Are Okta and AWS Complete IAM Solutions?

Written by Brenna Lee on April 14, 2023

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In the identity and access management (IAM) space, Okta and AWS are hot topics, and for very good reason. These two popular solutions aren’t really positioned head-to-head in the bigger picture, but when you zoom in, you’ll find that Okta and AWS IAM Identity Center are competing. To get to the bottom of the Okta versus AWS argument, this article will discuss what each solution is, where there’s overlap, and another modern IAM solution.

What Is Okta?

Okta is a popular web application single sign-on (SSO) solution in the Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS) space. As such, Okta is most often leveraged on top of a core identity provider (IdP) such as Microsoft Active Directory (AD) for its identity source of truth. Okta then takes those identities and propagates them to various connected web applications and other SAML-enabled cloud solutions.

Although they have dominated the SSO space for some time, Okta is also foraying into other facets of identity management, including multi-factor authentication (MFA) and privileged access management (PAM).

For many large enterprises, a PAM solution has been a standard protocol for extending Active Directory to servers and network infrastructure. Many IT organizations have leveraged solutions such as BeyondTrust, which Okta’s server access solution seemingly competes against.

Considering the untapped revenue at stake, it certainly appears that Okta’s goal here is to reach DevOps organizations managing AWS servers and other cloud servers. Traditionally, this group has leveraged OpenLDAP and configuration management automation solutions such as Chef, Ansible, Salt, and Puppet. However, the hidden challenge lurking underneath all of these approaches, including Okta’s, is that there still remains a general requirement to integrate with the core directory service. More often than not, that core directory service is Microsoft’s aging Active Directory. Why is this a problem? Well, Active Directory wasn’t built to support a cloud-forward, heterogenous workplace, and tends to struggle with non-Windows, cloud-based resources, but we’ll get back to that later.

What Is AWS Directory Service?

AWS Directory Service, on the other hand, was created as a cloud-offered version of an IdP, like Active Directory, within the AWS ecosystem. Usually included in the offering are hosted Microsoft Windows servers that incorporate Amazon’s Windows/Linux desktop client service, called WorkSpaces. 

AWS Directory Service comes in a number of flavors, including a partially managed AD instance as well as an open source Samba-based version. Generally, AWS customers that have AWS Directory Service are using AD on-prem and leveraging an instance of the solution to manage their AWS environment/users. Remember the issues we mentioned with Active Directory? They apply here too.

Okta vs. AWS

There are places where the lines between Okta and AWS Directory Service blur together; however, in some environments, Okta can be used on top of AWS Directory Service, since it functions similarly to AD. As both AWS and Okta continue to grow, it’s easy to imagine that the lines between the two will continue to blur further. Case in point, AWS IAM Identity Center is a direct competitive threat to Okta in the web application space.

Okta’s Market Extension Strategy

As Okta continues to go up market and focuses on catering to the largest enterprises in the world, there is little doubt that they will expand their wings in the identity management space. Previously, Okta dove into the two-factor authentication (2FA) space with their adaptive MFA solution, but this area remains highly competitive with Duo and Yubico, among others. Another area that Okta has picked up traction is in the developer space with a user management system for customer-facing web applications and mobile apps. The core competitor here? Azure Active Directory (AAD), B2C.

Although Okta and AWS solve some core IAM issues, using only these platforms does not address some of the other big issues organizations face with an on-prem identity management infrastructure. Ideally, IT admins and DevOps engineers would find a single solution that can serve as an IdP, SSO, and PAM all in one across their on-prem, cloud, and legacy environments.

More Add-Ons, Same Core Directory Service

We said we’d come back to it — so let’s talk about Active Directory a bit more. As IT organizations seek to harness cloud benefits and continue shifting away from on-prem identity management infrastructure (such as AD), a solution combining Okta and AWS still struggles to suffice because it doesn’t solve the fundamental issue of replacing the core directory service… AD. Furthermore, it doesn’t manage the SSH keys that AWS requires. So what are we looking at here? More add-ons and still the same issues with Active Directory:

  • Friction with Mac and Linux systems.
  • Complex configuration and management.
  • On-prem hardware required.
  • High initial cost for servers and maintenance.
  • Limited connectivity with cloud apps and infrastructure.

What Is JumpCloud? 

JumpCloud is an open directory platform for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and their managed service provider (MSP) partners that includes Zero Trust identity and access control, cross-OS device management, and much more. It simplifies the orchestration of identity management and access control throughout the vendor and open source landscape. 

JumpCloud is cloud-based and can be deployed for a domainless enterprise, without the need for AD or AAD, or you can extend your existing domains with a more straightforward deployment. So, you have two options: either add JumpCloud into your existing infrastructure to make it more cloud-forward and extend identities, or use it as your core cloud-based directory service. Whichever way you go, JumpCloud alleviates the need for many point solutions due to its expansive native capability suite. 

A few benefits of using JumpCloud are:

  • Frictionless cross-OS device management (Mac, Linux, Windows).
  • Simplified and centralized configuration.
  • No on-prem hardware required, but can be used with on-prem infrastructure if you have it already.
  • Expansive integration capabilities for modern IT environments.

JumpCloud vs. AWS and Okta

It’s possible that you’ve seen JumpCloud, AWS, and Okta positioned as either competitors or layered solutions. Let’s compare the three to get to the bottom of it. 

JumpCloud and AWS

JumpCloud and AWS work well together to seamlessly secure your identities, devices, and IT resources. The JumpCloud Directory Platform is an official identity provider (IdP) for AWS and can be deployed as the primary IdP for all of your AWS and IT resources or used as a bridge to extend and simplify the management of your AWS infrastructure with your current Microsoft Active Directory or other directory infrastructure. 

JumpCloud is integrated with the AWS IAM Identity Center and has pre-built AWS Connectors that use the SCIM standard to automate the process of provisioning users and groups into AWS and authenticates users to their assigned AWS accounts through the SAML 2.0 standard. The integration helps customers simplify AWS access management across multiple accounts while maintaining familiar JumpCloud experiences for administrators who manage identities, and for end users as they sign in, saving time and increasing security.

JumpCloud and Okta

The key differences to consider between JumpCloud and Okta generally stem from control over system infrastructure (user and system management), and the support for non-SAML protocols such as LDAP, RADIUS, SSH, Samba, and others related to network infrastructure and cloud servers. JumpCloud handles all of these things seamlessly while Okta is more of a niche point solution.

A Modern Solution

The good news is that you don’t have to daisy chain AD + Okta + AWS + whatever else you need anymore. JumpCloud was created to solve issues like this by centralizing and unifying identity and access management capabilities in the cloud. JumpCloud’s approach combines the IdP with web application SSO, and privileged access management to on-prem and cloud servers, such as AWS. This way, you get a centralized solution that’s agile, easy to manage, and all-inclusive.

One of the best things about the JumpCloud Directory Platform is that you can dive in and explore the platform for up to 10 users and devices at no cost. You’re free to try out the functionality and get a feel for how it all works together before making any kind of commitment. Another option is to request a demo, and let one of our product experts show you the ropes. We’re happy to answer any further questions you have, whether it’s regarding Okta and AWS, privileged access management, or specifics of managing your IT environment.

Brenna Lee

Brenna is a Content Writer at JumpCloud that loves learning about and immersing herself in new technologies. Outside of the [remote] office, she loves traveling and exploring the outdoors!

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