Azure Active Directory Review

Easy to use, flexible security options, and it scales well

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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