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Microsoft Consolidates Tools with New Azure AD Connect Preview

Microsoft announced a "public preview" of Azure AD Connect today and outlined its plan to consolidate some related tools.

Azure Active Directory Connect has emerged as Microsoft's front-running tool for organizations wanting to connect their premises-based Active Directory accounts with Microsoft's cloud-based Azure AD service. Microsoft plans to stop issuing future releases of its DirSync and Azure AD Sync tools, which have similar functionality.

Azure AD Connect will be the predominant tool to use going forward, according to Microsoft's announcement. However, there's one catch right now. Microsoft doesn't recommend using the Azure AD Connect preview version in production environments. The next "general availability" release -- expected in 90 days or sometime in May -- will be production ready, Microsoft's announcement promised, and it will include "all DirSync functionality."

Azure AD Connect is a wizard that guides IT pros through the steps needed to establish connections between the Microsoft Azure AD service and an organization's existing Active Directory. Microsoft had released a beta version of Azure AD Connect back in August, describing it as being capable of connecting Active Directory with Microsoft's cloud service in "only 4 clicks," although back then, Microsoft had also said that some manual configuration was still necessary.

The preview of Azure AD Connect is an updated version of the earlier-released "beta" that now contains integration of the DirSync and Azure AD Sync tools. The wizard is described as being capable of configuring "sync services, ADFS [Active Directory Federation Services], and the Azure AD PowerShell module." Getting the preview requires signing up at the Microsoft Connect site here.

Microsoft's DirSync tool, released originally in 2008, is on Microsoft's deprecation track because it lacked some advanced capabilities, such as synchronizing multiple-forest AD environments. While Microsoft's alternative Azure AD Sync tool did have that multiforest sync capability, it mostly stayed at the preview stage. By going with the single Azure AD Connect tool, Microsoft is aiming to simplify the AD premises-to-cloud connection process for IT pros.

Microsoft still has another way to sync AD environments with its Microsoft Identity Manager product, which is the successor product to Microsoft's Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 solution. Microsoft previously indicated that Microsoft Identity Manager will support hybrid cloud deployments with Azure AD and multifactor authentication, with product release expected sometime in the first half of next year. In September, Microsoft also suggested that Microsoft Identity Manager and Azure AD Sync would coexist. It seems more likely now that Azure AD Connect will just replace Azure AD Sync.

IT pros hoping for another release of Azure AD Sync or DirSync won't see it, according to the Microsoft Connect site:

Note: Azure AD Connect encompasses functionality that was previously released as DirSync and AAD Sync. These tools will no longer be released individually. All future improvements will be included in updates to Azure AD Connect, so that you always know where to get the most current functionality.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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