IAM Software: Okta vs. Azure Active Directory

Okta and Microsoft Azure Active Directory are robust and high-performance IAM solutions. Okta wins on ease of use and simplified implementation; Azure Active Directory is ideal for existing Azure infrastructures where more complex user access permissions are required.

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Today, employees are logging into more and more apps from a variety of devices and locations. This can create challenges for IT departments for security and efficiency reasons. All of this makes IAM solutions essential for any modern business, and two popular options in this category are Okta and Microsoft Azure Active Directory.

SEE: Password breach: Why pop culture and passwords don’t mix (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is Okta?

Okta is a cloud-based IAM solution for managing single sign-on web applications. With built-in integration for today’s top production apps and suites, it’s streamlined and easy to implement, no matter what platforms your business uses.

Okta was one of the pioneers of the IAM industry and the maturity of its products shows it. A very simple dashboard interface and even a browser extension make it a top choice among users for its ease of use.

What is Azure Active Directory?

Microsoft Azure Active Directory seeks to emulate many features and capabilities of Okta. While offering similar SSO functionality, Azure Active Directory is more suitable for a corporate environment where access to various network or corporate assets must be managed by a central IT department. Azure Active Directory works best for development environments.

As a Microsoft product, Azure Active Directory is clearly Windows-centric, although it has built-in integrations for most business tools. But at its core, it’s not as platform independent as Okta. This can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on your current infrastructure.

Also, there is sometimes confusion with naming conventions here. Azure Active Directory is a separate cloud-based user management solution for Azure and Web Logins. It does not replace on-premises Active Directory.

Okta vs Azure Active Directory: Feature Comparison

Features Okta Azure Active Directory
Self-service user portal Yes Yes
Built-in integrations Yes Yes
User SSO app Yes Nope
Security reports Yes Yes
Passwordless Login Options Yes Yes

Head-to-head comparison: Okta vs. Azure Active Directory

Context-Aware Access for Multi-Factor Authentication

Both Okta and Azure Active Directory have the ability to set contextual or conditional multi-factor authorization. This allows for different settings when new devices, IP addresses, or other conditions are met during login, and then trigger a required multi-factor login.

For Okta, this is a built-in feature. With Azure Active Directory, this feature is only available in the premium pricing tier, so it’s not a default option.

Both Okta and Azure Active Directory offer deep customization in this area, with the ability to set multiple permission levels for different organization and application levels.

Self-service user portal

Okta and Azure Active Directory give users a way to manage their own logins. With Azure Active Directory, it’s through the Microsoft Windows Azure portal or the Windows My Apps portal. Azure Active Directory is highly integrated with the existing Microsoft ecosystem and expects users to become familiar with the network.

Okta’s User Portal is self-contained and not tied to other internal services. Many users also report that it is more customizable and user-friendly than the Azure Active Directory version. Okta has a standalone app to manage connections on the go, so in that respect the Okta version is more flexible, especially for those not already in the Microsoft Azure ecosystem.

Security reports

Security reports are a key part of any IAM tool. These can be used to track vulnerabilities before they are exploited. Okta and Azure Active Directory both offer detailed security reports, but like the other options, Azure Active Directory only offers them in their premium packages. Basic packages are limited to only reports indicating risky logins, with no possibility to drill down further.

These two tools are comparable, but if you’re running a security operations center, you’ll need the advanced version of Azure Active Directory reports to take full advantage of the resource.

Support packages

Configuring Okta or Azure Active Directory can be very different depending on your existing infrastructure.

With Azure Active Directory, unless your organization is already heavily invested in Azure infrastructure, you’ll almost certainly need a dedicated support plan on top of Azure Active Directory to get everything up and running.

On the other hand, Okta can be implemented by most organizations without requiring additional support beyond the standard offerings. This can be a key difference for some organizations depending on their size and the capacity of their IT staff.

Is Okta or Azure Active Directory right for your business?

Okta and Azure Active Directory are very powerful and robust IAM tools for single sign-on and user access management. The difference really comes down to your needs and existing network infrastructure.

For businesses looking for a streamlined and customizable SSO tool to manage their team’s web logins, Okta is probably the best fit. Its platform-agnostic approach, built-in integrations, and ease of use make it a great option. Although it is the easier to implement of the two, it still has advanced features like contextual multi-factor permissions and comprehensive security reports. Combine that with its pricing structure, and it makes for a great value product as well.

Azure Active Directory, on the other hand, is for businesses that are already all-in with Azure and Microsoft. Azure Active Directory goes beyond Okta when it comes to needs beyond simple web login management, such as complex development environments where access to different services and assets is required. Azure Active Directory does a much better job of this because it allows for more granular access control.

This article was written by James Forteze.

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