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Universal Directory vs Active Directory


By Stephanie DeCamp Posted January 3, 2020

Is it fair to compare Universal Directory (UD) vs Active Directory® (AD)? As more IT admins shift their infrastructure to the cloud, it’s only natural to compare on-prem solutions with new cloud offerings.

While they’re both a part of Identity and Access Management (IAM), AD and UD are often used (and combined) quite differently. And while both solutions are “directories,” they have many functions that distinguish them.

Which of those you’re prioritizing will ultimately decide whether Universal Directory or Active Directory — or even some other solution — will be the right one for your organization.

What to Consider

Active Directory established early on that directory services serve three critical purposes: authentication (AuthN), authorization (AuthZ), and management of systems. These are important to keep in mind as we explore what each directory can do, what will cost more, and what they can’t do.

Before going in, we’ve compiled this list of basic considerations, which should lay the groundwork for your own. When exploring directory services, you’ll want to ensure compatibility with:

  • MacOS®, Windows®, and Linux® systems 
  • Cloud and on-prem servers (AWS®, GCP®, Azure®, internal data centers, etc.) 
  • Web and on-prem applications 
  • Physical and virtual file servers (Samba/NAS appliances, Box, G Drive™)
  • WiFi and VPN networks through RADIUS
  • Group Policy Objects, or GPO-like management capabilities

Okta® Universal Directory

Okta’s Universal Directory is a user database — sold as-a-Service — and the user management foundation for Okta’s single sign-on (SSO) platform. It can import Active Directory identities, or those from Workday and other human resource management systems. It can also coordinate attributes between these apps and compile them within its program. 

Active Directory

Active Directory, on the other hand, is primarily an identity provider. It manages user authentication and authorization across 20 years’ worth of IT resources, including on-prem apps, networks, file servers, and systems. AD has historically served as an organization’s core directory, storing user identities and attributes and acting as the definitive source of authentication for Windows-based (Read more…)



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