Google Cloud Identity vs. AAD

Written by Molly Murphy on February 3, 2023

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Microsoft and Google have been locked in a battle for the heart of the IT community for years now. This technological arms race has brought about a number of cloud innovations, including in identity and access management (IAM). Both contenders understand that by controlling user identities, they can lock you into their respective ecosystems and sell you additional services. 

In one corner, we have Microsoft Azure Active Directory (AAD), a cloud-based IAM solution for hybrid or cloud-only implementations. In the other corner, we have Google Cloud Identity, a cloud-based solution for managing user identities and access to Google resources. Both organizations seek to control your identities. The interesting problem is that if you are looking to replace your on-prem Active Directory instance or leverage directory services, then neither of these options can provide a solution.
In this article, we’ll compare Google Cloud Identity and Azure Active Directory, before explaining why neither is the best replacement for on-prem solutions.

What is Google Cloud Identity?

If you have ever used Google Workspace, you’re already familiar with Google cloud identities. Google identity management services enable users to connect to various applications and platforms delivered through Google. Google identity management allows for easy integrations to Google’s catalog of SaaS services and SSO applications but it does not offer support for legacy applications or on-prem resources. It also offers some authentication services via OAuth and SAML. An organization’s systems, on-prem applications, and network are outside of the scope of G Suite directory.

Unfortunately, this means that a lot of users will remain locked into their on-prem identity provider instance, namely Active Directory. While Google IDaaS is an excellent cloud user management system for Google Workspace, it is not a stand alone cloud-delivered directory service.

What is Azure Active Directory?

Microsoft’s version of the user management system is called Azure Active Directory (also called AAD, or Azure AD). The name confuses many people, because it makes it seem like Microsoft has moved their on-prem directory to the cloud. But that’s not the case. 

Rather, Azure AD works on top of Active Directory to provide single sign-on (SSO) access to a variety of SaaS applications like Office 365, Salesforce, DropBox, and many others. In essence, it is designed as a bridge between your existing legacy Active Directory instance and Microsoft’s catalog of compatible cloud-delivered services. While it is possible to sync your Active Directory instance with Azure AD, in of itself Azure AD is not a complete cloud-based directory service.

This is because Azure AD does not act as the authoritative source of truth of user identities (unless you are just using Office 365 or Azure resources). This role is still within the domain of Active Directory for many organizations, thus requiring traditional on-prem devices and dedicated IT staff to create and maintain. While Azure AD is meant to be a cloud identity platform, unfortunately, the true source of identity management is still firmly grounded with the legacy directory service, Active Directory.

The Problem with Google Cloud Identity and AAD 

As hinted above, the most glaring weakness of both of these platforms is that neither can truly function as the core identity provider for an organization. Instead, they’re user management systems designed only for their respective platforms.

Google Cloud Identity only organizes identities for Google Workspace and other Google cloud-hosted applications. It isn’t designed to be used for on-prem systems, AWS cloud servers, Azure, Office 365, and a wide range of other web and on-prem applications and networks. 

Azure Active Directory isn’t an Active Directory replacement, either. It’s a user management system for Azure, Office 365, and a web application SSO platform. If you want a core directory service, you won’t find it with either Google Cloud Identity or Azure Active Directory.

Instead, both of these platforms leave it to the IT department to figure out how to build a central, authoritative directory service for the organization. Having multiple user management platforms can create a significant amount of work and a great deal of security risk. 

Thankfully, there’s a better solution. An open directory platform can be your single authoritative source for user identities and authentication – across all platforms and operating systems. 

Open Directory Platform – the best Active Directory Replacement 

A new generation of cloud identity management is here. This independent solution, called an open directory platform, doesn’t rely on a single vendor, but works across platforms and operating systems to support authentication on Windows, Mac, Linux, Google Workspace, and more – all from the cloud, all at the same time. 

JumpCloud’s open directory platform provides the stability and authentication of Azure Active Directory and the flexibility and cloud nativity of Google workspace. You’ll also get many features, like SSO, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and password management you typically have to get from a third-party provider. 

Ready to learn more about why JumpCloud is the best replacement for active directory? Drop us a note to get a live demo, or sign up for your free account today.

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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