The Difference Between Windows Active Directory and Azure AD

Danny Murphy
| Time 3 min read| Updated On - May 14, 2020

Apart from the obvious difference in on-premise vs cloud location, there are many more nuanced differences between Windows Active Directory and Azure AD. Due to the changing nature of how organizations interact with data, Microsoft were pretty much forced to create a cloud-based directory, using completely different code bases and with completely different purposes. This means that you cannot simply assume that Azure AD is the same as Windows Active Directory. To understand the differences and decide which platform best suits your needs, we will have to learn about both.

Windows Active Directory (on-premise)

Essentially, Active Directory was created to give organizations the opportunity to get control over their on-premises devices and applications by organizing users and more. Its widespread adoption came in part as a result of the perceived data security risks associated with putting data in the cloud. It allows users to authorize and authenticate multiple resources, including file services, printers, applications and more. Included within is a function known as Group Policy, which enables you to centralize the management and configuration of OS, applications and user settings.

However, Windows AD is not without its limitations. It can be a terrible way to manage multi-platform environments. IT teams operating within Linux-heavy organizations have been known to struggle when it comes to controlling user accounts. The widespread adoption of cloud-based platforms is also troublesome for Windows AD as it struggles to connect with cloud-based servers and applications.

How Does Azure AD Differ from Windows Active Directory?

The limitations of Windows AD in cloud environments led Microsoft to develop what is now known as Azure AD. Azure AD providers users with a centralized directory for all of their cloud applications and servers, such as Office 365, SharePoint Online and Exchange Online.

The main point of difference between the two platforms is that Azure AD supports web-based services through the use of Representational State Transfer (REST) API interfaces. As stated earlier, it uses completely different protocols and code bases to achieve this. Once you register with one of Microsoft’s cloud applications (Office 365, for example), you will automatically become what is known as an Azure AD Tenant. What this means is that you can manage all the users, permissions, passwords and more from one place.

Whatever Platform You Use, Security is the Key

It’s likely that your organization stores data in both on-premises devices and cloud applications. It’s rarely one or the other. Therefore you may well be utilizing both Active Directory services (Windows and Azure). Whatever setup you have in your environment, the importance of securing it cannot be understated.

Active Directory acts as the heart of your IT environment, housing some of the most valuable assets that attackers and malicious insiders may look to exploit.

One way in which you can ensure both of Microsoft’s directories are secure is to deploy a change auditing and data security solution into your environment like Lepide Data Security Platform. It enables you to audit and monitor changes taking place to permissions, configurations and more of Windows Active Directory and Azure AD. It helps you to spot when potentially malicious changes are taking place. For more information about Lepide Data Security Platform, click here.

Danny Murphy

Danny Murphy

Danny brings over 10 years’ experience in the IT industry to our Leadership team. With award winning success in leading global Pre-Sales and Support teams, coupled with his knowledge and enthusiasm for IT Security solutions, he is here to ensure we deliver market leading products and support to our extensively growing customer base

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