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Cloud Directory 101: Why Your Business Needs a Cloud Directory

In 2020, as the global pandemic forced businesses of all sizes to adapt to the new way of operating with remote work and the economic turbulence, cloud-based technologies came up to the top, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. 

Cloud technology has helped them switch to a virtual work scenario, accelerated the shift of sales from purely e-commerce to e-business, and much more. Adapting to the new operational, employee and customer requirements via the cloud during the trying times has been a true lifesaver for SMBs. 

It’s no wonder many businesses have already reaped the benefits of cloud-based technology such as reduced costs, flexible storage, increased collaboration opportunities, improved application performance, enhanced security, to just name a few. 

Now that we are halfway into 2021, SMBs should not skip the opportunity to leverage cloud computing to succeed and thrive in the new business and technology landscape. 

The most common uses of cloud computing are file storage, data backup (very beneficial in the cases of widespread ransomware attacks), increasing collaboration (such as with Google Workspace and Microsoft 365 suites), and cloud hosting for email services, applications, web-based phone systems, etc. 

But why stop there? With the current cloud transformation, you might be wondering if there are alternatives for Active Directory, or identity access management in general. 

The use of Active Directory

Microsoft’s Active Directory has been around since 1999. At that time, they revolutionized the concept of directory services and modern identity management. And as Microsoft also owned the desktop operating system space with Windows, it was easy for them to take over the management space as well and turn up as a more of a necessity for businesses to use, rather than a choice. 

AD was originally designed as a system for managing on-premise computers and users, but the use of it is changing for a number of businesses, especially startups and SMBs that don’t have many on-premise resources. Furthermore, web-based applications are quite popular today, something that wasn’t in the landscape when AD was at its height. Not to mention that Windows doesn’t dominate the workstation field anymore — Linux and Mac systems are a worthy and popular alternative in many startups and SMBs. 

And to circle back to cloud adoption, AD is not designed to integrate with web-based applications, other OSs besides Windows, or the cloud. If you wish to use any of these resources for your business, you would need to wrangle numerous third-party solutions to connect your AD with non-Microsoft resources. For businesses that are not shifting to the cloud entirely, it might be viable to keep AD, but for those that are moving their entire IT infrastructure to the cloud, on-premise AD simply isn’t a solution. 

So it’s natural that there are many businesses that have been wondering if there are any oher, possibly cloud-based solutions for their directory needs.

Microsoft has been listening (sort of) and released a complementary solution — Azure Active Directory. But Azure AD isn’t truly a cloud-based AD replacement, it acts more as an extension of the on-premise AD and a user management solution for Azure and Microsoft 365. 

With the complexity, lack of flexibility and the lackluster nature of Azure AD, cloud directory becomes an important alternative to how we use identity access management services. 

Benefits of cloud directory services

Replacing AD and how we view IAM with a cloud directory is a way to ensure better service in the cloud era. Cloud identity services are now a simple and single solution for a centralization of your system. No need to watch out for what workstations and operating systems your users employ; with cloud directory there is no need to weave additional third-party solutions to make it work with your ever changing IT infrastructure.  

Cloud directory services, as a modern approach to identity management, is helping businesses transform how they operate as it offers a vendor-neutral experience that is free from any ties with a specific platform or a system and can run equally well across many different ones. This, coupled with enhanced security, flexibility, collaboration, speed and cost-effectiveness, is driving modern businesses to turn to the cloud, in all ways. 

Security

Credentials are one of the most sought-after pieces of information for cyber criminals with reports showing that more than 60% of data breaches are attributed to stolen credentials. Protecting users’ credentials and identities should be one of top cybersecurity priorities for businesses of all sizes. Because Active Directory has been at the forefront of the IAM space for so long, it is a prime target for attackers. 

With cloud directory services, security is embedded from the bottom up. Every identity has a strong password complexity requirement, multi-factor authentication for different systems, applications and data and hashing and encryption as an added security layer. And working with a reputable cloud directory provider will help you detect and find compromises of any credentials on your network.

Flexibility

As we mentioned, when Windows dominated workstations, AD made much more sense and felt as a necessity. Today, with the rise of non-Windows (and Microsoft) resources, IT admins can be left to wrangle all the different third-party add-ons on top of AD to have control over their IAM system. But this approach leaves a complex and fragmented infrastructure. With the need for more flexibility and control, cloud directory services come to the top. 

Cloud directory services allow business and their IT admins to have it all in one web-based interface and control users and systems, no matter their vendor, across the entire IT infrastructure. Additionally, cloud directory gives users one set of credentials to securely access their systems, apps, networks and files, regardless of platform, provider, location or device. And as IT admins can view access logs and enforce MFA and other security policies across the entire system, users have the option to use as many third-party applications and devices that otherwise might pose a security risk due to the lack of visibility when using an on-premise directory. 

Speed

With a centralized management that Active Directory has, each update, delay and scheduled maintenance causes downtime and quite frankly, disruption of the day-to-day operations. And we don’t know a single staff member that isn’t at least slightly annoyed with the updates Microsoft has (Windows updates anyone?). With a cloud directory, you can maintain centralized management without delays as changes and updates are done within seconds for any device at any location. The directory is also backed by servers in multiple locations, causing virtually no downtime. Your staff can now finally relax and not dread the scheduled, or even spontaneous updates and focus on the work that truly matters. Making your business successful! 

Cost

Because it was considered a necessity to have it in their IT infrastructure, businesses haven’t really been focusing on the total cost of ownership of Active Directory. JumpCloud produced a webinar that answered the question of the true cost behind AD and the calculation can take you by surprise:

Costs of Active Directory =  servers + software + hosting + backup + security +

                                                          monitoring + VPNs + IT admin + third-party SW +

                                                          multi-factor authentication + governance

With a cloud directory, business can now have a clear per month rate, without additional resources and staff needed to handle such a complex environment, with the high ROI as an outcome. 

JumpCloud as your cloud directory provider 

Many of our clients have already decided to make the full switch to the cloud, including a cloud directory. JumpCloud has come as a clear winner for the best cloud directory provider in the space and we have the expertise to make the switch to it smooth for your business. 

JumpCloud is an identity provider that leverages LDAP, RADIUS and SAML protocols to link user identities to applications, both in the cloud and on-prem for those not moving their entire IT infrastructure just yet, as well as networks, file servers, and more. JumpCloud also offers endpoint management for Windows, Mac and Linux. The concept of a cloud directory is encapsulated with a Domainless Enterprise where every access transaction is secured and enabled regardless of platform, provider, protocol, and location.

Interested in making JumpCloud your cloud directory provider in the modern IT environment? Contact us to learn more. 

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