Azure Active Directory: Cloud-Based Identity And Access Management Service

Cloud Enablement


Active Directory or Windows Active Directory has been an essential part of every small and large corporation. It has been used to manage devices, users, domains, and objects within a network. With the help of the Domain Controller (a server on the network), the admin uses AD to centrally manage access for users, PCs, and servers on the network. Windows Active Directory plays the role of a database used to organize a company’s users and computers.

It is further used for authentication and authorization of apps, file services, printers, and other resources on the network. With the help of Kerberos and NTLM, AD promotes authentication and uses LDAP to query and modify items in AD databases. Though Active Directory has been a significant IT component in a company, cloud-based scenarios require new solutions to ensure authentication and authorization.

Cloud computing, mobile devices, and remote access represent today’s modern digital workplace. Organizations have migrated their applications, data, and services to the cloud. The retooling has served them business continuity and availability, but it also prompts significant security risks, compliance, and IT burden.

Users are constantly coming and going, employees are taking on new roles, new applications are being added, new devices are being registered, and others are retired, and so on. These make the IT environment an incredibly dynamic place dealing with highly complex processes. These ultimately require admins to implement security features and maintain databases which are time and money-consuming.

Robust identity and access management in an enterprise environment are crucial to protect the most valuable enterprise assets, i.e., user credentials and sensitive data. Shifting to digital transformation also introduces new challenges to enterprises and security, such as administrative burden and poor end-user experience.

JCI – a leading HVAC and automation company, also faced similar issues when leveraging cloud solutions. JCI has many business verticals: industrial security, heating and cooling, fire prevention, maintenance, tools and machinery, and others. When they decided to improve business efficiency by supporting integrated infrastructure, they instantly felt security concerns and IT burden. However, retooling their business processes and workflows delivered better agility in collaboration between employees, vendors, and customers. Still, they faced identity challenges when they started doing business in new ways. JCI identified the silos as an opportunity and then turned it into a robust and scalable solution enterprise-wide with the help of Microsoft Azure Active Directory.

(Read the complete story that how JCI has embarked on a digital transformation journey and ensured secured access management)

What is Azure Active Directory?

Azure Active Directory, also known as Azure AD, is Microsoft’s cloud-based identity and access management service. Azure AD makes hybrid solutions possible by allowing organizations to manage and control identity and access on-premises and in the cloud. Azure AD extends on-premises Active Directory to the cloud and enables new scenarios and easy-to-use capabilities for employees, customers, vendors, and partners.

Windows Server AD, Microsoft Identity Manager, and Azure AD produce a modern identity management system that spans the cloud and on-premises infrastructure, providing federation, identity management, device registration, user provisioning, and access control for applications, and data protection.

Azure AD thus helps enterprises, and IT admins achieve goals such as centralized user management, top-notch security, and additional features such as conditional access, multi-factor authentication, privileged identity management, threat detection & mitigation, and regulatory compliance requests, and more. Azure AD promotes a multi-tenant cloud-based identity and access management solution and allows businesses to streamline processes and improve productivity and security.

Typical Azure Active Directory Profiles

It is majorly intended for IT admins and application developers who have exposure to the enterprise’s resources and data. Let’s check how Azure AD helps them.

1. IT Admins

IT admins can use Azure AD to control access to applications and their resources. They use the console to create users and groups and allocate them rights to use resources based on the least-privileged principle. It allows each user exactly the access they need to do their job, no more, no less.

They can monitor activities and allocation from the same console to ensure optimum security for the enterprise. IT administrators can use powerful tools in-built with Azure AD to minimize the complexity of the permissions structure, so it’s easier to say with certainty who has access to what. In day-to-day activities, the IT admin performs the following actions with Azure AD:

  • Identity protection
  • Group management
  • Self-service password reset
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • On-premise user synchronization
  • Protect users and organization

2. Application Developers

Application developers leverage Azure AD to provide identity management services to create web applications and services. If the users are already signed into Azure AD, developers can take advantage of single sign-on. This allows users not to retype their credentials whenever using the application, ensuring an excellent user experience in their applications.

Additionally, Azure AD will enable developers to create personalized experiences with additional services like Microsoft graph. Developers also make use of Azure AD to perform the several other functions, including:

  • Single sign-on (SSO)
  • Personalized experience
  • Integrate with other services

Advantage Of Using Azure Active Directory

1. Single sign-on for multiple applications

Azure AD makes it easier and faster to onboard new employees, terminate access for leavers, and implement access to new cloud services, so users are up and running more quickly. Single sign-on also encourages compliance with identity and security protocols.

2. Integration with an existing Windows Server Active Directory

Organizations can leverage an on-premises identity provision to manage access to cloud features. Single sign-on also applies to the on-premises Active Directory, creating a seamless working environment for users, whether working in the office or remotely.

3. Multi-factor authentication and conditional access

Azure AD creates improved application security with complete management control. The widespread MFA practice includes Two-factor authentication that is used to prove a user’s identity in a login process in the form of providing a password as the first factor and identification for physical access or computer system access through generating a security token as a second step.

For example, JCI has implemented multi-factor authentication to ensure an additional layer of security for JCI users to enable authenticated access to the JCI system.

4. Reduced risk

Azure AD provides automated responses to unusual user behavior, and ‘just in time’ administrative access to Microsoft services means organizations can feel confident that resources are safe.

5. Global availability

Running from 28 data centers worldwide, Azure AD is available wherever you are, with Microsoft handling availability and service.

6. Comprehensive reporting

Azure AD also enables businesses to monitor application usage for enhanced security and protection from advanced threats.

Architecture Patterns For Azure AD Identity Solutions

A number of architecture patterns are used in the deployment of Azure AD, depending on the form of the organization and the core scenarios that will be supported. The designs for Azure AD solution architecture address a large number of customer requirements with the following approaches:

  • Standard hybrid enterprise
  • Using azure ad as the enterprise directory
  • Mostly cloud environment

To Sum Up

Azure Active Directory has been around for a long time now and has been adopted and integrated by many fortune companies globally. It has simplified the day-to-day life of admins and sysops and provided them with added security for corporate networks, which often be the focal point of attacks and breaches.

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