5 Active Directory Alternatives

by Jessica Elliott

Should your organization consider Active Directory alternatives? Microsoft’s proprietary database service, Active Directory (AD), is a powerful tool for managing permissions and controlling access to network resources. Yet, there are drawbacks to Active Directory. It can be expensive to maintain and it can cause performance issues on larger networks.

Although AD has evolved with each Windows Server release, organizations often piece together third-party solutions to connect AD to non-Microsoft file servers, applications and networks. This piecemeal approach increases costs, adds steps to employee workflows and requires on-premise infrastructure.

An alternative to Active Directory can streamline processes and centralize management in the cloud. Moreover, different solutions support the needs of today’s companies, providing access to resources regardless of whether your team works in the office, remotely or in a hybrid environment. Discover five Active Directory alternatives that allow your business to leverage the cloud for identity management.

1. OpenLDAP

OpenLDAP is based on Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). It’s a free, open-source platform written in C programming language. OpenLDAP replaces Microsoft Active Directory, allowing administrators to configure and manage directories, passwords and more. You can use OpenLDAP with Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems and applications.

However, OpenLDAP requires manual configuration and management, meaning you’ll need skilled engineers. The barebones user interface (UI) can be challenging to navigate and only works with LDAP-compatible resources.

2. JumpCloud

JumpCloud is cloud-based Directory-as-a-Service® software that supports multifactor authentication (MFA) and single sign-on (SSO). It works well for organizations with remote and hybrid workforces because users can access IT resources from anywhere with an internet connection.

JumpCloud operates in modern environments, including workflows using the software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). In addition, JumpCloud is suitable for Linux, Windows and Mac users.

Although JumpCloud helps you manage identities and devices and provides a user-friendly UI, disadvantages exist. It lacks advanced reporting capabilities and doesn’t support domain name changes. Also, users must download an authenticator, and it has a slight learning curve.

3. Univention Corporate Server

Univention Corporate Server (UCS) is an open-source, free Active Directory alternative. You can migrate Microsoft Active Directory domains to UCS or integrate AD environments using the “Active Directory Connector” module. Univention Corporate Server operates in the cloud and local environments and supports MFA and SSO. In addition, UCS frequently updates its features and security tools.

Yet, these updates may change functionality over time. For example, UCS recently stopped supporting the Univention Virtual Machine Manager (UVMM). It also lacks extensive documentation in English and doesn’t provide support for Spanish speakers.

4. Samba

Samba is a highly secure server software that functions as a regular domain member or domain controller (DC). It’s an alternative to Active Directory and acts as a client on Unix and Windows platforms. Samba works with non-Unix hosts, such as AmigaOS, NetWare, and OpenVMS. Samba provides file and print services through the server message block (SMB) and common internet file system (CIFS) protocols.

Users can remotely configure Samba via a web browser, and the interface resembles a file transfer protocol (FTP) application. Plus, Samba offers extensive documentation, including the Samba Wiki. However, Samba isn’t a managed solution and offers less customer support than other tools.

5. Zentyal

Zentyal is an excellent Active Directory alternative for small and medium-sized companies running Linux. It works as a domain and directory server, allowing you to manage printers, filter emails and scan for viruses. Zentyal also supports many network services, including deployments of webmail, a virtual private network (VPN), a domain name system (DNS), and a dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP).

Zentyal provides yearly licenses for up to 300 users with limited technical support. The Enterprise version supports an unlimited number of users and tech tickets. Zentyal also offers perpetual licenses without tech support. However, it’s less scalable for larger organizations and lacks a web server installation and configuration tool.

Manage Access With Active Directory Alternatives

As your company transitions to cloud-based workflows, Active Directory options can keep your networks secure while reducing costs. Ready to find an alternative to Active Directory? The Migus Group can help you identify the best solutions, develop a strategy for using open-source software and implement your ideas. Contact us to learn how to select and deploy directories and identity and access management services.

Jessica Elliott is a business technology writer specializing in cloud-hosted and cybersecurity services. Her work appears in U.S. News, Business.com and Investopedia.