What is Azure Active Directory?

Cloud technologies have significantly changed the way organisations operate on a day-to-day basis, with endless new ways of conducting business, interacting with customers and managing internal IT systems.

Microsoft Azure platform is one of the largest offerings in the cloud arena. This is largely down to the incorporation of the Active Directory into Azure Active Directory, which provides a vast array of features and functionality for the management of identity and security. 

What is Azure Active Directory?

Azure Active Directory is Microsoft’s multi-tenanted, cloud-based identity and access solution. It is the platform-as-a-service solution that allows users to sign into resources held within organisations’ infrastructure from external locations. It provides single sign-on to internal and external applications, as well as an ever-growing list of software as a service solutions.

Azure Active Directory’s strength lies in its deployment flexibility. An organisation can either utilise it as its single point of truth when it comes to identity management or extend its existing on-premises identity solution to Azure Active Directory.  

What Does it Do?

Azure Active Directory provides different benefits depending on what you’re using it for. For IT staff, it allows complete control over access to applications and resources utilising security controls like multi-factor authentication and conditional access.

They can also use  Azure Active Directory’s built-in governance controls (Docs.microsoft.comto apply automated lifecycle management and privileged access limitations. 

In addition to this, Azure Active Directory also provides admins with the ability to automate provisioning between Windows Server Active Directory and cloud apps like Microsoft 365. 

For developers, Azure AD can be used as a standards-based approach to enabling features like SSO and for personalising the app experiences using existing organisation data through APIs. 

How Does it Work?

Azure Active Directory is a cloud-based directory for organisation usernames, credentials and access rights. 

It can be operated entirely in the cloud, which allows users to sign in to their devices using the cloud-only directory service. 

Organisations can also extend and synchronise their on-premises Active Directory to Azure Active Directory to work in a hybrid model instead of cloud-only. 

No matter what deployment model an organisation uses, it has the ability to consume Azure Active Directory’s security perimeter to act as a front door for user and device sign in.

Utilising this deployment model will allow organisations to take advantage of the state-of-the-art security features built into the solution, such as conditional access, multi-factor authentication or even user threat level assessments. 

What Are the Benefits of Using it?

Azure Active Directory offers several different benefits – which is why it is utilised by 95% of Fortune 500 companies.

Azure Active Directory’s key benefits fall into the following categories:  

  • One place for all identity and access management  Azure Active Directory is at the heart of organisational IT. It provides a single pane of glass for identity and access management and allowing granular control of users and groups. 
  • Single identity for all applications – Microsoft has defined Azure Active Directory with 3rd party collaboration in mind. Most, if not all, major software vendors allow for Azure Active Directory integration to provide users with a seamless authentication experience. 
  • Security  Organisations want to protect their users and data from harm. Which is why Microsoft have provided a number of different tools within the identity suite, such as multi-factor authentication, threat protection, conditional access and privileged identity management.  
  • Ease of use  Providing access to resources should be easy and seamless for end users. That’s why Microsoft have extended their single sign-on capabilities into Azure Active Directory, which means less demand being placed on IT departments. 
  • Collaboration – Azure Active Directory also allows you to extend identity invitations to external users via guest access, while their user credentials are still managed by their own IT department.

Key Features

1. Application Management

This allows you to manage both cloud and on-premises apps, single sign-on, the MyApps portal and any SaaS apps. 

2. Authentication

You can get very granular with your authentication settings for increased security and control – whether it be providing self-service password reset, calibrating MFA requirements, or enabling smart lockout.

3. Business-to-business (B2B)

You can manage guest users and partners, providing them with whatever access you’re willing to allow. 

4. Business-to-customer (B2C)

You can offer custom sign-in and sign-up experiences, allowing customers to manage their  profiles within your applications.

5. Device Management

Control how your network is accessed by on-premises and external services, utilising Intune to keep data secure.

6. Hybrid Identity

Most organisations aren’t ready to go cloud-only yet, but using Azure AD Connect allows you to take advantage of Azure AD’s features – even if you’re running some on-premise applications and some in the cloud. 

7. Identity Governance

To ensure that your identity ecosystem remains healthy, Azure AD has some built-in governance features that allow you to manage identity and access lifecycles and set privileged access conditions.

These controls are designed to enable organisations to ensure that the correct users have the corresponding levels of access, and monitor what they’re doing with it. One of the key benefits of good governance is being able to audit and verify the effectiveness of the applied controls. 

8. Identity Protection

Azure AD Identity Protection utilises security information drawn from across Microsoft’s digital empire to detect and remedy identity-based risks, automating a large part of the process of identifying and addressing security concerns

These risks can then be further investigated through the Azure AD portal. 

9. Reports & Monitoring

Azure AD also features monitoring and reporting capabilities to help you gain insights into your environment. You can run diagnostics and view logs which can then also be applied to third-party SIEM tools to take a deeper dive into your data.

Adoption

It’s clear why so many large enterprises are choosing to turn to Microsoft Azure Active Directory when it delivers so many critical benefits across security, governance, access control and reporting.

As the solution is more widely adopted, it’s time to consider whether this could be the right fit for your business.

Camwood can help you explore this solution, with our low-cost, high impact accelerator programme. We’ll build upon your existing identity architecture, understanding what your current environment configuration is, define what your identity requirements are and provide an implementation of improvements to meet Microsoft and industry best practice.  

To learn more about how Camwood might be able to help, get in touch with the team

ABOUT THE AUTHOR - Daniel Williams
Daniel Williams is the Head of Technology at Camwood.
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