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Thomas Pedersen
Thomas Pedersen
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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.

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!

Thomas Pedersen is the CEO and founder of OneLogin, where he is now laser-focused on making OneLogin the most widely deployed identity management solution in the cloud. View Full Bio

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2014 | 11:15:42 AM
Re: What's the alternative
If we go with your assertion of what a startup needs, then Google would be the dead last place I'd go as they usually need secrecy and Google doesn't go in for that very much.  It's also a lot of fun migrating off as well. 

Most orgs when they're mature enough to need something like AD are ready to hire an EXPERT to do it for them.  You're neglecting to mention the fact that you're freqently going to run into systems where the password complexity requirements are incompatable.

This isn't taking into consideration audit and compliance issues.

One last thing, while you don't say it, I'd be willing to bet your service is largely open source.  What do you use fo your login services?
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2014 | 10:48:40 AM
Re: What's the alternative
I came to point out that this is a thinly veiled ad for a service that's targeted at people who have no business touching a domain controller. Instead I will point out that everything this product does and I do mean EVERYTHING you can already do with Windows.  You just have to find an admin who's willing to step away from the GUI and get their hands dirty with a small bit of PowerShell.  That's just for the sync'ing everything with the same password stuff.

Delegated rights have been in AD from day one.

When properly configured (read: AD Sites and Services setup along with proper connectors) replication isn't an issue.

What's irritating is that this is being peddled like it's real news and I fear some poor IT Manager is going to be forced to sit in a three hour meeting justifying some headcount.

Incidenally I'm putting as an open challenge Mr.Pederson, that your product doesn't do anything that a decently resourced IT team can't. 

In fact I'd go as far to argue that your product hurts IT departments by giving a false sense of security , hiding people from the complexity of their decisions.
Thomas B. Pedersen
Thomas B. Pedersen,
User Rank: Author
4/15/2014 | 10:39:58 AM
Re: What's the alternative
The first application a startup needs is email. But when you start a company today, your first inclination is probably not to drive down to your local computer store and purchase Microsoft Exchange and Office. More likely, you will sign up your team for Google Apps and get email and productivity suite all-in-one.

And then you work your way from there. You'll quickly be adding more applications so you can build, market and sell your product or service. Soon you will realize that the number of passwords your company is managing is out of control and that you need some way to control access and relieve your busy employees of their password fatigue. At this stage of your company, Active Directory will do nothing to propell your company forward. It will only limit your agility and make things more complicated for everyone.

Your company will be best served by deploying a cloud-based identity provider, such as OneLogin. The advantage of this approach is that it becomes very easy to onboard new employees and applications. You centralize user management and access control and have a much better view of your identity footprint. And it was just as easy to get in place as that Google Apps account your company started out with.



User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2014 | 10:26:21 AM
Marketing rather than technical argument
"Why am I predicting the death of Active Directory?"

Because you're running a company that's trying to compete with it and you are trying to look relevant?
snake oil antedote
snake oil antedote,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/15/2014 | 10:19:55 AM
Horrible AD Assessment
This is truly a sensationalistic piece at best. To headline AD is dead then to fall back and say its a predictive analysis, shows the true intent of a marketing veiled security article with bad analysis.  Any RBAC, MAC, DAC based model has overhead, in fact good security will require it. It's important to temper the cloud-fare with a balanced approach. As long as there are brick-mortar establishments, its not sound security to have a multi-tenant auth solution authenticate your every app. Even for apps interfacing with AD, you have ADFS as a recourse which the author excludes. An article that only critiques a technology w/o proposing viable solutions should be received w/ caution.
Lorna Garey
Lorna Garey,
User Rank: Ninja
4/15/2014 | 9:28:32 AM
What's the alternative
This is all well and good, but do you really thing there's a better choice right now? Everyone knows how to use AD. Maybe it takes time to integrate new services, but it's doable. Yes, "different user communities require different security policies, and creating a new Active Directory group for every use case is time consuming." But IT has to manage roles, not individuals. The other way leads to anarchy. 

What would you suggest for a company that doesn't have 30 employees, lives on Red Bull and is all cloud all the time?

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