Top Okta Alternatives | Identity Providers Explored

July 4, 2023 · 9 min read IAMOkta
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Okta is a prominent player in the field of identity providers (IdPs). Renowned for its identity and access management (IAM) services, Okta enables organizations to manage user authentication and authorization security from a single platform. Its broad range of features, excellent scalability, and high reliability make it a popular choice among businesses.

However, the IdP landscape is vast, with numerous providers offering comparable features, distinct integrations, and diverse pricing structures. Understanding the breadth of available options is essential in a sector that continues to evolve rapidly. Exploring these alternatives isn’t a criticism of Okta; rather, it’s a necessary step toward appreciating the full spectrum of choices. Every organization has unique needs, and what suits one may not be the best fit for another.

The user experience is one crucial consideration. Users appreciate the convenience of a single portal where they can view and manage all their access, including self-service capabilities to control their profiles, reset passwords, and submit access requests. Administrators appreciate these features as well, because automated workflows help to optimize efficiency.

In addition, the level of customization and flexibility that an IdP offers — whether it allows you to create custom workflows, to implement unique policies, and/or to tailor the system to specific business needs — can significantly affect how well it aligns with an organization’s requirements (for example, automated account provisioning or single-click offboarding).

Understanding identity providers

IdPs act as trusted entities that validate a user’s identity against stored data, like Google validating your identity when you log in to Slack. As with traditional passwords, IdPs ensure that only authorized individuals can access sensitive data, with the added benefit of SSO simplifying the user experience by requiring that users remember only one password, which also helps reduce password fatigue. This will in turn aid administrators, as there are fewer identities to manage across varying systems.

That being said, many are hesitant to call Google Workspace an identity provider, as it doesn’t provide many of the features we now expect from modern IdPs, such as:

  • Identity governance and administration (IGA): A cohesive access overview acts as the foundation of proper IAM, along with the ability to manage access requests, reviews, and approvals within a single platform.
  • Automated provisioning with SCIM: Especially as your organization grows, it becomes crucial to implement the automatic provisioning and onboarding of new users — not only to create an efficient workflow but also to avoid “ghost” accounts, or accounts that live on after an employee has left the company.
  • Automated compliance: An IdP can increase the likelihood of staying compliant in numerous ways — most commonly via automated access reviews and cohesive, up-to-date access reports.

So while Google Workspace does offer the core features of an IdP, features like those listed above are why many companies look to other providers for fully fledged IAM solutions. As you navigate the diverse landscape of IdPs, you’ll encounter a spectrum of providers, including Okta and its alternatives, each presenting a unique blend of features and capabilities.

Remember to consider your specific needs and requirements. Understanding the different features — and shortcomings — of the various options can help you identify the right fit for your organization, whether it’s a basic IdP solution for authentication or a comprehensive IAM solution for broader governance and management.

The ‘default choice’: A look at Okta

Okta has become the go-to choice among IdPs for several reasons, including its extensive support for SAML and SCIM and automated workflows. Over the years, choosing Okta has become somewhat reflexive as administrators have become familiar with it, and people notoriously lean toward what we already know. Familiarity is of course not the only reason for choosing Okta, as the aforementioned support for SAML and SCIM and workflow automation do enhance the workflows of many IT admins — for instance, in these ways:

  • Event-driven IAM: Facilitating advanced IAM paradigms like just-in-time access provisioning.
  • Automated lifecycle management: Combining Okta’s SCIM integrations with workflows can aid in creating automated provisioning and deprovisioning processes.
  • Addressing a broadened set of identity automation use cases: As Okta workflows support the execution of API requests, IT admins can implement a variety of security automations, like provisioning time-based access when developers (or applications) need to access databases.

However, the wide array of possibilities created by Okta also highlights one of the biggest pitfalls: time and complexity. For instance, taking a look at workflows for user provisioning to Salesforce, you’ll see that although it’s possible and powerful, it’s not simple. For large companies with teams dedicated to access management, it may make sense. But many companies can’t afford the time it takes to set up and maintain a broad system like Okta — this is especially true for many early-stage startups.

From a financial perspective, Okta’s pricing model is reasonable for some, but an early-stage company may have neither the resources to understand Okta’s pricing model nor the usage required to meet Okta’s minimum annual contract. The screenshot below is an excerpt from Okta’s pricing page, listing out individual pricing for each service they offer. That being said, you’ll likely need more modules than those shown below — Okta users usually pay between $12 and 18 per employee.

Okta pricing

There’s a time and place for choosing Okta, but before you do so, make sure to fully acknowledge the needs you have, how quickly they can be met, and how much effort is required by you.

ProsCons
Extensive support for SAML and SCIM, allowing for broad application compatibility.SCIM and SAML APIs often carry higher and hidden costs, also known as the “SSO tax”.
Advanced workflow automation capabilities to streamline identity management tasks.The setup process might not be as quick or as straightforward as with other IdPs.
Familiarity among administrators, contributing to problem-solving within the community.Okta provides many features, but implementing them requires a certain time commitment and level of experience.

Exploring Okta alternatives

The offerings of IdPs are as diverse as the demands of modern businesses. Let’s explore the unique strengths of some notable Okta alternatives.

JumpCloud: A Comprehensive approach to identity management

JumpCloud has redefined the concept of unified identity management. As a Directory-as-a-Service provider, it offers standard IdP services and device management. These functionalities help businesses manage user identities, devices, and access control from a single platform. The ability to manage access controls from a single platform may appeal to businesses whose employees’ devices are exposed to external personnel — for instance, in a coworking space.

With its cross-platform support, JumpCloud can help you manage the following from one dashboard: Mac, Windows, and Linux devices; user access to on-premise resources via LDAP integration; and even secure network access with RADIUS-as-a-Service. JumpCloud’s seamless integration across platforms is often overlooked. But it can significantly simplify IT operations, particularly in hybrid or multi-platform environments. JumpCloud also has conditional access policies and MFA for enhanced security. Other notable features include integration with popular applications like Office 365 and G Suite, remote device management, user lifecycle management, and event logging for auditing purposes.

ProsCons
Integrated MDM and cross-platform capabilities.Risks vendor lock-in when considering SSO and MDM.
Secure network access with RADIUS-as-a-Service.Fewer capabilities in terms of automation.
Offers a free tier to get started.More advanced packages can quickly become expensive, with the “best value” option being $17/user/mo with monthly billing.

SailPoint: Advanced identity governance and intelligence

SailPoint’s sophisticated identity governance and advanced artificial intelligence (AI) features differentiate it from other IdPs. With SailPoint, organizations can automate access certifications, manage privileged access, and ensure policy compliance. Its innovative, AI-driven IdentityAI feature offers predictive identity analytics, helping businesses preempt potential security threats and gain actionable insights into user access patterns. These advanced governance capabilities are valuable for businesses required to comply with strict regulatory standards like SOX or GDPR. And looking at SailPoint’s website, it’s clear who their target audience is.

Sailpoint statistics

ProsCons
Wide support for access discovery, IGA, and so on.Requires a dedicated team for setup and maintenance, given SailPoint’s focus on enterprise businesses.
Utilizes artificial intelligence for predictive analysis, enabling teams to be more proactive.Users report that the IdentityNow offering lacks customization, leading to an over-reliance on rules.
SailPoint’s certification campaigns can be a great aid when targeting compliance.The overall user experience has not received great reviews, being described as “tedious and click-centric.”

Google Workspace + AccessOwl: Automated access management

AccessOwl enhances Google Workspace’s identity services by adding capabilities like automated onboarding and offboarding, dynamic access control, and continuous compliance. At its core, AccessOwl makes user provisioning and access management as approachable as possible. This explains why the tool is building on top of Google SSO rather than creating an alternative. Retaining all the benefits of using Google as an IdP while adding the merits of dedicated tools like Okta can be a powerful combo. For instance, you rarely see a product implementing SSO login without applying Google SSO.

Other notable AccessOwl features include the ability to handle access requests directly in Slack and automated compliance reports.

ProsCons
Enables top-of-class SSO with top-of-class IGA, discovery, and provisioning.Requires the use of two separate tools.
Many SaaS providers charge extra for custom SSO implementations, but not for Google SSO.Larger companies may lack customization options for MFA or SSO.
SCIM and/or SAML setup is not required.Not a great fit for those in the Microsoft environment (Azure AD, Office 365, Teams, etc.), given the focus on Google Workspace and Slack users.

Azure Active Directory: Seamless Microsoft integration

Azure Active Directory (Azure AD) is famous for its seamless integration with Microsoft’s ecosystem. However, it’s also remarkable for its support for non-Microsoft and custom applications. Azure AD helps organizations manage identities and access Microsoft applications and thousands of SaaS products, including Salesforce, Dropbox, and Confluence. Furthermore, Azure AD allows developers to leverage its capabilities to build identity management into their custom applications. The flexibility to extend identity and access management beyond the Microsoft ecosystem benefits organizations with diverse application landscapes. Also, Azure AD supports hybrid identity scenarios with Azure AD Connect and complies with data protection and privacy standards like GDPR.

ProsCons
Comes standard with any Microsoft cloud offering (Azure, Office365, and so on).Limited IGA capabilities.
Familiar to many IT admins.Limited integrations outside of SCIM and/or SAML.
Often a default SSO option alongside Google.The SAML setup process can be tedious and time-consuming.

When considering these Okta alternatives, it’s crucial to think beyond the typical features of an IdP. As demonstrated above, these providers have unique capabilities that suit specific business requirements. Remember, the best solution depends on the features it offers and how well it solves your organization’s challenges.

Choosing the right identity provider

The term “best” is subjective in the identity provider world. The “best” IdP for your organization depends on your specific needs, your existing tech stack, and what you want to achieve with an IdP.

As discussed earlier, many organizations are drawn to Okta because of its automation capabilities and ease of use. However, look beyond these features when considering alternatives. Instead, consider how well other IdP products meet your needs.

For example, JumpCloud’s comprehensive approach to identity management could be ideal for an organization that values a unified platform. On the other hand, a larger company with rigorous regulatory standards may appreciate the robust identity governance features of SailPoint.

Importantly, remember that adding an alternative doesn’t necessarily mean replacing Okta or your existing IdP. Sometimes, you just need to augment your existing tools to address specific challenges. For instance, pairing Google Workspace with AccessOwl could be a great way to enhance your current IAM process without overhauling your tech stack.

Understanding the limitations of your existing system is also vital. For example, if you’re using Google SSO, understanding the limitations of SSO will help you determine whether another tool will benefit you.

Ultimately, choosing the right IdP is a strategic decision that should be based on a careful evaluation of your specific requirements, along with the capabilities and features of each option. In the rapidly evolving landscape of IAM, being open to alternatives and additions will ensure that you have the most effective solution for your organization.