Azure Active Directory vs. Amazon Web Services IAM

Written by Kayla Coco-Stotts on May 3, 2020

Share This Article

IT departments invested in moving legacy IT resources to the cloud may be considering Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD or AAD) or Amazon Web Services® (AWS) Identity and Access Management (IAM) for addressing their cloud infrastructure needs.

Both add value to organizations in regard to their ability to connect users to cloud-based resources, but since their feature offerings differ greatly, should admins ultimately have to make a choice between AWS IAM and AAD?

Below, we’ll explore that question by covering the features natively offered by AWS IAM versus Azure AD, as well as potential solutions for organizations looking to leverage a blend of both for holistic identity management.

What Do Azure AD and AWS IAM Do For Organizations?

The choice in regard to AWS IAM versus Azure AD is less about comparing what core features each provides and more about why organizations would want to leverage AAD, AWS IAM, or both.

Since Azure AD and AWS IAM’s features are very similar, but each are for different platforms (Azure vs. AWS), they really don’t have any practical overlap. Cloud-forward organizations commonly see value in leveraging both tools to manage their IT resources respectively at each IaaS provider, but in doing so can create siloed identities that IT admins must manage individually. 

Ideally, organizations looking to both increase their security posture and decrease the time-consuming nature of managing on-prem resources should move their IT infrastructure to cloud platforms, but finding a way to manage both disparate tools may be tricky without a core directory service. 

What is Azure AD?

Azure Active Directory was primarily built by Microsoft so that organizations could extend their existing on-prem AD identities to Azure infrastructure, Office 365™, and select web applications. AAD serves as Azure’s user management tool, offering IT teams the opportunity to provide users with an SSO experience while still retaining their core directory service. 

Azure AD has been a popular choice among IT professionals looking to keep their existing directory service and obtain some cloud functionality, though it can be leveraged entirely on its own. However, AAD does need on-prem AD to complete tasks related to on-prem system management, legacy application authentication, and network access control.

IT teams often choose to utilize Azure AD on its own for authenticating user credentials to pre-integrated web apps and Windows® 10 Pro systems. Included with the purchase of a subscription to Azure infrastructure or Office 365, this identity management solution has a broader mission to not only manage Azure infrastructure but also user access to resources like Azure-based servers and applications. 

What is AWS IAM?

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a cloud IaaS platform that offers compute power, reduced management overhead, simplified implementation, and data storage for organizations looking to move away from on-prem hardware. With over 90 services for storage, compute, networking, analytics, and more, AWS minimizes the investment, maintenance, and management by moving legacy servers, applications, and data storage to cloud infrastructure.

The general purpose of AWS IAM is to help IT admins manage AWS user identities and their varying levels of web-based access to AWS resources. Using AWS IAM, organizations can obtain increased control over who has permission to provision, deprovision, and access which assets from the AWS console, ensuring that IT teams can securely monitor access to their AWS resources. Beyond the scope of AWS’s services, AWS IAM struggles to authenticate users to the Linux and Windows systems themselves, applications, networks, and more without being integrated with a directory service.

The Value in Using Both Under a Cloud Directory Service

Azure AD and AWS IAM control user access to different resources — Azure and AWS, respectively. For organizations looking to move their legacy on-prem hardware to the cloud, both of these identity management platforms provide value in their own right. 

The challenge for most IT teams when it comes to implementation is that each of these solutions is ideally built for each respective cloud identity provider, so they’re not exactly universal identity providers. Azure AD is built for Azure infrastructure, and AWS IAM is designed for managing web console user access to AWS infrastructure. Each IAM tool wasn’t designed to natively manage the entirety of an organization’s IT needs, making it more enticing for admins to decide to leverage both concurrently. 

Admins looking to extend Azure and/or AWS IAM identities to other IT resources like networks, systems, and more may find that process challenging without a core directory service that integrates with both platforms. The general approach that most organizations take involves extending their core identity provider, typically on-prem Active Directory, to these cloud resources.

If an IT department is seeking a solution for managing their identity management tools from the cloud, however, AD may not be ideal, as it generally is configured and maintained on-prem. For many, seeking out a cloud directory service seems like the most logical next step. 

Leveraging directory services from the cloud provides admins with the opportunity to seamlessly integrate with an IT team’s resource management tools, connecting existing users to the following resources from a single console:

  • Systems (Windows, macOS, Linux)
  • Applications (Both on-prem and cloud-based)
  • Networks (WiFi, VPNs, wired networks)
  • Samba file servers and NAS devices
  • IaaS platforms (such as AWS and Azure) 

So instead of having to choose between one or the other, IT teams can tailor their IAM tools to best suit their organization’s needs. 

JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service

For those interested in managing the entirety of their IT resources from the cloud, they can check out JumpCloud® Directory-as-a-Service®.

Through seamless integration with IAM platforms like Azure AD and AWS IAM, IT teams can combine valuable IT tools to connect their users to all the resources they need to work productively. Curious about seeing DaaS in action? Feel free to reach out for a personalized demo, or you can register up to 10 users for free.

Kayla Coco-Stotts

Kayla is a content writer at JumpCloud with a B.A. in Print Journalism from the University of Kentucky. She hails from St. Louis, Missouri, and loves to eat good food and hike Boulder's beautiful trails when she is not writing.

Continue Learning with our Newsletter