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Employees today are logging into more and more applications from a variety of devices and locations. This can create challenges for IT departments for security and efficiency reasons. This all makes IAM solutions critical to any modern business, and two popular options in that category are Okta and Microsoft Azure Active Directory.

SEE: Password breach: Why pop culture and passwords don’t mix (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is Okta?

Okta is an IAM cloud-based solution to manage single sign-on web applications. With built-in integration for today’s top apps and production suites, it’s streamlined and easy to implement regardless of what platforms your business is running.

Okta was one of the pioneers in the IAM industry and the maturity of their product shows. A very simple dashboard interface and even a browser extension makes it a top pick among users for its ease of use.

What is Azure Active Directory?

Microsoft Azure Active Directory looks to mimic many of the features and capabilities of Okta. While offering similar SSO capabilities, Azure Active Directory is more suited for an enterprise environment where access to various network or company assets need to be managed by a central IT department. Azure Active Directory works best for development environments.

Being a Microsoft product, Azure Active Directory is clearly Windows-centric, although it does have pre-built integrations for most business tools. But at its core it’s not nearly as platform agnostic as Okta is. This may be a plus or minus depending on your current infrastructure.

Also, there is sometimes confusion with the naming conventions here. Azure Active Directory is a separate cloud-based user management solution for Azure and web logins. It does not replace the on-premise Active Directory.

Okta vs. Azure Active Directory: Feature comparison

FeaturesOktaAzure Active Directory
User self-service portalYesYes
Built-in integrationsYesYes
User SSO appYesNo
Security reportingYesYes
Passwordless sign-on optionsYesYes

Head-to-head comparison: Okta vs Azure Active Directory

Contextual access for multi-factor authentication

Okta and Azure Active Directory both have the ability to set contextual or conditional multi-factor authorization. This allows for different settings when new devices, IPs or other conditions are met upon login and then trigger a multi-factor required login.

For Okta, this is a built-in feature. With Azure Active Directory, this feature is only available in the premium pricing tier, so it’s not a default option.

Both Okta and Azure Active Directory offer deep customization in this area, with the ability to set multiple authorization levels for different organizational and app levels.

User self-service portal

Both Okta and Azure Active Directory offer a way for users to manage their own logins. With Azure Active Directory, it’s via the Microsoft Windows Azure portal or the Windows My Apps portal. Azure Active Directory is very integrated with the existing Microsoft ecosystem and expects users to be familiar with the network.

Okta’s user portal is stand-alone and not tied to other internal services. Many users also report it is more customizable and user-friendly than the Azure Active Directory version. Okta has a standalone app to manage logins on the go, so in this regard, the Okta version is more flexible, especially for those not already in the Microsoft Azure ecosystem.

Security reports

Security reports are a key element of any IAM tool. These can be used to track vulnerabilities before they are exploited. Both Okta and Azure Active Directory offer detailed security reports, but as with other options, Azure Active Directory only offers these in their premium packages. Basic packages are limited to only reports showing risky sign-ins, without the ability to drill down further.

These two tools are comparable, but if you are running a Security Operations Center, you’ll need the advanced version of the Azure Active Directory reporting to take full advantage of the resource.

Support packages

Setting up either Okta or Azure Active Directory can be quite different depending on your existing infrastructure.

With Azure Active Directory, unless your organization is already heavily invested in the Azure infrastructure, you’ll almost certainly require a dedicated support plan in addition to Azure Active Directory in order to fully get things up and running.

On the other hand, Okta can be implemented by most organizations without the need for additional support beyond standard offerings. This may be a key difference for some organizations depending on their size and the ability of their IT staff.

Is Okta or Azure Active Directory right for your business?

Both Okta and Azure Active Directory are very capable and robust IAM tools for SSO and user access management. The difference really comes down to your needs and existing network infrastructure.

For those businesses looking for a streamlined and customizable SSO tool to manage their team’s web logins, then Okta is likely the best fit. Its platform agnostic approach, built-in integrations, and ease of use makes it a great option. Despite being the easier of the two to implement, it still boasts deep features like contextual multi-factor authorizations and comprehensive security reports. Combine this with its pricing structure, and it makes for a great value product as well.

Azure Active Directory on the other hand is for enterprises already all-in with Azure and Microsoft. Azure Active Directory goes beyond Okta when it comes to needs above just web login management, such as complex developer environments where access to different services and assets are required. For this, Azure Active Directory does a much better job as it allows for an increased granular control of access.