Google SSO vs. Okta: Comparing features, pricing and use cases

March 30, 2024 · 8 min read Google SSOOktaIAM
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Google SSO (single sign-on) or Okta, which is better? At first glance, this may seem like a straightforward question. Okta is a dedicated identity provider that’s highly recommended in the industry.

Google, on the other hand, is a search engine company venturing into identity management just because they have the money, right?

Wrong. While it’s true that Okta outmatches Google SSO in many ways, the two work on different principles, so each is suitable for a different class of business.

Before you blindly choose Okta, follow along as we compare the two solutions across key aspects of identity and access management (IAM):

  • Setup process
  • Authentication
  • User provisioning and deprovisioning
  • Access control and management
  • Logging and audit reports

You can then decide which one suits your business right now. But first, let’s clear something up.

Google SSO vs. Google Cloud IAM: What’s the difference?

When people talk about Google SSO, they’re often talking about Google Cloud IAM. This is Okta’s direct competitor; it offers SSO via SAML and supports SCIM provisioning.

In this post, however, when we say Google SSO, we’re referring to the “Sign in with Google” option that’s available on almost every SaaS app you use.

It’s also called Google Workspace SSO, and it’s the perfect way for businesses to harness the benefits of SSO without having to set up an identity provider.

User sign-in of Hubspot

The biggest problem with Google SSO: User lifecycle management

Google Workspace does an excellent job of user authentication and authorization. Unfortunately, it falls short in other aspects of IAM.

We’ll cover this in more depth, but in a nutshell:

  • It has limited access management controls.
  • It does not support user provisioning and deprovisioning for third-party SaaS services.
  • It offers limited monitoring and reporting.
  • It comes with limited automation options.

It’s these shortcomings that drive business owners and admins to consider Okta and other dedicated identity providers.

We want to provide another alternative — the perfect solution for startups and SMBs: Google SSO + AccessOwl.

It’s a simple, cost-effective way to continue enjoying the free SSO benefits of Google without compromising on user lifecycle management.

The biggest problem with Okta: Cost

Okta ticks all the boxes as far as IAM features, but its hidden costs may be too high for many startups and SMBs.

Okta relies on SAML for SSO and SCIM for provisioning — and here’s the shocker: you need to upgrade your SaaS tool to an enterprise license to get SAML and SCIM support.

And sometimes the price increase is extreme. For example, the HubSpot standard plan costs $46 per month, but the enterprise plan with SSO costs $3,647!

It’s called the SSO tax, and there’s a whole movement combating this exploitative practice.

All this is before you factor in Okta’s subscription cost.

  • SSO: $2 per month per user.
  • MFA: $3 per month per user.
  • Lifecycle management: $4 per month per user.

That’s a starting price of $9 for the most basic plan ($15 if you opt for adaptive SSO and MFA).

In comparison, Google SSO and MFA are free if you already use Google Workspace.

Check out our post on the true cost of Okta for a detailed overview of how the SSO tax affects your SaaS budget.

Okta vs. Google SSO: The complete breakdown

Here’s how Google SSO compares with Okta in terms of setup and functionality.

Setup

Google SSO requires no setup. The “Sign in with Google” option is already available on almost every SaaS service you use. Additionally, more than 3.8 million websites offer sign-in with Google. In contrast, Okta SSO configuration is a multi-step process that requires technical expertise. A simple misconfiguration can result in sign-in issues. It gets even trickier if a SaaS service lacks built-in SAML and SCIM, and you have to connect it manually to Okta using API keys. You’ll need a dedicated IT team to set up and manage Okta in your business.

Authentication

Google SSO leverages your employees’ workspace identities for authentication and authorization. With Okta, you can choose to use its universal directory to store and manage identities or draw from your existing directory (that is,Google Workspace or Microsoft AD).

The Okta universal directory will cost you an extra $2 per user every month. Both solutions enable you to add an extra layer of security through multifactor authentication (MFA).

The available Google MFA options are the Google Authenticator app and security keys; Okta supports MFA through SMS, email, voice, biometrics, and Okta Verify. Google’s authentication is simpler to implement and is available for free, while Okta’s authentication is more comprehensive but is charged on a per-user basis.

Access control and management

This is where we see the first major mismatch between Okta and Google SSO.

Most notably, Google SSO lacks role-based access controls. Instead, it relies on workspace user groups — this is not as scalable and requires more effort to set up.

Imagine a situation where you have a group with multiple users who need different access levels — like your content marketing department. You may want the editor to have “read” and “edit” rights but not “create” rights. At the same time, you want the content lead to have all rights including “create” and “post.”

This creates a big list of variables that could be simplified by defining specific roles and assigning access rights and permissions to those roles.

The good news is that coupling Google SSO with AccessOwl eliminates the complexities of access management by allowing employees to request access right in Slack. AccessOwl then forwards the requests to the right stakeholders for approval.

AccessOwl access request window to select application

You can also set up auto-approval for low-risk applications, or multi-step approval flows with several stakeholders for high-risk applications. This option is available only on Okta Identity Governance, which starts at $9 per user.

User provisioning and deprovisioning

Both solutions support SCIM provisioning, but Google Workspace offers support for a small number of SaaS applications.

Consequently, you may need to manually provision users to your SaaS apps and manually delete them if they leave the company. This can quickly become overwhelming, especially if you’re using multiple SaaS solutions.

Okta offers more SCIM integrations than Google, but as we’ve already highlighted, it’s a technical process that calls for specialized expertise.

It will also cost you — thanks to the SSO tax.

There’s good news: AccessOwl can take care of account creation, changes, and deletion without the SCIM protocol. It supports more than 100 tools, including Google Workspace, Notion, Slack, and Atlassian.

Better yet, you can integrate AccessOwl into your onboarding and offboarding flows so that it automatically creates or deletes user accounts for you.

Monitoring and reporting

Google SSO has a great audit trail for its suite of products but is lacking when it comes to external applications.

This makes it less than ideal when it comes to compliance. You can’t track and document access requests, access approvals, and exactly what users did with their access.

This is where AccessOwl comes in. It acts as the single source of truth for all applications, accounts, roles, and permissions, and it allows you to download access reports at any time.

Overview of a user’s access in AccessOwl

On its end, Okta also offers solid access tracking and lets you easily download reports necessary for proving compliance.

However, it retains activity logs for only 90 days. You’ll need to find another way to store the logs for future use.

Which one should you use? The verdict.

On paper, Okta may seem like an obvious next step in your IAM journey. It’s a full-fledged solution for taking care of authentication, authorization, access management, and reporting.

In real life, however, it’s not as straightforward.

First, there’s the initial cost to procure Okta. SSO, MFA, lifecycle management, and identity governance are all offered as different solutions that you purchase separately. Then there is the SSO tax to worry about.

Moreover, the setup and management of Okta is a complex process that requires a dedicated IT team. Google SSO, on the other hand, requires no initial setup, and it’s available for free with Google Workspace.

Conclusion: Okta is a great solution if you’re planning to hire a dedicated IT team and you expect to upgrade to enterprise subscriptions for all your SaaS apps.

If you don’t have a dedicated IT department, or the budget for the more expensive enterprise plans, then Google Workspace coupled with a tool such as AccessOwl might be a better alternative. You’ll still enjoy all of Okta’s benefits, but without the complex setup processes and hidden costs.

FAQ

Which is better: Okta or Google SSO?

Okta is an excellent all-around identity provider, but it comes with hidden costs. Google SSO, on the other hand, is free but lacks some key features of lifecycle management. However, if you use Google SSO, you can couple it with AccessOwl to enjoy all of Okta’s benefits without the high cost and setup hassle.

Is Google SSO free?

Yes. Google Workspace users can set up Google SSO coupled with MFA at no cost. This allows users to sign in to your SaaS tools without needing to create multiple login credentials.

How secure is Google SSO?

Google SSO helps boost business security by eliminating the need for users to have multiple passwords for multiple accounts. Consequently, you don’t have to worry about cybercriminals exploiting weak or reused passwords to infiltrate your business. Google SSO also supports MFA, which adds another layer of protection on top of standard sign-in.

What are the disadvantages of Okta?

Okta’s biggest disadvantage is cost. On top of the usual upfront fees (subscription, deployment, and admin training), choosing Okta also means paying the SSO tax — the extra fees or forced upgrades demanded by SaaS providers for SAML and SCIM support.

What are the disadvantages of Google SSO?

The biggest problem with Google SSO is the management of third-party users after authentication. However, instead of switching to SAML and SCIM and incurring unnecessary costs, you can combine AccessOwl with Google SSO and enjoy both identity and access management.

Does Google support SAML-based SSO?

Yes, Google Cloud IAM is an upgraded version of Google SSO that supports SAML-based SSO and SCIM provisioning. It currently provides pre-integration with more than 200 apps, but unlike Google Workspace SSO, it’s not free. In a battle between Okta and Google Cloud IAM, who do you think wins?