloud directory, they were able to reduce their onboarding process from a week down to a few hours.
IT admins aren’t the only ones who gain more time to spend on higher priority tasks. For end users, one identity across virtually their entire professional online life is significant. End users can create strong passwords, leverage SSH keys, and employ MFA all from one core account rather than multiple, disparate ones. All of these capabilities translate into more secure, productive, employees within the organization.
Security With Ease of Use
Freedom of choice and increased productivity doesn’t mean you have to compromise on security. After all, there is no greater online risk to an organization than compromised credentials. Small and large organizations are being hacked every day. The culprit? Stolen or hacked online identities. With a cloud directory, IT organizations can step up their identity security by mandating strong passwords, 2FA, and SSH keys. In fact, it is even believed that 80% of breaches could have been prevented if 2FA had been implemented. So, not only can IT rest easy with the significant security measures that are within the cloud directory itself, but they also have a significant leg up in fighting the online identity theft battle.
True Cost of a Cloud Directory
In addition to strengthened security, a strong business case for the cloud directory is that it is cheaper – both in the short term and the long-term. There have been countless studies done comparing the costs of on-prem solutions and their cloud counterparts. IT organizations end up saving significant dollars by leveraging cloud solutions, while increasing their capabilities at the same time. Gartner even found that cloud adoption has helped organizations save 14% of their budgets. When you consider networking infrastructure, personnel costs, support, and many other components, it is easy to understand why cloud solutions have become so popular.
Do More with Cloud Identity Management
The business case for the cloud directory is straightforward once you have identified the core value drivers for your organization. For most, the chance to leverage the best IT technology on the planet, make their teams more productive, protect against security breaches, and save money are often the core of a business case to shift to cloud identity management. Of course, the specifics will vary for each organization, but the ones we mentioned are often critical points in making the move to a cloud directory.
If you would like to learn more about how to build a business case for a cloud directory for your organization, drop us a note. We’d be happy to help.