Azure Active Directory Review

End users have one password to get into their online applications, which makes for a better user experience

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. 

Which version of this solution are you currently using?

**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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