IAM (Identity & Access Management) Vs IdP (Identity Provider)

Written by Vince Lujan on March 29, 2019

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With so many acronyms in the identity management market, such as IAM, IdP, IDaaS, PIM, PAM, MFA, 2FA, and many more, each describing similar but distinct concepts and solutions, some clarity to the space is needed. Here we will compare IAM vs IdP, or Identity and Access Management (IAM) versus the Identity Provider (IdP).

IAM Explained

The term Identity and Access Management, or IAM for short, describes the overall category of identity management solutions that are used to manage user identities and access to IT resources. The IAM category consists of a number of subcategories, including the IdP, Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS), Privileged Identity/Access Management (PIM/PAM), Multi-factor/Two-factor Authentication (MFA/2FA), and many more.

Essentially, the term IAM can be used to describe any manner of identity management solution that manages user identities and their access to various IT resources. Now, with the concept of IAM understood, let’s take a closer look at the IdP subcategory.

What is an Identity Provider?

The term Identity Provider, abbreviated as IdP, refers to a subcategory of IAM solution that is focused on managing core user identities. Also known as directory services, the IdP acts as the source of truth for authenticating user identities.

As such, the IdP is perhaps the most important subcategory of IAM solution because it often lays the foundation of an IT organization’s overall identity management infrastructure. In fact, other IAM categories and solutions, such as IDaaS, PIM/PAM, MFA/2FA, and others are often layered on top of the core IdP and serve to federate core user identities from the IdP to various endpoints. Therefore, your choice in IdP will have a profound influence on your overall cloud IAM architecture.

For example, one of the most notable examples of an identity provider is Active Directory® (AD), Microsoft’s traditional on-prem IAM platform. AD came to market in the late 1990s, at a time when most IT networks were on-prem and based on the Windows® OS. The dominance of Windows OS, and the ubiquity of on-prem networks, effectively enabled IT organizations to manage users and access to IT resources from one centralized location via AD. However, as more IT resources shift to the cloud and leverage non-Windows platforms, IT admins are realizing that the Windows-centric approach with AD on-prem can be limiting.

Specifically, a wide variety of new ideas and innovations have come to market since the turn of the century, such as cross-platform system environments (Windows, Mac®, Linux®), web applications (Salesforce®, GitHub, Slack), cloud infrastructure (AWS®, Azure®, GCP™), virtual storage solutions (Samba, QNAP, FreeNAS), and remote or otherwise wireless networks. Implementing new innovations such as these can offer tremendous benefits for IT organizations, like increasing productivity while simultaneously reducing cost.

The issue is that new innovations that are not on-prem, nor Windows-based are often difficult to manage directly with traditional IAM platforms—often requiring additional third-party add-ons (e.g., IDaaS, PIM/PAM, MFA/2FA) to extend the functionality of legacy tooling. Consequently, IT admins are then forced to choose IT resources that can be easily integrated with their legacy IdP, rather than the best of breed IT resources available.

Next Generation Cloud IdP

Fortunately, the shift to the cloud has inspired a renaissance of sorts in the IAM space. Next generation cloud IdPs are emerging that can mitigate many of the struggles with traditional IAM platforms in the modern age.

The JumpCloud platform is a great example, which re-centralizes IAM in the cloud, effectively eliminating the need for on-prem identity management infrastructure and third-party add-ons. By leveraging secure protocols such as LDAP, SAML, RADIUS, SSH, and REST, the platform securely manages and connects users to virtually any IT resource, regardless of their platform or location. JumpCloud even offers privileged identity management services, multi-factor authentication, and other security features as part of the comprehensive cloud IAM solution.

Learn More About IAM

Sign up for a trial of JumpCloud and check out the full functionality of our platform risk free. You can also check out our YouTube page, or browse our knowledge base for supplemental information on all things JumpCloud. Let us know if you have any questions.

Vince Lujan

Vince is a writer and video specialist at JumpCloud. Originally from the horse capital of New Mexico, Corrales, he has lived in Boulder, Colorado for three years. When Vince is not developing content for JumpCloud, he can usually be found at the Boulder Creek.

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