What is Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS)?

Written by Molly Murphy on July 26, 2022

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Updated on January 27, 2023

More and more companies are turning to remote and hybrid work models, so ensuring employees can access company resources from wherever they work is a top priority for IT departments. But in a remote environment, all the necessary identity and access management (IAM) authentications for applications, company servers and resources can be daunting. 

That’s where Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) comes in. IDaaS provides IT teams with a cloud-based single pane of glass from which to authenticate user access to a variety of resources. It works to ensure that organizations improve their security posture by providing users with one authoritative, secure identity to access their resources. 

In this article, you’ll learn how IDaaS started, the benefits of using IDaaS, how managing identities works, and what to look for when choosing your IDaaS provider. 

IDaaS Origins 

When comparing IAM vs. IDaaS, it’s important to note that originally, Identity-as-a-Service platforms were just a type of authentication solution that federated identities to web-based applications. 

First-generation IDaaS began, as so many things do, with Microsoft. Over the past 20 years, Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD) has become the commercial market share leader of on-prem identity providers, competing only with OpenLDAP, the open source solution of choice. While AD struggles to manage Linux systems, OpenLDAP was designed with more technical platforms, like Linux, in mind. This means that many companies must manage both AD and LDAP, and then layer on a first-generation IDaaS SSO solution for their cloud-based apps. 

While this system is complex and unwieldy, thankfully there’s a modern solution. Enter: next-generation IDaaS. Next-gen IDaaS (or, as we call it, Directory-as-a-Service) is an all-in-one cloud identity provider that securely manages and connects user identities to systems (Windows, Mac, and Linux), cloud and on-prem applications, and networks. Directory-as-a-Service platforms provide centralized user management, hosted LDAP, cloud RADIUS, device management, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and True Single Sign-On™ all in one app. This approach to IDaaS eliminates the need for three different solutions: Active Directory, OpenLDAP, and web application SSO.

What Are the Benefits of Identity-as-a-Service?

As mentioned above, IDaaS’s biggest advantage is how it’s able to consolidate identity management of multiple applications into one streamlined platform. Next-gen IDaaS securely connects users to virtually all of their IT resources regardless of protocol, platform, provider, or location. As a result, IT admins gain the agility, security, and efficiency that comes from being able to leverage a single pane of glass to run your entire IT environment. 

But Identity-as-a-Service offers even more benefits, like freeing up IT admins’ time, improved security, and the ability to choose the IT resources that make the most sense for your business. Check out our Benefits of IDaaS article to learn the details of these benefits and more. 

How Can Identities Be Managed with Modern IDaaS?

Modern IDaaS offers IT admins all the capabilities of traditional identity management, but in one streamlined, all-in-one application. These next-gen platforms ensure users have one secure identity to access their resources, and that the identity is accounted for and monitored.

In addition to monitoring, admins can increase security by implementing other common IDaaS features, like password requirements that dictate complexity and rotation minimums. They can also require multi-factor authentication (MFA) at each login, whether employees are logging into systems, applications, networks, or other resources. For on-prem and cloud-based server access, they can require SSH keys. 

Modern IDaaS platforms now serve as the core directory, eliminate the need for on-prem operations, and extend the concept of cloud-based identity management to much more than simply web applications.

Factors in Choosing Your IDaaS Provider

IDaaS is the identity management solution of now, and of the future. But with several strong providers out there, it can be hard to determine the best fit for your IT department, and your business as a whole. When comparing Identity-as-a-Service Providers, ensure your choices have the below qualifications.

Cloud Native, Not Cloud Compatible 

By definition, all IDaaS solutions are delivered from the cloud. But there’s a big difference between platforms adapted to the cloud, and platforms created for the cloud. 

Adapting legacy, on-prem solutions to work with the cloud is called “cloud washing,” and it almost always involves a clunkier, or more limited management experience compared to on-prem and cloud-native solutions. Take Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), Microsoft’s cloud-based directory, for example. Azure AD was designed as a cloud-option extension of on-prem legacy AD. It incorporates more cloud functionality than legacy AD, but traditional on-prem functions are taken away, like group policy management, organizational unit management, and legacy authentication functions. 

A true next-generation IDaaS solution is cloud native, meaning it was built from the ground up from the cloud, and for the cloud. These products experience no limitation in their cloud capabilities, because they were designed with remote work in mind, not adjusted to accommodate it after the fact. The benefits of these SaaS-delivered solutions are numerous, including shifting the installation and maintenance to the third-party provider.

Provides Core Identity Storage Through SSO

The key to cybersecurity in today’s evolving landscape is managing and maintaining one core identity for each user. During the time of on-prem identity management, IT admins would provision user access through AD. Those core credentials then gave them access to their workstations to access Microsoft-based, on-prem networks, servers, and applications.

But today’s average user needs to access a wide array of non-Microsoft and cloud-based resources to do their job effectively. The rapid growth of these varied resources led some users to circumvent traditional IT processes to create their own, non-sanctioned accounts separate from their core identities, and the resulting shadow IT poses a significant cybersecurity risk.

Cloud-native comprehensive IDaaS solutions address this risk using True Single Sign-On™ (True SSO). That is, a single identity that works for virtually all modern systems, applications, networks, and files. The ultimate goal of next-gen IDaaS is to make sure people are who they say they are, and that those people have access to the right applications, networks, and systems, regardless of whether those resources are cloud-based or on-prem. 

Supports Mixed Platforms, On-Prem, and Cloud Applications 

Look for a modern, agnostic IDaaS solution that offers complete management, regardless of the platform, applications, or resources you need to secure identities for. Today’s IT environments are heterogeneous, not homogeneous, and your IDaaS platform should be, too. 

While Windows was the dominant platform 15 years ago, in recent years Linux has become the de facto platform of choice for technical users, and Mac has grown in popularity among executives, creatives, and average users as well. These mixed environments is where modern IDaaS can really shine, because legacy applications like Active Directory have a hard time managing mixed networks. 

Along with balancing a mixed platform environment, IT admins must manage applications that are both on-prem and in the cloud — and the two often have different authentication protocols and methods. Cloud applications typically use SAML as the protocol, while many on-prem applications use LDAP. Choosing a modern IDaaS platform that manages both means whatever the protocol, you’ll be able to control user access.

Improves Existing Security

Top-notch modern IDaaS solutions let you tightly control access and centrally increase security through features such as password complexity management, MFA/2FA, and SSH keys, along with True SSO. Identities are the number one attack vector, so choosing a platform with top security features is instrumental in protecting your environment. Make sure the platforms you’re considering have the following security features. 

  • Password complexity requirements: This feature allows admins to institute password conditions that aren’t easily guessed or accessed by cybercriminals. You can require a certain length, a mixture of letters, symbols, and numbers, and additional parameters like not allowing words or identifying information as part of the password.
  • Multi-factor authentication: This feature requires at least a two-part login process, including something the user knows (typically their password) and something they have (usually a time-based one-time password [TOTP] or push notification to a personal device). 
  • Secure shell (SSH) keys: Delivered in pairs, SSH keys ensure only people who possess the necessary key sets can gain access to the guarded applications or resources. 

Choosing a next-generation IDaaS solution with these features allows organizations to authenticate a singular identity to their assets, regardless if those are stored on-prem or in the cloud. This ultimately creates a more centralized, secure foundation for IT teams to build their infrastructure on, and through True SSO, users can gain access to everything they need to Make Work Happen™. 

Next-Level Identity-as-a-Service with JumpCloud

IDaaS has evolved beyond just SSO for web applications. Now, it provides IT departments with the opportunity to improve both security and usability within their enterprises. As IT infrastructure continues to shift in favor of cloud-based software, it’s vital that all applications, systems, and networks be secured with the help of next-gen IDaaS tools that deliver full-spectrum usability, visibility, and management. If you’re ready to give a best-in-class open directory platform a try for all your IDaaS needs, JumpCloud’s your solution. Drop us a note, or sign up for a free account and give it a try for yourself. It’s free to try for up to 10 users and 10 devices.

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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