Active Directory Is Dead: 3 Reasons

These days, Active Directory smells gangrenous to innovative companies born in the cloud and connecting customers, employees, and partners across devices at light speed.

Thomas Pedersen, CEO & Founder, OneLogin

April 15, 2014

3 Min Read
Source: Dell

Ninety-five percent of Fortune 500 companies use Active Directory, a 1990s technology, because their infrastructures are based on a 90s network architecture of on-premises PCs, applications, servers, and tools. But look around. Today’s hottest startups –- companies like Dropbox, Uber, Pinterest, and Tumblr -- just snort, and say, “The 90s called, and they want their infrastructure back.”

Full disclosure: I am the CEO and Founder of OneLogin, a cloud-based identity and access management company. Active Directory integration is one of our focus areas.  And though I have other fond memories of the 90s -- Nirvana, X-Files, Hale-Bopp -- Active Directory isn’t one of them. These days, Active Directory smells gangrenous to innovative companies that were born in the cloud and operate at light speed interconnecting customers, employees, and partners across an array of devices and time zones.

Before laughing off the death of Active Directory, remember we also never imagined that Apple would one day have a bigger market capitalization than IBM, or Google would be nine times more valuable than General Motors. Today’s 30-person company is positioning itself to be tomorrow’s 1,500-person company.

Why am I predicting the death of Active Directory?

Fact 1: Active Directory’s complexity slows IT’s ability to respond to business needs.  Originally crafted when IT owned and dictated everything, including the look, feel, and operation of user applications, Active Directory has failed to keep up. Have you tried to implement Single-Sign-On for your legacy, cloud, and mobile apps with Active Directory? If so, this custom integration likely took you months to complete, and probably lacked advanced functionality like multi-factor authentication and rapid deprovisioning (a must when employees or contractors leave an organization). Rinse and repeat the next time you need to add new apps. In an era where business runs on Red Bull, Active Directory is old and bloated.

Fact 2: Active Directory increases the daily IT workload. IT managers tell me they spend too much time integrating new apps into their aging Active Directory infrastructures. This is especially true because most new apps come from the cloud. Furthermore, different user communities require different security policies, and creating a new Active Directory group for every use case is time consuming. Active Directory’s provisioning complexity, coupled with different authentication procedures and decentralized administration, leads to higher identity management costs and frustrated, overworked IT teams. Getting a short-term contractor access to the right apps with the right entitlements should take minutes, not hours or days. Business is constantly being asked to "do more with less," but with Active Directory we get "less with more."

Fact 3: Active Directory encourages bad behavior and increases security risks. Facts 1 and 2 give rise to Shadow IT. Users have figured out they can easily bypass traditional IT to get the services and capabilities they need.  But this has resulted in raising security risk-levels inside the enterprise. For example, poor password hygiene in Shadow IT is rampant. Our own survey of 200 IT leaders showed that 71 percent admit to using unsanctioned apps like Dropbox and Google Apps to get work done, and 44 percent said employees manage passwords on sticky notes and spreadsheets. It’s an IT security nightmare.   

What has been your experience getting Active Directory into the 21st Century? Have you successfully integrated it with your cloud apps? Was that seamless or seemingly endless? What have been your biggest challenges, and what have been the biggest gaps? Share your success stories as well!

About the Author(s)

Thomas Pedersen

CEO & Founder, OneLogin

Grayson Milbourne is the Security Intelligence Director for Internet security company Webroot. Over the past 10 years he has worked in various areas of the company, spending the past seven years focused on threat analysis. His areas of security intelligence expertise range from mobile to reversing to automation to cloud security. Grayson is an avid participant in the security community and drives awareness of current threats by speaking at major events such as RSA and Virus Bulletin. Most recently, he has been focusing on the growth of mobile malware and the risks associated with BYOD. Additionally, he writes and provides technical review for the Webroot blog.

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