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Can you replace Active Directory with Azure AD?

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Transition to the cloud has now been a trend for companies of all sizes. They are switching their productivity apps, storage and data backups to the cloud as well as using SaaS, IaaS and many other cloud offerings. Naturally, cloud directory services and identity and access management (IAM) platforms have also been on the radar for companies making their big jump to the cloud.

Companies that have been using Microsoft Active Directory for a long time might feel uncomfortable leaving it behind. But, we have had the understanding of the benefits of cloud solutions for quite some time now. This is why trying Microsoft’s enterprise cloud-based IAM solution Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) has been intriguing for those companies. 

A question of whether you can replace Active Directory with Azure AD is a common one. One that is asked by many companies and IT admins. After all, with almost all of the IT environment moving to the cloud, there are many motives to move their directory to the cloud too. 

Azure AD is Microsoft’s leap into cloud directory services. It’s reasonable to imagine why you would be under the impression that it will have the same capabilities as AD, but in the cloud. It does not. 

Should you replace AD with Azure AD?

To get back to the main question: can Azure AD replace AD? Short answer is no. Azure AD is not a complete replacement for AD that IT admins looking to switch their directory to the cloud are looking for. 

The bottom line is that Azure Active Directory was not designed to be the cloud version of Active Directory. It doesn’t have the same capabilities and it is not a domain controller or a directory in the cloud. You can’t really migrate from AD to Azure AD. You can synchronize your on-prem directory to Azure AD but you can’t migrate your accounts, group policies, organizational units, etc. 

Azure AD can extend the reach of your on-prem identities to SaaS applications and provide remote access if you need to publish them to external users. It also provides identity management to consumer-facing apps, as well as offering multi-factor authentication (MFA) protection of identities in the cloud, reporting of suspicious logins, leaked credentials and unusual user behaviour. These are the capabilities that we expect of a cloud solution. Capabilities that we can’t find in the traditional on-prem Active Directory. But Azure AD is really just for companies that want to extend the reach of their identities to the cloud. 

Why Azure AD Can’t Replace AD 

When you think from a business perspective, Active Directory already has the most market share than any other Microsoft solution. So it would make sense that you can’t truly replace AD with Azure AD. If their customers would shift to a cloud directory, it could mean potential customer loss.

On the technical side, Azure AD acts as a user management platform for the Azure platform. It can’t manage on-prem systems and IT resources. Azure AD can’t control on-prem Windows (except Windows 10), Mac and Linux systems. Additionally, any non-Microsoft solutions that are often used in workspaces are outside of Azure AD’s scope. 

Even Azure AD’s domain controller, which might seem as a complete AD replacement, is basically a domain controller for Azure virtual machines (VM). 

Considering all of this, Azure AD and Active Directory aren’t really a good choice for companies that want to move their entire infrastructure to the cloud (including their directory), that have environments made out of mixed platforms such as inclusion of Mac and Linux machines, usage of Google Cloud, AWS, Google Workspace or any other non-Microsoft IT recourses. 

But, is there a way for companies to get rid of Active Directory in their environment? 

Replace AD with JumpCloud

Many companies have been turning to cloud directories as a complete replacement for Active Directory. A cloud-hosted directory service called JumpCloud can smoothly connect your users to systems, applications, networks and all other IT resources they need to access. Additionally, those IT resources can be both located in the cloud or on-prem. 

So, can JumpCloud replace Active Directory? 

We have already talked about if JumpCloud can fully replace Active Directory. The short answer is that yes — yes it can. JumpCloud allows IT admins to have management and control of all users and all major systems (Windows, Mac and Linux), cloud and on-prem applications, wired or WiFi networks, virtual and physical storage, local and cloud servers and much more. 

Furthermore, it can also integrate with Azure AD to create one identity provider for your company. It truly is built for the cloud-forward company. 

Start using JumpCloud for free

If you are interested in learning more about how JumpCloud can replace Active Directory, contact us! ElephantHop’s team of JumpCloud experts will be happy to help you realize the benefits of making this transition. 

And if you want to practically see how JumpCloud can replace AD, you can simply start a free JumpCloud trial. JumpCloud offers free accounts for 10 users and 10 devices. This gives you the perfect opportunity to try out the platform including the premium capabilities. See for yourself how JumpCloud can help you reenvision the directory in the cloud. 

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