Azure Active Directory vs. Amazon Web Services IAM

Written by Molly Murphy on February 9, 2023

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If your IT department is ready to move your legacy IT resources to the cloud, you may be considering Microsoft Azure Active Directory (Azure AD or AAD) or Amazon Web Services® (AWS) Identity and Access Management (IAM) for addressing your new infrastructure needs.

While both Azure AD and AWS IAM help organizations connect users to cloud-based resources, they’re each designed for use in their own ecosystem, with little, if any, overlap. You may be left wondering which is the right choice for your organization – or if you have to choose between them at all.  

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 is Azure AD?

Azure Active Directory (sometimes called Azure AD, or AAD), was built by Microsoft to extend customer’s existing on-prem Active Directory identities to the cloud, M365, and other 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. 

IT teams often choose to utilize Azure AD on its own for authenticating user credentials to pre-integrated web apps and Windows systems. Included with the purchase of a subscription to Azure infrastructure or m365, 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. 


Breaking Up with Active Directory

Don’t let your directory hold you back. Learn why it’s time to break up with AD.

Pros of Using Azure AD vs. AWS IAM

  • Allows a company to keep its existing on-prem directory service while providing some cloud functionality 
  • It can be used as a standalone directory with intune
  • Offers prescribed IAM best practices to properly secure use identities 
  • Provides critical safety features like role-based access control, multi-factor authentication (MFA), conditional access, password management, single sign-on (SSO) 

Cons of Using Azure AD vs. AWS IAM

  • Not a complete cloud-based solution on its own; it requires Active Directory for on-prem system management, legacy application authentication, and network access control. Admins often need additional extensions for macOS® and Linux® systems, web applications, third-party file storage, and remote networks (unless you use intune). 
  • Add Entra subscription for using external identities 
  • Some features (like conditional access policies) are only available to premium subscribers. Users must pay for a higher subscription tier or supplement with features from an open directory for a complete security program
  • Free version only offers MFA using Microsoft Authenticator
  • Many cybercriminals are familiar with Azure’s workflows, and can exploit OAuth for phishing add that msft’s own best practices require P1, P2
  • AD (and, by extension, Azure AD), is known for being complicated to implement and manage 
  • Locks you into a primarily Windows-based ecosystem (unless you use intune) 
  • Need NPD server role etc for RADIUS protocol

What is AWS IAM?

AWS IAM is a cloud IDaaS platform for organizations looking to move away from on-prem hardware. With over 90 services for storage, computing, networking, analytics, and more, AWS minimizes IT admins’ investment, maintenance, and management by moving legacy servers, applications, and data storage to the cloud.

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. 

Pros of Using AWS IAM vs. Azure AD

  • Allows you to create and manage AWS users and groups directly, and use permissions to allow and deny their access to AWS resources
  • Built to work at Amazon Web Services and their Windows-based products so you gain user management to those platforms
  • Offers single sign-on capabilities via AWS SSO 
  • Federation to integrate with other directories
  • Security keys, MFA, etc. (per user assignments) 

Cons of Using AWS IAM vs. Azure AD

  • Struggles to authenticate users outside of AWS like Mac and Linux systems, Google Workspace product, SAML web apps, and on-prem LDAP apps, and other networks 
  • Not designed to be a complete directory-as-a-service; it’s more like lightweight Active Directory exclusively for AWS
  • Putting an AD instance in the cloud requires IT admins to use their own network security to secure the platform 
  • Most IT and development organizations can’t use AWS Cloud Directory “out-of-the-box” without significant work
  • Functions more like a database, while AAD is focused on identity management for the cloud

The Value in Using Both Under a Cloud Directory Service

Cloud-forward organizations commonly see value in leveraging both Azure AD and AWS IAM tools to manage their IT resources. But doing this can also create siloed identities that IT admins must manage individually, causing a disconnect between multiple managed platforms. 

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 an agnostic cloud environment, like a core directory service. 

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. 


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Identity, access, and device management from a single cloud-based console

JumpCloud’s Open Directory Platform 

JumpCloud is effectively Active Directory and LDAP reimagined. With respect to Azure AD and AWS, JumpCloud’s open directory platform replaces or extends on-prem AD and becomes a cloud-based bridge between AD and AWS IAM – with no add-on tools required.

In fact, JumpCloud goes a few steps further and enables admins to extend the same user identity to virtually any IT resource, not just Azure and AWS. This includes Windows, macOS, and Linux systems, web and on-prem applications, IaaS solutions at other locations such as GCP and Digital Ocean, physical and virtual file storage alternatives, and networks spanning multiple locations.

Curious to see our platform in action? Reach out for a personalized demo, or sign up for a free trial to see it for yourself.

Molly Murphy

Molly Murphy is a Senior Content Writer at JumpCloud. A self-professed nerd, she loves working on the cutting edge of the latest IT tech. When she's not in the [remote] office, Molly loves traveling, rescuing animals, and growing her all together unhealthy obsession with Harry Potter.

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