Why Use Azure AD?

By Ryan Squires Posted March 12, 2019

Why use Azure AD? Well, if your IT organization is Windows®-centric and deeply invested in on-prem identity management technology such as Microsoft® Active Directory® (AD), then supplementing that setup with Azure® AD can make a lot of sense. However, most IT admins will tell you that the last thing they want is another siloed identity management system from Microsoft. For them, the shift to a comprehensive cloud directory is often a better option. Let’s find out why.

Active Directory Before Azure

An on-prem implementation, Microsoft’s identity management platform, Active Directory, has been incredibly dominant for nearly twenty years now. Active Directory’s position as a market leading solution did not happen by accident. Microsoft owned the enterprise namely because of name-brand solutions such as Windows®, Office, Exchange, and others. Those solutions were put in place to help drive employee productivity, and Active Directory tied all of them together with the concept of the domain. For IT organizations, they could centrally manage user access to Windows-based resources using a single tool: Microsoft Active Directory.

The approach worked well, and AD quickly became the dominant directory services platform. Then something interesting happened. Active Directory reinforced Microsoft’s dominance in several other markets. Because AD managed Microsoft tools so well, IT admins wanted to inject more Windows-based tools into their network. With more Windows-based solutions on the network, AD became more powerful and valuable to organizations. It was certainly a virtuous cycle for Microsoft.

Rise of the Cloud and Non-Windows Solutions

That value would begin to slip though. We all know that the IT landscape has now changed with the inclusion of macOS® and Linux® systems into networks. Cloud infrastructure from AWS® bagan to take infrastructure by storm. G Suite™ and Office 365™ replaced applications that were once installed via CD-ROM and made them accessible from the web browser. Cloud and non-Windows file servers like G Drive™, Dropbox™, NAS and Samba devices were each difficult to access via on-prem AD. This is not even a comprehensive list, but you get the point.

Microsoft’s Response

These changes have pushed Active Directory to the limit, and the result was the birth of a complementary solution: Azure AD (AAD). With AAD, IT organizations could more easily shift their Microsoft infrastructure to Azure and still have that ability to manage their on-prem AD identities. This approach leveraged all of Microsoft’s existing solutions and helped them easily transition their customers to Azure. But, it’s worth noting that Azure AD is not an outright replacement for on-prem AD. So you will have to factor in the time to maintain both solutions should you go that route. Ultimately, for shops that were comprised of Microsoft solutions and had on-prem AD behind the scenes, this worked well. For others, not so much—including those that wanted to shift to the cloud completely.

Organizations Already on the Move

For organizations that have started to shift away from Microsoft, Azure AD simply looks like a user management system for Azure as well as a web application single-sign on (SSO) service. While it is undoubtedly an interesting solution, it does not solve an organization’s core need for a cloud-based directory service that can securely manage and connect users to their IT resources including systems, applications, files, and networks regardless of platform, protocol, provider, and location. All told, for heterogeneous environments, the Active Directory family of solutions would be limiting and lead to the requirement of purchasing additional solutions. For many IT organizations that want to utilize a single directory services tool, without having to purchase and maintain a bunch of addons, this is not a direction they’re looking to go.

Why a Cloud-based Directory

For those organizations, they may want to consider a platform-neutral directory services solution called JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®. JumpCloud is built for organizations that began moving away from Microsoft when new, innovative solutions came to the market. With a True Single Sign-On™ approach, users can connect to their systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux), web and legacy applications via SAML and LDAP respectively, files in the cloud or on-prem, neworks through RADIUS, cloud infrastructure (AWS®, GCE) by way of SSH keys, and much more—all with a single set of credentials. JumpCloud has created an adaptive directory, one that evolves alongside you.

Learn More About JumpCloud

If you’re an all-Windows shop, the answer to why use Azure AD is simple—it’s built to work in your environment. For IT admins in heterogeneous environments however, consider signing up for a JumpCloud account today. It’s free, and it enables you to manage up to 10 users forever with the full-featured version of the product. If you have questions about functionality or integration, contact one of our product experts today. Of, if you’re a more of the hands-on type, head on over the the Knowledge Base or our YouTube channel for more information.

Ryan Squires

Ryan Squires is a content writer at JumpCloud, a company dedicated to connecting users to the IT resources they need securely and efficiently. He has a degree in Journalism and Media Communication from Colorado State University.

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