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Azure Active Directory OverviewUNIXBusinessApplication

Azure Active Directory is #1 ranked solution in top Single Sign-On (SSO) tools, top Identity and Access Management as a Service providers, and top Access Management tools. IT Central Station users give Azure Active Directory an average rating of 8 out of 10. Azure Active Directory is most commonly compared to Okta Workforce Identity:Azure Active Directory vs Okta Workforce Identity. Azure Active Directory is popular among the large enterprise segment, accounting for 72% of users researching this solution on IT Central Station. The top industry researching this solution are professionals from a computer software company, accounting for 32% of all views.
What is Azure Active Directory?

The Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) enterprise identity service provides single sign-on and multi-factor authentication to help protect your users from 99.9 percent of cybersecurity attacks. With Azure Active Directory, you get:

- Single sign-on enabling access to your apps from anywhere

- Conditional Access and multi-factor authentication to help protect and govern access

- A single identity platform to engage with internal and external users more securely

- Developer tools to easily integrate identity into your apps and services 

To learn more about our solution, ask questions, and share feedback, join our Microsoft Security, Compliance and Identity Community.

Azure Active Directory Buyer's Guide

Download the Azure Active Directory Buyer's Guide including reviews and more. Updated: November 2021

Azure Active Directory Customers

Azure Active Directory is trusted by companies of all sizes and industries including Walmart, Zscaler, Uniper, Amtrak, monday.com, and more.

Azure Active Directory Video

Pricing Advice

What users are saying about Azure Active Directory pricing:
  • "The basic tier of Azure Active Directory is free, so many users use the service for free. For a small company having the security and compliance that Azure offers is a great benefit. For small companies that are using the basic services, not having to pay for Azure Active Directory is the main asset because they can manage their users and have authentications tools and security."
  • "Microsoft has a free version of Azure AD. So, if you don't do a lot of advanced features, then you can use the free version, which is no cost at all because it is underpinning Office 365. Because Microsoft gives it to you as a SaaS, so there are no infrastructure costs whatsoever that you need to incur. If you use the free version, then it is free. If you use the advanced features (that we use), it is a license fee per user."
  • "We have various levels of their licensing, which includes users on different levels of their enterprise offering."
  • "If you have a different IDP today, I would take a close look at what your licensing looks like, then reevaluate the licensing that you have with Microsoft 365, and see if you're covered for some of this other stuff. Folks sometimes don't realize that, "Oh, I'm licensed for that service in Azure." This becomes one of those situations where you have the "aha" moment, "Oh, I didn't know we can do that. Alright, let's go down this road." Then, they start to have conversations with Microsoft to see what they can gain. I would recommend that they work closely with their TAM, just to make sure that they are getting the right level of service. They may just not be aware of what is available to them."
  • "Be sure: You know your userbase, e.g., how many users you have. You choose the right license and model that suit your business requirements."
  • "If you are dealing with one supplier with an out-of-the-box solution, which provides you end-to-end capabilities, then it is naturally cheaper and less of a headache to manage and operate."

Azure Active Directory Reviews

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David Grain
Founder, CEO at a computer software company with 11-50 employees
Real User
Top 20
With multi-factor authentication, we've seen a marked decrease in the number of threats we've seen come through

Pros and Cons

  • "Being able to use Azure AD means that you can use some of the Azure AD security features like Advanced Password Protection. As well as querying your normal password requirements like lengths and complexity, Azure AD has a feature in which you can put specific words. It can be words to do with your company, words to do with your company location, or words that a lot of your employees would otherwise use. You can disallow them. It's very good at making more obvious passwords, ones they're not allowed to use anymore. That's a good feature."
  • "The conditional access rules are a little limiting. There's greater scope for the variety of rules and conditions you could put in that rules around a more factual authentication for other users. If you have an Azure AD setup, you can then connect to other people's Azure AD, but you don't have a huge amount of control in terms of what you can do. Greater control over guest users and guest access would be better. It's pretty good as it is but that could be improved."

What is our primary use case?

We use it for all of our internal colleagues. Every single user is synced from our internal on-prem directory to Azure AD. Every single user has a presence in Azure AD and that account or identity is then used for at least 10 to 15 different applications. They directly query what groups they're a member of within Azure AD. We use Azure AD for at least 15 different applications.

How has it helped my organization?

It has improved our security posture. Not only with the password feature but there were also things like conditional access, applications within Azure that you can use for better access. You can put conditional access rules in front of those applications, which means that either the device that they're accessing it with has to have a certain up-to-date version of antivirus, it has to have all of its Windows updates, or they have to use multi-factor authentication. All of those nice-to-have features help our security posture a lot.

When users are in Active Directory they can use single sign-on, which means once they've signed on to their machine, they then don't have to sign on again when they access things like their email. They can just go to those URLs. Because those applications are attached to our Azure AD and to our Azure tenant, they can just go to the applications. Those applications know who they are because they have a single sign-on enabled. So that has helped them so they don't have to turn on passwords when they have to access all these different applications.

What is most valuable?

Being able to integrate with third-party solutions is the most valuable feature. These are solutions that produced software as a service and we haven't then had to bring that service to our own data or in our own directory. We can use our Azure identity to connect to their solution. Being able to connect to third-party applications in these identities is the best thing we've found.

Being able to use Azure AD means that you can use some of the Azure AD security features like Advanced Password Protection. As well as querying your normal password requirements like lengths and complexity, Azure AD has a feature in which you can put specific words. It can be words to do with your company, words to do with your company location, or words that a lot of your employees would otherwise use. You can disallow them. It's very good at making more obvious passwords, ones they're not allowed to use anymore. That's a good feature.

It has something called Dynamic Groups so that when a user joins the company and they get added to specific groups, Azure AD will add them dynamically to other groups that will give them access to some of the base applications.

We have certain sets of software that they have to be able to access. Instead of somebody who deals with new users having to add them into 20 different application groups, you need access to this, this, and this. The Dynamic Group update feature from Azure AD means that you can just put them in one group and say that they have a role, and it will automatically then add them to about six or seven other groups, giving them default access to other things as well, instead of having to do that. It means there's a lot less manual work when you get new employees.

What needs improvement?

The conditional access rules are a little limiting. There's greater scope for the variety of rules and conditions you could put in that rules around a more factual authentication for other users. If you have an Azure AD setup, you can then connect to other people's Azure AD, but you don't have a huge amount of control in terms of what you can do. Greater control over guest users and guest access would be better. It's pretty good as it is but that could be improved.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using Active Directory in my current role for around six months and in a previous role for three years. I recently moved companies about three months ago. Before that, I was working for another company. I was there for about five years and for at least half that time I was using Azure AD. 

We use the latest version. Azure AD doesn't really have version numbers, it's an evolving platform. In my current role, we're on the latest version of it. 

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Stability is pretty good. In the lifetime of me using it, there have been outages of certain features within Azure. We use multi-factor authentication. There have been times when that authentication feature has gone down and people couldn't access things that required that when they log on. That has happened maybe twice in the last 15 or so years. So it's pretty good. The uptime is pretty good, but it's not 100%.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The company I used to previously work for had 90,000 users that were synced. That was nothing. There was room for loads more. I think they have a limit of a million or something objects within Azure AD. That's something you can ask to have increased if that's a requirement. Scalability is pretty unlimited. There is no issue there at all.

In the company I used to work for there were 90,000 people connected to Azure AD. As soon as they logged on, they were using Azure AD. In the current company, it's nearer five or 6,000, but all of those accounts have access to Azure AD. 

There are various roles including administrators who will have the ability to change any settings like sync settings and any settings on an individual user. Then we'll have a second line, which will be able to change some of the settings within a user's group and be able to reset their password or add them to different applications. There is a first-line service desk level set of users who will only have the ability to reset passwords, but if there's anything more complicated than that they'll pass it on. There are about three different levels of access that we currently have. There is level three and two access for not too difficult issues and then level one for password resets.

In the last place I worked, there were eight of us who took care of Azure AD which was for 90,000 people in Azure. There were people actively looking at the syncing engine, which does the sync between the two domains and there were four of us who managed that. We were called identity technical experts. So of a company of 90,000, we needed four of us, but that was only so that when people went on holiday, other people could still do the work. 

It's extensively used in that everybody has an account in Azure AD. I'm guessing we don't use all the features that are available. We still have our own mailboxes on-premise rather than in Azure. I would think that would be something in the future that they would look to move some or all of our mailboxes into Azure. But we all have a presence in Azure, so we are using a lot of the features, but I believe there are still a lot more we could use. 

How are customer service and technical support?

Their support was excellent for the deployment. They were really good. It depends a little bit on who you get at the other end and the nature of your question, but with the Azure AD stuff, we got through to experts who were able to give us the right answer straight away. They were very good at that point.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We didn't use any other cloud solution. That was the first one that we used in the cloud. There's an on-premise Active Directory which is an additional Microsoft Active Directory. And the whole point of Azure AD is that it does connect to that. We haven't used any other directory service apart from those. The on-prem version of Active Directory I've used for 20 years. I haven't used any other active directory service. I'm sure there are others, but these are the main ones.

It's a level of responsibility, which is being passed over to Microsoft, that we no longer have to deal with. Certainly, the companies I've worked with were very happy for those bits of the technology being looked after by someone else. And so we were just in charge of the data that's in there rather than all the other, not-so-interesting things like backup and such.

It's moving the responsibility of the not very exciting bits over to Microsoft and their very good SLA. You can just concentrate on the bits that you're interested in.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was pretty straightforward. The only complex thing is syncing your on-premise active directory into Azure AD. It's not overly complicated and they also give you very good support. It's not very difficult to set up.

The deployment took a couple of months in the end because we just wanted to do it at a pace that we were comfortable with. We did some initial tests on users. We synced them into Azure AD, made sure they could access what we thought they could access, and make sure they could still do the same job that they could do before. Then we synced across another set of test users, then a bigger test, and then eventually synced everybody else. We did it over the course of a month. Technically you could do it in less than a week, but we just wanted to be cautious and make sure that it worked as we expected.

In terms of the implementation strategy, we have two different Azure Active Directory setups. We have one in our development area, so we did the development area one first. We sure we worked out how to do the syncing correctly, making sure we can see all the attributes that were on the on-prem AD that were then turning up in Azure AD. And then once we did a development one and that worked as we expected, we then did the production one. We did it in a step-by-step approach. We did a small set of test users, a larger set of test users, and then the entire company. It was a phased approach.

What about the implementation team?

We did the deployment ourselves. We spoke directly to Microsoft when we had a couple of queries because we had an enterprise agreement with them so we can raise a number of support tickets. There were a couple of questions we had about certain features, but the actual setup and deployment of it we did ourselves.

What was our ROI?

We've certainly seen returns on investment in terms of some of the security features around Azure. We've seen threats that have been detected much earlier. Previously, threat detection and that sort of thing was more of a response rather than doing anything preemptive. Something would happen and we'd then fix it. Whereas now in Azure AD, we've seen recommendations and those sort of things coming through from Microsoft saying, "You've got these accounts, these have all got weak passwords. We recommend getting these changed for end-users before they get hacked." We saw a marked decrease in the number of attacks and breaches against our credentials when we introduced multi-factor authentication for the entire company.

Had anybody, for whatever reason, passed on or shared their username or password, those could then be used to get into our services. Now with multi-factor authentication, we've seen a marked decrease in the number of threats we've seen come through. So there are some marked benefits of the security features.

SSPR, self-service password reset has also realized ROI for us. In the past, 60 to 70% of the calls coming into our help desk guys were for password resets. A large chunk, 50 to 60% of those are gone because people can just go to the URL we've shared with them and reset their password themselves without having to phone us, which means that our service desk guys can deal with real issues rather than just somebody to put on their password. So we saw a large decrease in password resets. We're still trying to get rid of even more of those, trying to make their job even easier, but we've seen a large reduction in the number of password request changes to our service desk.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

There are various levels of licenses. There are things called E3 and E5 licenses. E5 licenses come with more features but aren't required for some of the kinds of users who are just using email and Office. They only need an E3 license.

Pricing depends on the size of your organization and the deal you get with Microsoft. If you're a public sector, rather than a private sector, you get a good deal. Academic sectors get very good deals. The vast majority of our users use E5. But we're a Microsoft partner who resells their product so we get favorable rates because of that.

They have various pricing levels and the higher level you buy, the more features you get within Azure. The basic one is perfectly good for most customers. The more advanced and greater security features come with the higher pricing. And so customers who require that like military, banking, government or something are willing to pay that. The private sector generally pays more than the public sector. I know some colleagues who work in the academic sector get extremely good deals because Microsoft is very keen to have academic institutions on board. If you're working in academia or you work in the public sector, you will get a much better deal than you would in the private sector, but that's just business.

An E5 or E3 license is on a per-user basis. So the number of users you sync into Azure AD is the number of licenses you need to report that is going to be consumed by the end-users. It's a per-user per-year license.

The only other cost you get with Microsoft over and above the license cost of using Azure is the cost of using their operating system and software. So if you use Windows, then you can pay for your Windows licenses again through Azure. And if you use Office, meaning Excel, Word, and all that other stuff, you can pay an extra bit and they'll get a 365 license for the entire suite of offices.

If you're buying an E5 Office plus Windows, then you'll get a greater discount than if you were buying those separately. Microsoft will charge you for what you actually use. So if you've got a user who isn't using Office, or isn't using Windows for whatever reason, but they are consuming services within Azure, then you just give them an Azure license. Microsoft will split up and you buy a license based on what you actually use.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

There are a couple of other options. There's obviously Amazon AWS and there's now Google GCP. I'm not sure either of those particular cloud providers had a particularly enterprise-level directory service. At the point when we migrated our users to Azure, I believe Azure was the only one that was an enterprise standard. Whilst the other ones have options, they weren't really suitable for the size of enterprise that we were running. 

What other advice do I have?

My advice would be to talk to Microsoft or a partner of Microsoft who will deploy it for you. You can do it yourself, it is absolutely possible but seek advice. Because the more users you sync into Azure, the more you have to pay for their licenses and not everybody has to be using Azure. Sync only accounts you need to, but in all cases, I would seek advice from a Microsoft partner or Microsoft themselves. They'll be able to talk through what you actually need, what you require, and then the best way to implement that. Whether that's syncing your entire user base or whether that's syncing a small subset of them because they're the only ones that are going to consume the services required.

I have learned two main lessons from using Azure AD. First, the introduction of multi-factor authentication. It was such a marked difference in the number of security incidents we had. There was such a reduction. If you have Azure AD, switch on multi-factor authentication, not just for the admin accounts and the highly privileged accounts that can access all the bits, but switch it on for everybody. It is a pain initially, while people get themselves set up. But once it's done the number of incidents you have relating to people losing their credentials is markedly reduced. It's a massive win.

I would rate it a nine out of ten. There are some things they can improve on, but those improvements are pretty small beans compared to what they've done.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Hybrid Cloud
Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer:
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Luis Diego Quiros Calvo
Microsoft Azure Active Directory Support Engineer at Tek-Experts
Real User
Provides a secure environment to easily manage users and assign roles and permissions

Pros and Cons

  • "The most important things of Azure Active Directory are the security and the facility to manage all the services and users. It is very easy to manage users and assign roles, permissions, and access. At the same time, it is a very secure environment. Microsoft takes security very seriously. They take care of all the security and all the factors to prevent any kind of data or information compromise."
  • "For example, there were some authentication features that, for security purposes, had certain limitations. Those limitations still exist, but the portal now has options so that the customers can make custom features to manage their identity."

What is our primary use case?

My company provides different types of support for different products. I am a Microsoft Azure support engineer for Azure Active Directory.

We work with multifactor authentication, federation, synchronization of on-premise services to the cloud, migrations from on-premises to the cloud, and role-based access to company services. I also work with the identity services of Azure. I work with certain cases where customers have issues with Office 365. That's because the administration and the role-based access come from the Azure platform. 

We're in the middle of the transition to unify more services. There are many services in terms of networking with the machines and storage accounts.

Azure is a platform, so it doesn't have a version.

How has it helped my organization?

Microsoft 365 is a part of the service of Active Directory. Currently, all the people and institutions, such as schools and universities, working from home are getting the benefits of Microsoft 365 in Azure Active Directory. They are indirect users of Azure Active Directory. That's because all the services are with the Azure platform, and all these identities are managed from the cloud. This service is providing a huge contribution to the whole world at this time. For example, my nephew is not going to school currently, but he has to connect every day through Microsoft Teams. I know that it is Active Directory that's managing this authentication, but he doesn't know that.

Azure provides many services related to security, data protection, identity, key networking, and management of the storage accounts with encryption. The whole environment is very secure. Azure works with the security of the services. It is in the backend, and it is the same platform as Microsoft 365 or Office 365. So, if you have Office 365, you're using Azure. The platform source is the same for Azure and Office 365 or Microsoft 365. It is the same platform to manage the users. At a certain point, I guess everything will be together because even though there are too many services, all of them rely on the same platform.

There is a secure way of managing the security and access to your services. If you use Azure in your company, you can manage the type of authentication that you want to use for security. For example, you can manage your company from on-premises and also use the cloud in a hybrid environment. This way the services that Azure provides on the cloud are available for the users that exist on-premises, and this is actually where I'm working right now.

What is most valuable?

The most important things of Azure Active Directory are the security and the facility to manage all the services and users. It is very easy to manage users and assign roles, permissions, and access. At the same time, it is a very secure environment. Microsoft takes security very seriously. They take care of all the security and all the factors to prevent any kind of data or information compromise.

For data protection and access security, there are many good things that Azure and Azure Active Directory offer. You can choose in how many ways a user can log in to Azure, especially with multifactor authentication. You can choose how, when, and where someone can access a service that you may have on Azure Active Directory. 

For most of the small users, Azure Active Directory is free. So, they don't need to have a paid service for Azure Active Directory.

The platform is constantly changing. Every month, we have new services, and we also have services that are being deprecated to provide a better customer experience. For example, we have a tool that connects the users that exist on-premises to the cloud. The AD connects to this synchronization tool, which has been improved about five times in the last year. Every new version is more flexible with more options. The experience for the users has been improved to make it easier to manage the tool. In addition, the feedback that the customers provide to Microsoft is taken very seriously. For example, there were some authentication features that, for security purposes, had certain limitations. Those limitations still exist, but the portal now has options so that the customers can make custom features to manage their identity. There is a feature called manage identities where you can give flexible access to a person for services. For example, I can give you access as a reader to all my information but only for 12 hours or 24 hours. So, I can decide for how long I want to give you access. In the past, I had to give you a role that was permanent, and now, I can give you a role that will last only a few hours to allow you to do your job. In case you need more time or more features, you need to contact me and request them. 

Similarly, previously, there weren't too many options when you were synchronizing your users from on-premise to the cloud. Now, the system that allows you to make that synchronization has many options. You can select different schemas. You can select which users you want to be a part of the cloud. You can manage many rules. The customization in the whole Azure platform is awesome. All these features that are now a part of the platform were not there in the past. In these three years, I have seen so many changes. There are too many features, and I can see changes every month. There are too many settings that have been improved, especially related to authentication, permissions, and auto management ops. The cloud or the Azure platform is managed by roles that you can assign to different people, and each role has different permissions and access. So, everything is very customizable right now.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been working with Azure Active Directory for two years.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is one of the main features of Azure. You can adjust the services that you have., You can increase them anytime, and if you are not using them, you can downgrade the services to the minimum. The scalability and elasticity are the key features of Azure. They allow you to manage all the resources that you have according to your needs. For example, if you are a big company that is going to have a lot of customers during a period and needs to duplicate or triplicate resources, you can get all those created immediately. When you don't need that many virtual machines, storage accounts, or web services, you can downgrade to the minimum. The pricing will be according to the service that you are using. This is one of the most attractive things for the customers because if you were on-premises, what would you do with all those desktops once you don't need them. On the cloud, it is different. If you don't need it, just remove the service, and you won't be charged. It is very flexible.

How are customer service and support?

I provide support for Azure AD. This is my area of support currently, but sometimes customers have questions about different products or services. Because I'm working on Azure Active Directory, it doesn't mean that I only know about this specific product. We are constantly learning and getting trained. There are too many things to learn more about the Azure platform. I have worked for the billing and subscriptions team, which is a totally different type of support. If a customer has questions about billing, subscriptions, pricing, and discounts available on the platform, I can provide support. If a customer needs help with creating a virtual machine, I can tell the customer to work with another team. If I have the knowledge, I go the extra mile and help them. 

There have been situations where the customers had a ten-year-old server that was no longer supported, and all the services were very old. They were from the time when Azure started, and those services are called classic services. Most of those services are not compatible with today's technologies. In such cases, we had to let the customers know that they need to migrate the services, which can get tough for some of them because not all users have the resources to move services to new technology. In such cases, we work with other teams within our own company and try to find a solution. We always try to find a solution. We are not limited to one solution. We'll research for options and do some brainstorming with other teams, and most of the time, there are no cases that we can't close or are unsolved. Of course, customers might have been expecting a different solution, or they are not open to change, but at a certain point, they will need to accept that some of the resources that they have been using for more than 10 years are now obsolete. 

How was the initial setup?

It is very simple. All you need to do is to create a subscription. When you create an Azure subscription, you will be creating an Azure account. If you are using Office 365, you already have an Azure Active Directory account.

If you go to Azure.com and use your credentials, you would be able to log in. So, you have a basic panel with services related to Active Directory, but if you need to deploy virtual machines or other paid services, you will need to purchase a subscription. I have my own environment, but I only use it for testing and for making records of customer issues to see what's happening or why the problem is coming.

It is a very easy-to-manage platform. There are many guides. As soon as you enter the portal, you will see all products and services. Every time you click on any specific service, you will find information about the service, its pricing, etc. You will get the required information needed on the platform. I also have experience with IBM's platform, but it was not as easy to handle as the Azure platform. 

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

The basic tier of Azure Active Directory is free, so many users use the service for free. For a small company having the security and compliance that Azure offers is a great benefit. For small companies that are using the basic services, not having to pay for Azure Active Directory is the main asset because they can manage their users and have authentications tools and security. 

You just need to create an Azure account to get a free trial or subscription. If you sign up for a free subscription, you will have $200 that you can use for a month on any services that you want to try or test. If you're planning to use a paid subscription, you can't have the first month for free until you spend those $200. At that point, you can decide if you want to continue using the platform. You will be paying only for the services that you use. If you have a virtual machine, but you don't use the virtual machine, you won't be charged for that virtual machine. There are, however, some limitations. If you choose to have storage linked to the virtual machine, the storage is charged differently. 

Azure has different tiers. You can use the standard free version. You can have the B1 license that gives you more services. There is a B2 license that extends to even more objects, more users, and more services. So, depending on the license that you have for the product, the capacity changes. The basic tier allows you to manage a certain number of objects, which can be users, groups, permissions, etc. The number is limited because you are using the free version. If you want to manage a bigger company or more objects, you can just purchase a B1 license. If you need more, you can change to the B2 license that's a top tier. 

If the size of your company changes or you need to reduce the number of licenses or services, you can always cancel licenses. You can go back to the lower tier at any time depending on your needs. Most of the big companies use the higher tiers because they have many employees. In domains like education, there are many students, so they need to use more licenses, but most of the small companies or users who are using it for a project use the free version.

If you need to purchase a service, for each and every service that Azure offers, there are different pricing tiers. For example, you don't have to purchase a virtual machine that is too expensive. There are basic virtual machines that may cost you $40 for one month. If you need a very specific machine to do a deployment, you can use it just for the deployment and then delete the virtual machine. You have to pay it only for the hours for which you used that machine, which is a great advantage. If you work with data processing or you're a developer who needs to test new software or a game, you don't need to pay a huge amount of money for a specific virtual machine. You will only be paying for the hours that you need to do the testing. You don't have to pay $6,000 for high-end technology. I know that the idea is to keep people using the virtual machine, the storage account, or any service they have, but if their needs are just limited for a few hours of the month, that's what they will be paying for. So, it is very flexible.

What other advice do I have?

I would recommend Azure Active Directory to everybody. I would recommend others to use it to easily manage all the users. If you are dependent on an on-premises server, those servers may fail. Some people have too many old servers. If you move to the cloud, you don't have to worry about hardware maintenance.

Microsoft offers several ways to keep your data safe on the cloud. For example, you can choose replication. That means that your data will be at two different data centers. You can have your information at two different locations, such as in the east of the USA and in the west of the USA. If you are paying for higher services, all your information can also be in another country or region. So, all the information that a company may have in Azure will be protected if something catastrophic happens, which is something very important, especially for large companies. 

The improvements to the platform are constant, and the feedback that the customers provide to Microsoft is taken very seriously. They have a feedback page where the users can request new features or existing features that they are not happy about. Microsoft takes into account all these requests, and I see the response from the backend team or developers. I can see how they provide new products or good information about what they are doing right now to improve the services. Most of the requests are for new services and ideas, and most of those ideas are seriously reviewed. I can see that over the last few years, how many of these requests have become a part of the platform. So, you see improvements everywhere. There is also a change in Office 365, which will be soon known as Microsoft 365. They're changing the experience, and they are also changing the licenses to include more products. So, changes are constant. I am not saying this because I work for Microsoft. I have also worked for Amazon, and I see similar structures. They are making changes all the time.

Every day, I see the requests of customers and the response from Microsoft to those requests. When all these improvements are added to the platform, for those of us who are on support, the cases become easier to manage. It gets easier to provide solutions because we have more options to resolve the problems, and the customers also have more options. 

There are times when customers don't realize that the platform has changed and the services they used don't exist anymore. Usually, we provide support through Microsoft Teams and remote sessions. So, we go there, and we explain to the customer that they can do this because the platform allows them to select this and then do customization. So, everything is flexible. The customers sometimes are very surprised because they don't know that the platform has changed so fast. The experience of providing support becomes very nice when a customer is amazed by all the new features. They had been working in the old way, and they didn't know that they now have many options on the platform. In such cases, it is a very satisfactory experience for the customer and also for us. In some cases, it takes about 10 minutes, and the problem is solved. The customer becomes very satisfied with the solution.

I would rate it a 10 out of 10. I can't tell how happy people are when they call and are looking for such a service, and they realize that it already exists. They just didn't know about it. This rating is not based on the experience that I have in working with Microsoft; it is based on the experience of the customers I work with.

Disclosure: My company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner
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Learn what your peers think about Azure Active Directory. Get advice and tips from experienced pros sharing their opinions. Updated: November 2021.
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Martijn Verbrugge
Manager Infrastructure & Architecture at BDO Global
Real User
Top 20
Users don't have to remember multiple accounts and passwords since it is all single sign-on

Pros and Cons

  • "It has been very instrumental towards a lot of services we run, especially on the single sign-on side. For example, we have 160 countries that all run their own IT but we still are able to provide users with a single sign-on experience towards global applications. So, they have a certain set of accounts that they get from their local IT department, then they use exactly the same account and credentials to sign into global services. For the user, it has been quite instrumental in that space. It is about efficiency, but also about users not having to remember multiple accounts and passwords since it is all single sign-on. Therefore, the single sign-on experience for us has been the most instrumental for the end user experience."
  • "We have a custom solution now running to tie all those Azure ADs together. We use the B2B functionality for that. Improvements are already on the roadmap for Azure AD in that area. I think they will make it easier to work together between two different tenants in Azure AD, because normally one tenant is a security boundary. For example, company one has a tenant and company two has a tenant, and then you can do B2B collaboration between those, but it is still quite limited. For our use case, it is enough currently. However, if we want to extend the collaboration even further, then we need an easier way to collaborate between two tenants, but I think that is already on the roadmap of Azure AD anyway."

What is our primary use case?

BDO is a network of firms and a firm is what we call a country. So, we are present in about 160 countries. I am involved in BDO Global, which is not really a firm in the sense that we don't deal directly with clients, but BDO Global hosts IT services for all those 160 countries. A couple of those solutions are a worldwide audit solution that our firms use for financial audits for customers. We have a globally running portal solution, which firms are using to collaborate with our customers directly. All these services are basically based on Azure AD for authentication and authorization. This has been a lifesaver for us, because BDO firms are legally independent, so, we don't have a single identity store worldwide, like other big companies potentially do. We created an IAM solution based on Azure AD that ties all 160 dispersed identity stores back into one. We use that to give access to our services that we run globally.

Azure AD doesn't really give you a version. You just need to take the version as-is because it is a service that Microsoft delivers as a SaaS service. So, we don't have a lot of influence over the version that we use.

How has it helped my organization?

Besides tying together all authentications for our 160 countries, it has also been instrumental in getting the collaboration going between our firm countries since normally they are quite isolated. Also, their IT firms are quite isolated. So, Azure AD has made sure that we can collaborate with each other in multiple different systems: the global portal, the Audit application, and Office 365. This allows us to collaborate closer together, even though we are still separated as different countries.

Because it is an identity store, it handles all our authentication. We also use it with a combination of conditional access, which is a way to limit people's authentication or authorization based on where they are, the compliance of their device, and on a whole bunch of other variables that we can set. So, it definitely has been influential as well on the security side. Because it is a SaaS, you have central management over that. You can see all the logins and get reports on who signs in from where. 

There is a lot of artificial intelligence in Azure AD that can monitor behavior of users. If users behave in a strange way, then the authentication can be blocked. For example, if you have a user logging in from China, but it looks like the same user is logging in from America just a few seconds apart. That is a seemingly risky behavior that Azure AD flags for you, then you can block that behavior or have the user provide you with a second factor of authentication. So, there are a lot of security features that come with Azure AD too.

What is most valuable?

In our scenario, we use a lot of the business-to-business (B2B) features in Azure AD, which allows us to tie multiple Azure AD instances together. That is what we heavily use because every firm or country has their own Azure AD instance. We tie those together by using the B2B functionality in Azure AD. So, that is the most valuable part for us right now.

It has been very instrumental towards a lot of services we run, especially on the single sign-on side. For example, we have 160 countries that all run their own IT but we still are able to provide users with a single sign-on experience towards global applications. So, they have a certain set of accounts that they get from their local IT department, then they use exactly the same account and credentials to sign into global services. For the user, it has been quite instrumental in that space. It is about efficiency, but also about users not having to remember multiple accounts and passwords since it is all single sign-on. Therefore, the single sign-on experience for us has been the most instrumental for the end user experience.

We are using a whole bunch of features:

  • We are using privileged identity management, which is also an Azure AD feature. This allows us to give just-in-time, just enough access to privileged accounts. For example, normally you have a named account and you get a few roles based on that named account. If that is a very privileged role, that role always sits on your account all the time. When your account is compromised and the role is on the account, the people that compromise your account have that role. With privileged identity management, I can assign a role to a certain account for a specific amount of time and also for a specific amount of privileges, e.g., I can give somebody global administrator access, then revoke that after an hour automatically. So, when his/her account gets compromised, that role is not present anymore. 
  • We use conditional access. 
  • We use access reviews, which is basically a mechanism to access reviews on Azure AD groups automatically. So, the group owner gets a notification that they need to review their group member access, and they use that to do reviews. That is all audited and locked. For our ISO process, this is a very convenient mechanism to audit your group access.

What needs improvement?

We have a custom solution now running to tie all those Azure ADs together. We use the B2B functionality for that. Improvements are already on the roadmap for Azure AD in that area. I think they will make it easier to work together between two different tenants in Azure AD, because normally one tenant is a security boundary. For example, company one has a tenant and company two has a tenant, and then you can do B2B collaboration between those, but it is still quite limited. For our use case, it is enough currently. However, if we want to extend the collaboration even further, then we need an easier way to collaborate between two tenants, but I think that is already on the roadmap of Azure AD anyway.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using it for about six years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability has been very good because it is an underpinning service for many things that Microsoft does:

  • The underpinning identity store for Office 365.
  • The underpinning identities over Azure services. 

So, the stability has been very good. We haven't had major issues with Azure AD so far.

On the global side, we have around two to three FTEs aligned to this. On the firm side, in the countries, FTE's are aligned to managing identity as well. These FTE numbers differ per firm. In our case, there are about two to three FTEs who are aligned to this. That is normally probably not what you would need, but since we run some custom code around this to be able to do the B2B process, we need about two to three FTEs.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability is not a problem. We don't have to control that because Microsoft does it as a SaaS. However, we have never seen any real performance issues on the authentication stuff. I think they handle that under the hood. Since it is such an important service for them, they keep the scalability quite well. We don't have any scaling concerns. We also can control the scale. It is basically taken care of because it is a SaaS.

It is fully deployed to about 80,000 people worldwide.

How are customer service and technical support?

We have Microsoft Premier Support, which has been quite good. It is quick. We are mostly into the engineering group quite quickly, and that has been good. I think they also have non-paid support, which has somewhat lower response time SLAs, but we have Premier Support.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

Before, we only used local Active Directories because we were not in the cloud. Currently, in BDO Global, we are 100 percent cloud. So, we use Azure AD only.

We haven't run any other solutions than Azure AD.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is a relatively straightforward process because Microsoft gives you a lot of guidance on how to do it. They also have a tie-in with local Active Directory. So, if you are running a local Active Directory, you can easily integrate it with Azure AD. It is also one of the more powerful features of the solution because it is a SaaS solution, but you can still tie it in with your local identity store. That makes it quite powerful because many companies, before they go to the cloud, have a local identity store, e.g., Active Directory. Microsoft has a very easy process and some tooling to make it integrate with Azure AD, so your local identities, you can still be leading, but you can sync all those identities up to Azure AD quite easily and keep the identity storage up to date.

We are exclusively using Azure AD in BDO Global. In other BDO countries, most countries use local Active Directory in combination with Azure AD.

If you look at it from a BDO country perspective, you have everything up and running in about a week, if not quicker. In our global setup, that took a little bit longer, because we had to create a solution to synchronize multiple Azure ADs towards the global one. We did that via B2B, so our setup took a little bit longer as it also involved some custom development. If you only deploy Azure AD from a single company perspective, then it should be a relatively quick process.

Deployment is not that hard because it is a SaaS solution, so you don't have to deploy any infrastructure. All that is taken care of by the solution itself. It is a matter of configuring first-time use, then setting up a sync between your own identity store and Azure AD, which is quite an easy process. If you read through the documentation, then you can have that sync running in about a day.

What about the implementation team?

We mostly did the implementation and the custom coding ourselves in combination with people from Microsoft.

What was our ROI?

The ROI has been quite good because we looked at competitors as well, Ping and Okta, but their license fees were quite high. Also, Azure AD can meet all our use cases. In the beginning, we only used the free version, so that was quite cheap to run. We had some custom code that we needed to develop, but that was due to our specific use case. Overall, the return on investment has been very positive. The solution is not very expensive to run. It is quite stable. For us, it brings a whole lot of capabilities to provide people with a single sign-on experience across the world.

Compared to other big vendors over the past six years, I think we are close to saving $5 million on FTEs and licensing, which is substantial.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

MS has a free version of Azure AD as well. So, if you don't do a lot of advanced stuff, then you can use the free version, which is no cost at all because it is underpinning Office 365. 

Some of the services that I mentioned, like conditional access, privileged identity management, and access reviews, come with a certain premium license per user. We negotiated those license fees in what we call a GEA. This is a global Microsoft contract that we have. So, the pricing seems to be quite fair. If I compare it to its competitors, Azure AD is a lot cheaper.

Because Microsoft gives it to you as a SaaS, so there are no infrastructure costs whatsoever that you need to incur. If you use the free version, then it is free. If you use the advanced features (that we use), it is a license fee per user. 

Premier Support is an added cost, but they do it based on the amount of services that you consume. We don't have it specifically for Azure AD because we run a lot of Microsoft technologies. We have an overall Premier Support contract, which is an additional cost. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We looked at many different vendors for identity because our identity store is quite complicated within BDO, because you don't have that single identity store across all the countries like you see in many other global companies. So, we had a strategy. We looked at other products that could potentially do the same. However, the features that Azure AD gave us the option to do this as we wanted to do it. The other tools that we looked at, Okta and PingFederate, were not able to do the same thing for us back in the day. This is especially because we have many different identity stores within the BDO countries that have to be under the control of those countries. BDO Global cannot and is not allowed to control those identities. We need to allow the countries to control those identities themselves, but we still need a way to tie those altogether on the global side. Azure AD was the only solution that could do that for us.

From a BDO Global perspective, we don't. The firms and countries own their identities and the management around them, and they also need full control on those identities. We as BDO Global are not even allowed to control those, but we do need to provide them with single sign-on experiences. So, Azure AD is the service that allow us to do that. 

Our primary use case was about that control, which is a very specific use case because countries need to control their own identity stores and we are not allowed to control that from a global perspective. Specifically, the control requirement and still being able to have that single sign-on experience led us to Azure AD. The other big vendors that we looked at couldn't do that.

What other advice do I have?

This solution is a prerequisite with some of the bigger Microsoft services, so if you want to use Office 365, Dynamics, etc., then you need Azure AD. However, it is also quite good to use for other services as well because they are currently supporting tens of thousands of other applications that you can sign into with an Azure account. So, it is not only for Microsoft Office, and I think that is probably a misconception in many people's heads. You can use it for many other cloud services as well as a single sign-on solution. My biggest point would be that it can be used for Microsoft services, but people tend to forget that you can also use it for many other services. In that sense, it is just an identity store that you can use across many services, not only Microsoft.

It continues to be one of our primary fundamental services around authentication, so we will keep using it in the future. We are planning to reduce the amount of custom code that we need to tie all these things together. Microsoft has a few things on the roadmap coming up there. We hope that we can decrease the amount of custom code that we need to run around this. The custom code is mostly about synchronizing identities from 160 countries to us. Microsoft will bring some stuff out-of-the-box there so we can hopefully decrease the custom code. It is a fundamental solution for us for identity and single sign-on, so we definitely plan to keep using it.

The biggest thing we learned is that the security boundaries are shifting from what used to be networks, firewalls, and data centers that you owned yourself. The security boundary is more shifting to identity in these cases because people are using cloud services. They use a single identity, and in this case, Azure identity to sign into those cloud services. You are not always controlling where people are signing in from anymore because those services live in the cloud. Where you used to have servers running in your data center, you had far more control on the network, firewalls, and all that stuff to keep those services secure. You now have to rely much more on the identity because the services are running in the cloud. You don't always have control over the network, so people can sign in from every device.

The security boundary is really shifting towards identity. Azure AD gives you a lot of options to secure your identity in a proper way. We use multifactor authentication, the conditional access piece, and privileged identity management, which are all services that Azure AD provides and quite hard to implement on a traditional Active Directory. 

I would rate this solution as 10 out of 10. It is instrumental to everything that we do.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Public Cloud
Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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Tom Aafloen
IT Security Consultant at Onevinn AB
Consultant
Top 5
The passwordless feature means users don't need a password anymore and makes it easier for them to be more secure

Pros and Cons

  • "Using [Azure AD's] passwordless technology, you're not even using a password anymore. You're basically just creating a logon request without actually sending or typing or storing the password. This is awesome for any user, regardless of whether you're a factory worker or a CFO. It's secure and super-simple."
  • "The Azure AD Application Proxy, which helps you publish applications in a secure way, has room for improvement. We are moving from another solution into the Application Proxy and it's quite detailed. Depending on the role you're signing in as, you can end up at different websites, which wasn't an issue with our old solution."

What is our primary use case?

I use it for managing identities, access, and security in a centralized way. I help other people use this product.

How has it helped my organization?

Using Azure AD has improved our security posture overall, more than anything I've ever worked with.

It enables end-users to be more secure without it actually affecting their work. Usually, security solutions makes it harder for them, so many start using other solutions instead, solutions that are not managed or monitored by the organization. But when we use Azure AD's Conditional Access, for example, as long as they behave, users don't even notice it.

The passwordless feature means they don't even need to have a password anymore. It's easier for users to be more secure. You can invite anyone to collaborate in a secure way. 

What is most valuable?

Passwordless sign-in, which is one of the new features where you no longer need to have a password, is one of the great features. Passwords have always been hard for end-users, but not so hard to bypass for bad guys. It often doesn't matter how complex or long your password is. If a bad guy can trick you into giving it to him or can sniff your keyboard or your network, or access it through malware, your password doesn't matter anyway. So all the complexity, length of the password, and having to regularly change it is hard for users, but it doesn't stop hackers. And that's what makes passwordless so valuable.

Multi-factor authentication is good as it allows you to answer a notification or even an SMS or a phone call, but that has become more unsecure now because the bad guys are learning new way to bypass these methods. But using passwordless technology, you're not even using a password anymore. You're basically just signing a logon request without actually sending, typing or storing the password. This is awesome for any user, regardless of whether you're a factory worker or a CFO. It's secure and super-simple.

It also stops phishing, which is amazing. If someone tricks a user into going into the "Macrosoft" store or some other site that looks like the real site, they can trick the user into signing in there and then they can steal the password. But if the user is using passwordless, the passwordless solution would say, "Sorry, I don't have a relationship here. I can't sign in." In that way, it can stopping phishing, which is one of the most common attack vectors right now.

Another feature that has improved our security posture is Conditional Access where we can not only say "yes" or "no" to a sign-in, but we can also have conditions. We can say, "Sure, you can sign in, but you need to be part of the right group. You need to come from a managed client. You can't come in with a risky sign-in. You need to come in from a certain platform or a certain network." You can have a really complex set of rules and if those rules are not fulfilled you will not be able to sign in, or we can require MFA or even control the session. That is also a really good security feature.

The B2B feature is another good one where, if I want to give someone access to my my apps or data, instead of creating an account and a password and giving that info to the user, I can invite that user so he or she can use their own existing account. That way, I don't need to manage password resets and the like. The B2B feature enables collaborating with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

What needs improvement?

The Azure AD Application Proxy, which helps you publish applications in a secure way, is really good, but has room for improvement. We are moving from another solution into the Application Proxy and the other one has features that the App Proxy doesn't have. An example is where the the role you're signing in as will send you to different URLs, a feature that App Proxy doesn't have (yet).

With Azure AD, if you look in detail on any of the features, you will see 20 good things but it can be missing one thing. All over the place there are small features that could be improved, but these improvement is coming out all the time. It's not like, "Oh, it's been a year since new features came out." Features are coming out all the time and I've even contacted Microsoft and requested some changes and they've been implemented as well.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using Azure Active Directory for close to eight years now.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability or availability is incredible. It's super-good. However, just the other week, there was an outage for a few hours, so it's not 100 percent. But in Microsoft's defense, that hasn't happened for a long time.

What I also usually point out to people is that if you host your own solution and things break in the middle of the night, who's going to look at it? With this solution, you know that in the first millisecond that something breaks, 10 people or 100 people are looking at it. You get constant feedback about what's going on and you usually get a full report afterwards about what actually happened and how they will prevent them in the future. They are really good at managing these outages.

I don't know what the uptime is, but it's still 99.999 or something like that. It's super-trustworthy, but it's not 100 percent. What is? Still, it's likely much better than a private on-premises solution could ever be.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

In terms of scalability there are no limits. I have customers with 10 people and others with up to 300,000, and everything in between. There is no difference. I haven't had to think about memory or disk space or CPU in a long time because everything just works. It's super-scalable.

We have 100 customers and all of them use Azure AD. They are spread all over the world. In Sweden, where I'm from, we have government municipalities, we have private corporations, hospitals, manufacturing. Everybody needs this. It doesn't matter which market or which area you work in. I don't see a target audience for this. It's everyone.

How are customer service and technical support?

Their tech support is pretty good, depending on who you end up talking to. If you open a support request, you can be asked quite basic questions at first: "Have you tried turning it on and off again?" Sometimes we need to go through five people to get the correct people, the people who know the problem area really well. We usually dig really deep into the area and learn al lot first. We need someone who is expert in this product and who knows exactly how that area of the product works. Sometimes it takes a while to get to the correct person, but once you get there, they're usually super-knowledgeable, super-friendly and quick to reply. It can be tricky to find the right person. But I suppose that is the same in any company. 

Over the years, we have built up a contact network so we can usually contact the right people right away, as we are a Microsoft partner. But because this review is for everyone, I would suggest that you keep asking until you'll end up at the right people.

Overall, Microsoft is really attentive. Previously, you could say, "Can you show me the roadmap for the next three years?" and they would say "Sure." They don't really do that anymore because they say, "It now depends on what you want." We can help influence Microsoft how to prioritize. They have daily and weekly meetings where they discuss "What do people want now? How should we prioritize?" It's a totally new Microsoft compared with a few years ago. If I see something missing, they usually come up with it pretty quickly.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

I see people moving from other solutions into Azure AD because they're not satisfied with the other solutions. 

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is a straightforward process, for such a complex technology. Although there are a lot of moving parts involved in actually setting it up, it is quite easy.

I've set this up for many and, in general, it takes less than a day to get things up and running. Then, of course, there's tons of optional configuration to improve and secure things, but just getting it up and running takes less than a day.

The implementation strategy used to be helping them get to the cloud, by doing things like making sure that they clean up the accounts in the on-premises solution and setting up the synchronization rules. But nowadays, most of my customers are people who have Azure AD in place already. So now I'm trying to enable and configure and improve security configuration. For example, you don't have to set up the passwordless feature and you don't have to do multi-factor authentication. They are optional. So my task now is more one of improving their configuration and turning on security features. A lot of it is secure by default, but some features require you to configure and set them up.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

With the licensing there are so many features involved, and different features for different licensing levels. Those levels include the free version, as well as Premium P1, Premium P2. My approach with my clients is usually, "What kind of licenses do you have? Okay, let's improve this, because you have it already. You're paying for it already. Why not use it?" 

The next step is, "These features are included in the licensing you don't have. Do you think it's worth it?" I talk to them, I explain them, and I demonstrate them. They will usually say, "Yeah, we need that one."

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I don't know other solutions really deeply. I know of them, but I'm a specialist who is focused on this one. But I realize, when I talked to other specialists in other areas, that they are solving the same problem, so they usually have similar solutions.

What Microsoft is winning on is that people used to say, "Buy the best product, the best in class or best in breed for each area." But that has changed now. "Buy the best ecosystem" is the better approach. If I have Azure AD as my identity and access solution, and if I also use Microsoft Defender for Endpoint and the Defender for Office 365, and other Microsoft solutions, I can then go to one portal, one place, and see how my apps are doing, how my users are doing, how my devices are doing, and how my data is doing. You get this super-integrated ecosystem where everything talks to each other. That is the strength.

In my opinion Azure AD is a fantasic standalone product, but you have so much more benefit from using it together with other Microsoft solutions.

The user usually doesn't care if we use Microsoft or any other vendor's to protect his identity or his computer or his data. They just want to do their jobs. But as admin, I see the advantage of using the same provider. I can actually create a query saying, "Show me all users who logged in to Azure AD from a device with this operating system, accessing this application, and who have a risk on their device, where a document is classified as sensitive." I can do all of that in one query for identity application devices and the data. That's the strength, having that insight into everything. And when it comes to security and Azure AD, Microsoft has 3,000 full-time security researchers, and they spend over a billion dollars each year on security research alone.

What's amazing is that the CIA, the FBI, and these big companies or organizations are using Azure AD, and they have really high requirements for audits and protection. As a "regular" organization, you can get the same level of security without have to ask for it. You get to ride on the coattails of that amazing security without spending $1 billion yourself.

If another Microsoft customer is hit by something bad, Microsoft is going to stop it for the rest of its customers. If you're the first to get hit by new bad malware, that may be tough, but all of the other customers are instantly protected because different customers share threat intelligence, in a way. You get the benefit of all the security discoveries that Microsoft makes, instantly.

What other advice do I have?

Talk to someone who knows a lot about it. Sure, you can look at everything on the docs.microsoft.com page, but it can be hard to understand what each feature is and the value it give you. Talk to someone who knows both licensing and technology, to understand what's there and what you should pay for and what you should not pay for.

There are also a lot of good videos out there, like sessions from Microsoft Ignite. You also have the Microsoft Mechanics video series on YouTube with a lot of videos. So if you like to learn through video, there's a lot available for you. You can also go to docs of Microsoft.com and search for Azure AD. You will get like a starting page where you can learn the identity and access basics or also how you integrate apps. There is a link collection with everything and anything you would like to know. Or you can call me.

We are Security advisors. We help people, we train people, we implement it for them, we document it, we teach them, and we talk at seminars. We sell our knowledge. We don't sell solutions. There are 25 people in our company and five to 10 people are working with Azure AD. It's not that we need five for our daily operations, it's just that's how many of us are working with it. In general, a company might need one to five people working on it. If I need to set up a feature for five people or 500,000 people I do the same steps. The thing that is different in bigger companies, is that you need to communicate, you need to educate, you need to write Knowledge Base articles, you need to inform the service desk. All of those things are just to prepare users. But that has nothing to do with Azure AD. The technology is super-simple. It's more that the process around it is different in different companies.

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner.
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Jonathan Stewart
Director, Infrastructure at a retailer with 10,001+ employees
Real User
Top 20
Easy to use, flexible security options, and it scales well

Pros and Cons

  • "This product is easy to use."
  • "When you start to deal with legacy applications, provisioning is not as intuitive."

What is our primary use case?

Azure AD is where our primary user data is stored. We get a feed-in from our HCM solution and it creates our users, and then that's where we store all of their authorizations, group memberships, and other relevant details.

We access it through the Azure Portal.

How has it helped my organization?

This product has helped improve our security posture because it allows a tie-in into the Microsoft Azure Sentinel product very easily and seamlessly. From a security standpoint, you have the option of conditional access, the option of identity protection, and those types of things. We have incorporated those right into our offering.

Overall, security-wise, this solution has allowed us to be more flexible. When you had just Active Directory and it was an on-premise solution, you had to do a lot of manipulation to get SaaS products working. You had to do a lot of customizing and those types of things. With Azure Active Directory, it's more configuration than it is customization. This allows us to be a lot more flexible, which brings about efficiency, better security, and other benefits.

Azure Active Directory has also improved our end-user experience.

Before, most companies including ours would use a customized username that would have random characters for a user. This is different from Azure Active Directory, which uses what looks like the email address as your username. In fact, it can be set up as a genuine email address. Where it differs is on the back end, where it has a unique ID, but on the front end, it's more readable and it's better understandable.

From my user experience, the sign-on is seamless as you go through and use any of Microsoft products. Everything ties right into it, and then as you set up your different applications that are tied into Azure Active Directory, and get the single sign-on, everything becomes a whole lot easier to connect into. From a user experience, it's improved it drastically.

For provisioning users, you start by registering an application as either an enterprise application or a custom application. You can set up from within Azure Active Directory how it is that users connect to it. Microsoft has done a great job with providing a lot of application templates that help to connect and add it into the cloud. Almost every application that you could think of is there. From that point, you can set up provisioning.

To assist with provisioning, they have great documentation. From an admin perspective, much of the work is done for you. After the applications are connected to Azure Active Directory, you assign users and groups, provisioning users via API calls, which is how it's done on the back end, and it ties in using service accounts. Then, you can create a group that has the appropriate permissions such as write permission, full admin rights, or contributor rights, and then provision users into those groups. The system automatically handles it for you at that point.

What is most valuable?

This product is easy to use.

The features that we use day in and day out are single sign-on, group capabilities, and provisioning capabilities. All of these are very useful.

This product has features such as Conditional Access that improve our security posture. Conditional access gives access only through a timeframe. We have certain policies that we set up, which could be a certain amount of time or it could be a certain type of access. These are examples of types of conditional access.

Another example of a security feature that helps us is Identity Protection, which will perform the automatic detection and remediation of risks.

We also have the ability to go in and investigate any risks using data within the portal, and it's all automated. It's nice in that sense.

These features have significantly improved our security posture and time for remediation. It would be difficult to estimate a time improvement in terms of a percentage, but being that it's automated and there is a portal that displays the risks in real-time, it's a very significant change. Previously, we had to go through and look at logs and those types of things, which was time-consuming compared to using the portal.

We also use multi-factor authentication, which is very useful because that gives another layer of security protection for our users. You have to have some sort of device that you can use to provide that second factor, and not just your username and password.

What needs improvement?

The provisioning capability is a two-edged sword because it is very useful, but it also needs some improvement. When you start to deal with legacy applications, provisioning is not as intuitive. Legacy applications, a lot of times, were based on an on-premise Active Directory and you had to use it to provision users or grant access to the product. I don't know of a way to make Azure Active Directory act as an on-premises version to connect to those legacy applications.

The speed and responsiveness of the technical support are things that could use some improvement.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using Azure Active Directory since October of 2018, nearly three years ago.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is not too bad. It's usually other issues that go on within Microsoft Azure. Whenever Microsoft Azure is down, the Azure Active Directory service sometimes can be down intermittently, depending on where things are at.

It is important to remember that it's not always the Azure Active Directory component that is down. Rather, a lot of the time, there is an app that is tied into Azure Active Directory causing the problem. I think we've had one incident in the last year that was tied directly to Azure Active Directory, where it was down from a SaaS perspective.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

This solution scales very well. We were able to tie into our previous company and then bring on all of those users in a very quick amount of time. This included making sure that they could all log in and get access. We haven't really had any issues from that standpoint.

In terms of the users, you can add B2B and you can add B2C, as well. Scalability-wise, it's been good for us. We have between 15,000 and 20,000 users, which is fully scaled at the moment.

We have plans to do further B2B, as we work with our retail partners. We have a lot of retail partners, which is how our business model is structured, and that's something that we're planning on adding and moving forward with.

As far as scaling, going up, or going down, our numbers of Azure Active Directory users are pretty much what they're going to be for the next couple of years. That said, our B2B is definitely going to increase over the same period.

How are customer service and technical support?

We use Covenant Technology Partners as the first level of technical support. Most of our support tickets actually get escalated from them up to the Microsoft product team.

The Microsoft product team's service is hit or miss, which is something that Microsoft can improve on. They are sometimes slower to react than we would like, but for the most part, they do take our tickets and work on them as they can, to try to figure out ways of remediation.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We did not have any solution prior to this; it was simply an on-premises Active Directory. We were spinning up something brand new to move forward. Being managed saves a lot of time and effort. We migrated our users over from the Active Directory that the prior owners had, but they managed it all, we did not.

How was the initial setup?

It was very easy to get set up and running. Basically, you log into the Azure portal, you have your tenant that you're already connected into, you add a domain and then you just go. You add your first user and then you continue from there.

Our deployment started in October of that year, we had our first users within a week, and then we pretty much provisioned all of our users within a month. It was a pretty quick turnaround.

At the time of deployment, we were in the middle of a divestiture. As such, our implementation strategy included spinning up a brand new Active Directory so that we could start to migrate our users over from our previous owners into a new one that we would control. Consequently, we started from scratch.

I know that a lot of companies are not doing that. Rather, many are starting with an Active Directory and then moving into Azure Active Directory, but for us, it was a clean slate. We then started to incorporate methods of synching with our previous owner so that we could get all of the data from them and continue to march towards a separation.

What about the implementation team?

We brought in consultants only because we didn't have the manpower at the time when we got started. I believe there was one other person besides myself, we were both at the director level, and neither of us had been given the time to build out our teams by that point. The third-party consulting company that we brought in assisted us to help us and assist us in getting everything set up and built out.

The company was Covenant Technology Partners and our experience with them was very good. They were able to help us get everything set up and running right away. Overall, it went very smoothly.

With respect to day-to-day maintenance, we have a lot of it automated. We've tied it into ServiceNow and a lot of our user additions, modifications, deletions, and other operations are things that we have automated via ServiceNow workflow.

I do have a team of three engineers under a manager that currently manages it, but they don't spend any more than probably 5% of their time, daily, dealing with it.

What was our ROI?

It is difficult to estimate our return when we didn't own anything beforehand. There is no real basis for comparison. That said, the automation capabilities cut down manual provisioning, manual adding, removing, deletion, editing, and those types of things, of user fields. I would say those are the big savings, and it's helpful that you can easily do the automation tie-in into Azure Active Directory.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Anytime you are dealing with Microsoft and licensing, it is always interesting. We have various levels of their licensing, which includes users on different levels of their enterprise offering. For example, some are on E3, whereas others are on E5. The differences between them have to do with the various features that we use.

We're a Microsoft Teams company and we use it not only for collaboration and instant messaging, but we also use it as our phone system. We did all of that together, so when we spun up Azure Active Directory, we also spun out Microsoft teams to use as our phones and flipped off of an old PBX system. It's been very useful but the licensing can be complicated when you get into the retail partners and guests. But for the most part, Microsoft has done a good job of explaining the different levels and what we need and has given us the proper licensing.

There are no additional fees for Azure Active Directory.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We did not evaluate other vendors. Our plan was to implement Microsoft Azure as our cloud solution, as well as go forward with Azure Active Directory. That was the plan from the get-go.

I know that Okta was out there, as well as a couple of other options, but that was never really a consideration for us.

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson that I have learned from using this product is that because it is a SaaS solution, it's easy to get set up and configured. It doesn't take a lot of overhead to run and quite honestly, the security on it is getting better. Microsoft continues to pump more security features into it.

My advice for anybody who is considering Azure Active Directory is that if you have Microsoft products that you are currently already using, I would definitely recommend it. This is a solution that seamlessly ties into your Office products, and into any Microsoft product, and it's really easy to manage. You can spin it up quickly, implement it, and get going right away. You are able to tie into your on-premise Active Directory as well. At that point, you can start to sync those two to manage all of your users and all of your groups in one place.

Overall, this is a good product and to me it's perfect but at the same time, nothing is perfect.

I would rate this solution a nine out of ten.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Public Cloud

If public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, which cloud provider do you use?

Microsoft Azure
Disclosure: I am a real user, and this review is based on my own experience and opinions.
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Product Manager/Architect at a consumer goods company with 5,001-10,000 employees
Real User
Top 20
We can see all facets of the business, providing us more visibility

Pros and Cons

  • "It enhanced our end user experience quite a bit. Instead of the days of having to contact the service desk with challenges for choosing their password, users can go in and do it themselves locally, regardless of where they are in the world. This has certainly made it a better experience accessing their applications. Previously, a lot of times, they had to remember multiple usernames and passwords for different systems. This solution brings it all together, using a single sign-on experience."
  • "The thing that is a bit annoying is the inability to nest groups. Because we run an Azure hybrid model, we have nested groups on-premise which does not translate well. So, we have written some scripts to kind of work around that. This is a feature request that we have put in previously to be able to use a group that is nested in Active Directory on-premise and have it handled the same way in Azure."

What is our primary use case?

We run in a hybrid model. We have our Active Directory on-premise directory services that we provide. We basically went to Azure so we could provide additional capabilities, like single sign-on and multi-factor authentication.

We are running in a hybrid environment. It is not completely cloud-native. We sync our on-premise directory to the cloud.

How has it helped my organization?

It definitely has improved our security posture, certainly from providing that second factor of authentication. It provides more visibility. We can see all facets of the business, e.g., when people are logging into our resources. This solution makes it highly visible to us.

It enhanced our end user experience quite a bit. Instead of the days of having to contact the service desk with challenges for choosing their password, users can go in and do it themselves locally, regardless of where they are in the world. This has certainly made it a better experience accessing their applications. Previously, a lot of times, they had to remember multiple usernames and passwords for different systems. This solution brings it all together, using a single sign-on experience. 

Is this specific to Azure? No. We have had other IdPs that gave us that same experience, but we have more apps that are integrated into Azure today from single sign-on than we had previously. Having that one handy "my apps" page for folks to go to as their one source for being able to gain access to all their apps is a much better experience from my point of view.

What is most valuable?

  • Azure Application Proxy
  • Single sign-on capabilities for SAML
  • OAuth integrated applications
  • The multi-factor authentication piece was desirable.
  • Defender for Identity, as of recently.
  • Some of the services, like Microsoft MCAS solution. 

These features offer additional layers of security, which is kind of what we were looking for. 

Some of the self-service password utilities certainly helped, given the scenario of the world today with COVID-19 and lockdowns. We certainly benefited from being able to say, "Have our users changed their password remotely." When they connect to the VPN, then sync them back up with the domain. So, that was very beneficial for us as well.

What needs improvement?

The thing that is a bit annoying is the inability to nest groups. Because we run an Azure hybrid model, we have nested groups on-premise which does not translate well. So, we have written some scripts to kind of work around that. This is a feature request that we have put in previously to be able to use a group that is nested in Active Directory on-premise and have it handled the same way in Azure. That is something that is actively being worked on. 

One of the other things that we felt could be improved upon is from an Application Proxy perspective. We have applications native to SSH, and we want to be able to do app proxy to TCP/IP. It sounds like that is actively on the roadmap now, which was amazing. It makes us very excited that it is coming, because we do have use cases with that as well.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using it for a few years now.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability has been pretty rock solid. For the first time, we have seen some instability over the last month. I know there were some issues with Microsoft in terms of one of their stacks. That was something that they addressed pretty quickly though. We were appraised of the issues by our technical account manager, so we were in the know. We weren't left in the dark when something happened, and it was remediated pretty quickly.

We have about five to six folks whose main role is to manage identity, and that is my team at the company. However, we also have administrators all over the globe, handling service desk tickets, e.g., resetting passwords. There are about 30 or 40 people, if you include that level of things. However, from a global admin perspective, we probably have a total of eight people.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is certainly scalable. Whether you are connecting to a local on-premise directory services organization, or if you are using B2B and B2C. This is part of the vision: At some point, leverage some of the B2B features that we have appointed to us in Azure, which we don't do today. This is certainly something that we are looking at internally as a potential for moving forward. 

We are managing 7,000 to 8,000 users within Azure AD.

This is room for growth.  

How are customer service and technical support?

We are part of the DPP program. So, we talk to the identity folks at Microsoft on a weekly basis, who are amazing. It has been such a great experience with those folks.

The technical support that we get through the GTP program is amazing. Microsoft Premier Support is pretty good as well. We have called them, but typically we don't have the type of issues that we are calling all the time for. We have a pretty savvy team, and just being plugged into the GTP team has helped us understand new features which are coming out, whether we are part of an active preview or attending an evening where they are doing a webinar to introduce new features to us. The cool thing about that is you do have that line of sight if you need to ask questions or get technical answers. Between our technical account manager and our GTP partner, we do relatively well without having to open too many cases.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We had a different identity provider at one point in time. At the time that we were looking at identity providers, Microsoft really wasn't there from a technical perspective. They are there now, far surpassing some of the things that we have done in the past. So, it was a no-brainer for us. We are very much a Microsoft organization. Primarily, it is the operating system of choice, not only for endpoint service, but it was a pretty good deal to move over and leverage some of the licensing and whatnot for our end users.

From an IdP perspective, we had Okta for quite some time. We had some limitations with Okta that we were looking at Azure to handle. I got pulled in kind of mid-project. I am not really sure when the decision was made, or how it was made, but certainly cost was a factor. We were already licensed for a lot of what was needed to go with Azure, where we were paying Okta separate licensing fees. So, we saved money by switching from Okta to Azure.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup would have been complex if it had not been for being part of the GTP program. We have gotten a lot of value out of that program in terms of cross-training our team members, catching up on any new features that come out as well as any of the gotchas that the Microsoft team has seen. So, those have benefited us quite a bit.

The deployment probably took six to eight months. Standing up Azure and sinking your directory services, like creating a connector, takes minutes. We could stand that up in the day. What took time was taking all of the applications that we have throughout the environment, migrating them across and doing integrations with single sign-on. You need to have conversations with different application owners as well as potentially pulling in some vendors to do some of the configuration. There may be some apps which are not as straightforward as others, but we thought that the experience was pretty straightforward (to a point) where we can handle a lot of the work ourselves.

What about the implementation team?

When we needed Microsoft, we were able to reach out, talk to them, and get the assistance that we needed. That was super beneficial to us.

What was our ROI?

There are a lot less calls to our service desk. For some of the traditional, "Hey, I need to reset my password," or "Hey, I'm locked out." So, we're seeing a lot of that self-service, gaining access to the different apps, and having it all be integrated with Azure will take away some of the headache. For example, "I don't know what my password is for GitHub," or, "I don't know what password is for Slack." We are like, "Well, it's the same password that you use every day." So, that has dropped call volume.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

If you have a different IdP today, I would take a close look at what your licensing looks like, then reevaluate the licensing that you have with Microsoft 365, and see if you're covered for some of this other stuff. Folks sometimes don't realize that, "Oh, I'm licensed for that service in Azure." This becomes one of those situations where you have the "aha" moment, "Oh, I didn't know we can do that. Alright, let's go down this road." Then, they start to have conversations with Microsoft to see what they can gain. I would recommend that they work closely with their TAM, just to make sure that they are getting the right level of service. They may just not be aware of what is available to them.

We look to gain new features when updating licensing. Every time we go to negotiate an enterprise agreement, we are looking at:

  • What are the benefits?
  • What are we getting back from Microsoft?

    They are very good at working with us to get what we are looking for in terms of working on packaging for pricing.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We did not evaluate other options. The decision was pretty easy. When we initially looked at Okta years ago, Microsoft was also one of the folks that we looked at. Okta was a little more advanced than some of the gallery apps. Then, Microsoft made a huge play and added more gallery-type apps. That helped us quite a bit to move things along.

What other advice do I have?

For others using Azure ID, take cookie online training. They are widely available, free, and give you a very good idea of what path you need to go to. So, if you want to take some professional training to become a guru, then you know what classes to go take and the fundamentals that you need to take before you get into that class. So, I highly recommend taking the video term.

I come from an Active Directory background for more than 20 years. Coming into Azure was actually great. We had somebody leave the company who was managing it, and they said, "Hey David, I know you are working for this other pocket of the business. How would you like to come back to the identity platform?" I said, "Absolutely." So, it was easier for me to come up to speed in several of the advanced areas of Azure, e.g., conditional access policies. We are starting down a zero trust methodology, which has been very exciting for me.

I would give it a solid eight (out of 10). It has a lot of the features that we are looking at. I don't think there are any tools out there that will give you that one magical wand with everything that you are looking for, but certainly this comes close. Microsoft has been working with us to help us through some of the new features and additions that are coming.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

Hybrid Cloud

If public cloud, private cloud, or hybrid cloud, which cloud provider do you use?

Microsoft Azure
Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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Bharat Halai
Global Head of Identity and Access Management at Adecco
Real User
End users have one password to get into their online applications, which makes for a better user experience

Pros and Cons

  • "It is one of those costs where you can't really quantify a return on investment. In the grand scheme of things, if we didn't have it, we would probably have a lot more breaches. It would be a lot harder to detect issues because we would have people using static usernames and passwords for various sites, making us open to a lot more attacks. The amount of security and benefit that we get out of it is not quantifiable but the return of investment from a qualitative point of view is much higher than not having it."
  • "Some of the features that they offer, e.g., customized emails, are not available with B2C. You are stuck with whatever email template they give you, and it is not the best user experience. For B2C, that is a bit of a negative thing."

What is our primary use case?

It has allowed us to use other SaaS products that will authenticate with Office 365 as well as other Microsoft products and non-Microsoft products, so we can have a single sign-on experience for our users. Rather than them needing to have multiple usernames and passwords, they just use whatever they have as their main username and password to log onto their machine.

It is SaaS based, but we sync up from our on-prem into Azure AD.

How has it helped my organization?

With COVID-19 at the moment, this solution is a good example of where we needed to move a lot of our traffic from our on-prem authentication into the cloud. Last year, before I joined the company, we had to setup our VPN differently. It was easy enough for us to do because our machines were already joined to Azure AD. We just split the traffic and stopped having to rely on our on-prem VPN for our Office 365 traffic. We were just good to go into the Internet because we had all the features setup, e.g., MFA and Conditional Access, which made life a lot easier.

It has made our security posture better. There are always improvements to be made, but we feel more secure because of the way that things have been setup and how everything integrates together.

What is most valuable?

  • Single sign-on is the most useful at the onset. 
  • The dashboards offered are very granular, in terms of usages. 
  • We find the Conditional Access element and Multi-Factor Authentication side of things very useful. 

These features let us have secure, yet user-friendly interactions, rather than having to be embroiled in various types of signups for each application. These allow us to be a lot more granular as well as making sure our environment is more secure. Our accesses and users remain secure too.

Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and Conditional Access have helped us be more secure. There is one place where all these features are posted, making life a lot easier. If we were to try and buy these separately, then it would be a painful experience. Whereas, if it is in one product, then all these features talk to each other and it is available for us in one go. For example, when you buy a car, if you buy the steering wheel and engine separately, then you need to make it work altogether. Whereas, you just want to buy a car with everything included, making life a lot easier.

It has made the end user experience a lot better. They only have one password to get into their online applications and that makes the user experience much better.

What needs improvement?

The one area that we are working on at the moment is the business-to-consumer (B2C) element. It is not as rich as some of the other competitors out there. The B2C element of Azure AD is quite niche. Some of the features that they offer, e.g., customized emails, are not available with B2C. You are stuck with whatever email template they give you, and it is not the best user experience. For B2C, that is a bit of a negative thing.

In my previous role, there would have been a few things that I would have liked added, but they have already introduced them. Those are already in the roadmap. 

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using the product for many years. I have only been at Adecco for six months, but I had experience with it at my prior role as well. Overall, I have used it in excess of five years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is fantastic. It is a big step from using Active Directory on-premise to now moving to something that has been completely rethought in the cloud. It is very impressive and fits into the whole Microsoft ecosystem, making life easier.

We have had some downtime, but I think a lot of that has been unavoidable from Microsoft's side of things. Microsoft made some changes in some instances which caused certain features to be unavailable, like Azure AD became unavailable a few weeks ago. I love that they were very frank, open, and honest as to what happened. However, the bottom line is that we prefer downtime not to happen. 

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have had no problems with it. We are not exactly the biggest organization, i.e., 30,000 accounts. IT makes up probably 5,000 of those accounts, or less. If we were an organization of hundreds of thousands, then we might be questioning scalability. However, I have never known it not to be scalable. For medium- to large-organizations, it is fine. I think it is when you get into multiple companies with multiple complexities then it becomes a struggle. For us, it is more than scalable for our purposes.

We still have many applications that need to be onboarded to Azure AD. Because we are moving to the cloud, there is a lot more that we need onboarded into Azure AD, but it is working well so far.

How are customer service and technical support?

The technical support is great. We have a dedicated resource who understands our environment. We have regular meetings with them once a week where we get to discuss the current status of various tickets as well as our questions. The support that we get is very good.

We have Premier Support. We also have Premier Mission Critical Support on Azure AD, which is where we have someone who is dedicated to our setup and knows how our environment's setup. Therefore, if we do have a major issue, then they would be brought in to help resolve those issues.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

It was a given that we would use Microsoft. To use Microsoft 365, you need to use Azure AD, so that is what we did.

I have always used AD and Azure AD.

How was the initial setup?

In my previous role, the initial setup was quite simple. It was a simple case of install and follow some wizards, then you pretty much had it setup and synced to your Azure AD from the on-prem. Minimum effort was required.

The deployment was about three weeks, which was mainly the change process and getting it through our internal changes. It was quite quick. 

What about the implementation team?

We did it ourselves internally with some help from Microsoft. There were four people involved in the deployment: the service owner, a Microsoft product engineer, and two internal engineers.

We have the maintenance outsourced to a partner. However, we have had trouble with this partner because of their lack of delivery.

Ideally, I would like around five people to work with the partner and maintain the environment. At the moment, we have one person and are recruiting two others. For our scale, three to five people would be great as well as working with a partner to do the operations. That is the model that I am using.

What was our ROI?

It is one of those costs where you can't really quantify a return on investment. In the grand scheme of things, if we didn't have it, we would probably have a lot more breaches. It would be a lot harder to detect issues because we would have people using static usernames and passwords for various sites, making us open to a lot more attacks. The amount of security and benefit that we get out of it is not quantifiable but the return of investment from a qualitative point of view is much higher than not having it. 

It is the one platform that should be used for all authentication. Azure AD allows you to have one username and password to access all of your sites, which makes life a lot easier. Therefore, the return on investment is good because people have to use the one ID and password.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Be sure:

  1. You know your userbase, e.g., how many users you have. 
  2. You choose the right license and model that suit your business requirements.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

In the future, I would maybe like better integration with competitive products. Obviously, Microsoft would be selective on that anyway. For example, working alongside Okta as a competitor, their product seems to be a bit richer in its offerings. From what I have seen, Okta has a bit more of an edge, which is something that might benefit Azure AD.

What other advice do I have?

Be prepared to learn. It is a massive area. There are a lot of features offered by Azure AD. It works well within the Microsoft realm but also it can work very well with non-Microsoft realms, integrating with other parties. The fact it is Microsoft makes life so much easier, because everyone integrates with Microsoft. Just be prepared to absorb because it is a big beast. It is also a necessary evil that you need to have it. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages of having it.

The learning curve is both steep and wide. You can only focus on what you can focus on with the resources you have in your organization. It is such a big product and changing all the time. This means that you need dedicated people to be on it. There is a lot of keeping up with what Microsoft puts out there with Azure AD, which is great. This makes its feature-rich, but you need to be able to learn how it integrates into your business as well.

What Azure AD does for my current organization is sufficient, but we are probably not adopting most of what Azure AD has. We do not have it at a mature place at the moment, but we hope (over the next couple of years) to get it up to the latest and greatest.

It is an integral part of using Microsoft stuff, so we are not going to move away from it any time soon. If anything, we will ensure that everything is on Azure AD and authenticating users use Azure AD. That part will still take some time to do. Like most large organizations who have been around for a long time, we have legacy to deal with and some of that legacy does not support Azure AD. So, we are working towards that.

If you come from a company with legacy technology, then there will be a lot of business and technological changes for you to make.

The adoption of Azure AD B2C is progressing somewhat well. That is something that we just started in the last couple of months. We are having more of our products being onboarded into it. We will be moving other implementations of Azure AD into the one Azure AD implementation, and it has been great so far.

I would rate it as a nine out of 10. I would have given it a 10, but it is impossible for something to be perfect. The product does itself a disservice when there is an impact due to downtime, which we have had over the years. Because you rely on it so heavily, you can't afford for it to go down for a few minutes because then there will be user impact. 

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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NadeemAkhtar1
Principal Service Engineer at a energy/utilities company with 10,001+ employees
Real User
Flexibility around accessing company systems from anywhere at any time has proven to be helpful

Pros and Cons

  • "Azure Active Directory provides us with identity-based authentication, which secures access at the user level and also integrates with conditional access policies and multi-factor authentication helping to increase the identity security for that person. So, the hacking and leaking of passwords is a secondary problem because you will not authenticate a person with one factor. There is a second factor of authentication available to increase the security premise for your company."
  • "There is a concept of cross-tenant trust relationships, which I believe Microsoft is actively pursuing. That is something which in the coming days and years to come by will be very key to the success of Azure Active Directory, because many organizations are going into mergers and acquisitions or spinning off new companies. They will still have to access the old tenant information because of multiple legal reasons, compliance reasons, and all those things. So, there should be some level of tenant-level trust functionality, where you can bring people from other tenants to access some part of your tenant application. So, that is an area which is growing. I believe Microsoft is actively pursuing this, and it will be an interesting piece."

What is our primary use case?

We are using Azure Active Directory (AD) for:

  • Application authentication, which is single sign-on. 
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA). 
  • Conditional access for people coming in from non-trusted networks, which are interlinked. 
  • Azure AD B2B. 

These are the four big items that we are using.

How has it helped my organization?

The flexibility around accessing company systems from anywhere at any time has proven to be very helpful. Organizations decided during the COVID-19 pandemic, on a very short notice, to announce that everyone should be working from home. The good part was that our company was already working under Azure Active Directory, and most of our applications were under Azure at that time. For us, it was a very seamless transition. There were no major impacts on the migration nor did we have to do any special setups or need to configure networks. So, it was a very seamless experience for our users, who used to come into our office, to access systems. They started working from home and there was no difference for them. We did not have to do anything special to support that transition from working from the office to working from home. It was seamless. There was no impact to the end users.

Bringing our many hundreds of applications onto Azure Active Directory single sign-on authentication has had a big impact on users' productivity, usage, and adoption of enterprise applications because they don't need to log in. It is the same credentials and token being used for days and months when people use our systems with hundreds of applications being integrated. From a user perspective, it is quite a seamless experience. They don't need to remember their username, passwords, and other credential information because you are maintaining a single sign-on token. So, it is a big productivity enhancement. Before, we were not using a single sign-on for anything. Now, almost 90 to 95 percent of applications are on Azure Active Directory single sign-on.

What is most valuable?

The single sign-on is an amazing product. Its integration with the back-end, like MFA and conditional access, is very helpful for enterprise class companies because of changing dynamics as well as how companies and workers interact. Traditionally, companies used to have their own premises, networks, network-level VPN and proxy settings, and networks to access company systems. Now, anyone can work from anywhere within our company. We are a global company who works across more than 60 countries, so it is not always possible to have secure networks. So, we need to secure our applications and data without having a network parameter-level security. 

Azure Active Directory provides us with identity-based authentication, which secures access at the user level and also integrates with conditional access policies and multi-factor authentication helping to increase the identity security for that person. So, the hacking and leaking of passwords is a secondary problem because you will not authenticate a person with one factor. There is a second factor of authentication available to increase the security premise for your company.

The analytics are very helpful. They give you very fine grain data around patterns of usage, such as, who is using it, sign-in attempts, or any failed logins. It also provides detailed analytics, like the amount of users who are using which applications. The application security features let you drill-down reports and generate reports based on the analytics produced via your Active Directory, which is very helpful. This can feed into security operation centers and other things.

What needs improvement?

One of the areas where Microsoft is very actively working on enhancing is the capabilities around the B2B and B2C areas.

Microsoft is actively pursuing and building new capabilities around identity governance.

There is a concept of cross-tenant trust relationships, which I believe Microsoft is actively pursuing. That is something which in the coming days and years to come by will be very key to the success of Azure Active Directory, because many organizations are going into mergers and acquisitions or spinning off new companies. They will still have to access the old tenant information because of multiple legal reasons, compliance reasons, and all those things. So, there should be some level of tenant-level trust functionality, where you can bring people from other tenants to access some part of your tenant application. So, that is an area which is growing. I believe Microsoft is actively pursuing this, and it will be an interesting piece.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using it for three and a half years.

We have worked very closely with Microsoft over the past few years. We were one of the early adopters as an enterprise. We worked very closely with Microsoft to develop many products and features.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Looking at our journey over the last three and a half years, there were a few stability incidents, which is understandable from any technology platform provider perspective. However, it was overall a very good experience with a stable platform. There were two or three major incidents in the last three years.

There are about eight people who handle the day-to-day maintenance. These people focus on single sign-on, multi-factor authentication, and Azure B2B.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is amazing. Microsoft gets billions of logins every day. They are scaling it every day. They announced an increase in the availability that the SLA guarantees from 99.9 to 99.99 percent from April of this year. Overall, it is very stable and scalable. These are things that we don't need to worry about.

It is fully rolled out to everyone in our organization.

How are customer service and technical support?

Overall, the technical support is very good. Overall, if you follow the customer support route and raise an incident ticket, then they are very prompt. They work very closely and collaboratively with us. We have a dedicated technical account manager (TAM). We have governance in place. We engage with them bi-weekly. So, we have a pretty good working structure with them.

Identity within Microsoft is a separate division, and we work very closely with them.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We didn't use another solution before Azure AD.

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup was straightforward.

How you plan the tenant and set it up is quite key. There are major components that you need to be aware of: 

  • Are you planning to implement multi-factor authentication at the tenant level? 
  • What type of conditional access policies do you want to implement? 
  • What type of access governance do you want to put in? 
  • What type of role catalogue do you want to maintain? 
  • What type of structure of the AD organization you want to maintain? 
  • What type of device registrations do you want? 

There are some prerequisite checklists available from Microsoft. However, these are quite fundamental decisions. If you don't take the lead on them, these decisions will impact you, then you have to go back and fix them later on. So, plan ahead. 

Initial deployment took us a few months across our organization, but we decided to use most of the elements at a very early stage. So, our use case could be different than other companies. Some organizations that I know have chosen not to deploy multi-factor authentication nor do self-service password reset to deployment, then the user community is impacted with that. It can differ organization to organization based on the scale, number of users, locations, etc. So, there are many factors involved. 

We phased out our deployment over a couple of years, focusing on single sign-on and multi-factor authentication, then self-service password reset and other components. So, we did it as a phased deployment with a small team of four or five people.

What about the implementation team?

I strongly recommend the Microsoft GTP Teams, which are with their R&D division. They have a go into production, dedicated team who work with customers from an end-to-end lifecycle perspective. So, they will help you to build the tenant from scratch, following the right standards and guidelines. For us, it was straightforward, but we started this journey in 2017/2018. It is quite a mature product now.

We work with most managed service providers, like Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc. We have had good experiences with them. Initially, we worked with Infosys.

What was our ROI?

We are closing all data centers. Therefore, to build or enhance any existing capability in applications, it could have been very a costly effort for us. Rather than building an authentication platform, we are using a standard-based approach where we just need to plug and play. Instead of going in and reinventing the wheel for every application, we are using a standard out-of-the-box service offering from Azure Active Directory, where we just consume that service, then users have a seamless experience.

Having a single supplier saves you loads of headaches from:

  • Multiple suppliers and multiple technologies
  • Integrating everything.
  • Doing upgrades.
  • Maintenance.
  • In-house deployment
  • Having multiple components of those solutions to work together.
  • Managing multiple vendors, supplier support teams, contracts, renewals, and licenses. 

If you are dealing with one supplier with an out-of-the-box solution, which provides you end-to-end capabilities, then it is naturally cheaper and less of a headache to manage and operate.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

This solution was the natural choice. There is no vendor nor supplier providing this type of capability right now in the market, especially considering people in organizations are using Office 365. So, it is the natural choice to not to go with a third-party supplier, then try to integrate those third-party solutions and technologies into Microsoft. It is one box and the same Office 365 tenant in the same environment where you operate all your settings. Therefore, it is a very natural, out-of-the-box solution.

What other advice do I have?

Look at the market. However, look at it from an end-to-end perspective, especially focused on your applications and how a solution will integrate with your overall security landscape. This is key. Azure Active Directory provides this capability, integrating with your Office 365 tenant, data security elements, classifications, identity protection, device registrations, and Windows operating system. Everything comes end-to-end integrated. While there is no harm evaluating different tools, Azure AD is an out-of-the-box solution from Microsoft, which is very helpful.

Every day we are increasing the number of users and onboarding new applications. Also, we are growing the B2B feature. We try to use any new feature or enhancement coming in from Microsoft, working very closely with them. It is an ongoing journey.

Dealing with a single supplier is easier rather than dealing with five suppliers. Historically, if you have to do anything like that, then you will end up dealing with at least 10 different vendors and 10 different technologies. It is always interesting and challenging to manage different roadmaps, strategies, upgrade parts, licensing, and contracts. The biggest lesson learnt is wherever you can go with native-cloud tools and technologies, then go for it.

I would rate this solution as 10 out of 10.

Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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