Why Do I Need AD?

By Natalie Bluhm Posted April 19, 2019

Why Do I Need AD?

Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD) has been a mainstay in identity management infrastructure for almost two decades. Whether you’ve been in the IT industry for a while or are just starting out, you may have recently wondered at one point or another, “Why do I need AD?” Whether you’re asking this to figure out why you need a directory service or questioning if AD is still the best option these days, we’ve got the answers you’ve been looking for. Let’s start by taking a look at why a directory service matters.  

The Value of Directory Services

Definition of a Directory Service

Before we can understand the benefit of having a directory service, let’s make sure we all have the same definition in mind. A directory service is a database of user information, such as usernames, passwords, department info, etc. On top of providing one place where you can store this information, a directory service also keeps track of what systems, applications, file storage, and networks a user has the right to access and how they should authenticate to those resources. This setup enables you to make a change to a user, like suspending an account or changing a password, and have that change carry across all of the user’s IT resources. So what would the life of an IT admin and their end users look like without this technology in place?

The Reality of Not Having a Directory Service

Not having a directory service in place means you are stuck with a manual approach to managing your IT environment. This impacts security, productivity, and costs. Here’s how:

  • You have to trust end users to follow security best practices, instead of knowing they are.
  • You won’t have 100% certainty that an ex-employee truly has zero access to company data.
  • User management tasks end up taking hours of your work week.
  • A single end users can waste up to 30 minutes each month just on typing out all of their credentials; consequently, significant labor costs are spent on users just typing in their credentials,
  • Significant labor costs are also spent on IT admins simply making user add/changes and resetting passwords; in fact, 250 password resets can cost $17,500 in IT labor costs.

Does it really get any better with a directory service, or an identity provider (as some like to call it)?

What Your Organization Looks Like with an Identity Provider

An identity provider has the power to centralize your entire IT environment. The positive impact is huge, so here’s just a taste of how an identity provider can benefit you:

  • From one screen, you can enforce the security requirements you deem fit and have those propagate to all of your users and all of their IT resources.
  • In one click, you can suspend a user’s access to their system, apps, file storage, and networks, and know you aren’t missing something.
  • User management tasks only have to take minutes (instead of hours) each week.
  • End users gain one identity for everything, providing them with frictionless access to all of their digital tools.  

Clearly, directory services can provide a lot of value to an organization by helping them Make Work Happen™ productively, securely, and cost effectively. But recent technological advancements have many questioning if the benefits of an identity provider still ring true today. This is in large part due to the newfound inadequacies of the main on-prem player in the space, Active Directory. Before we discuss why AD is falling short these days, we should explain how it came to be number one.

Active Directory was Great for the Early 2000s

Active Directory has been a top contender in the space for many years because IT admins could streamline user and system management and provide end users with easy access to everything they needed to complete their work. The trick was, IT organizations had to use an all-Windows environment to achieve the benefits of using Active Directory. This was fine in the beginning of the 21st century when Microsoft IT resources were some of the best tools for the job.

Modern IT Requires a New Approach

Fast forward two decades later and many organizations have taken their business to the next level by using Mac® and Linux® systems, web-based applications, cloud infrastructure, G Suite™  and many other Microsoft alternatives. While these new tools have proven valuable for many, they also come with some expense to efficiency and security where user management is concerned.

You see, Active Directory wasn’t built to support cloud, non-Windows digital assets, so organizations have lacked the means to centrally manage authentication and authorization to them. To avoid manual management or no management at all, many IT organizations have turned to add-on solutions, like identity bridges and single sign-on providers.

The downside to add-on solutions is they barely reduce the hassle because IT admins still have to go into each add-on to make any user changes. Plus, each add-on comes with its own cost, creating a hefty bill. Given this expensive, piecemeal approach, it makes sense that modern, cloud-forward IT organizations are wondering, “Why do I need AD when it only works for part of my environment?”

If you’ve been wondering that same question, the good news is a modern Active Directory replacement exists. It’s called JumpCloud®Directory-as-a-Service®.

Why Do I Need JumpCloud?

Regardless of platform, protocol, provider, and location, JumpCloud empowers you to securely connect users to virtually all of their systems, applications, file storage, and networks. Once you attain a centralized IT environment, IT processes are automated, and user access is secure and frictionless, providing you once again with the value that directory services are supposed to.  

Have More Questions?

Still need help in answering the question, “Why do I need AD?” Drop us a note and we’d be happy to help you figure out what you need in an identity management solution. You can also learn more about the value of JumpCloud by attending our weekly introductory webinar or by signing up for a free account. Our free account features unlimited access for you and your first ten users, forever.

Natalie Bluhm

Natalie is a writer for JumpCloud, an Identity and Access Management solution designed for the cloud era. Natalie graduated with a degree in professional and technical writing, and she loves learning about cloud infrastructure, identity security, and IT protocols.

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