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AWS IAM vs Azure Active Directory: What are the differences?

AWS IAM is Amazon's service for managing user identities and permissions within its ecosystem, while Azure Active Directory is Microsoft's cloud-based identity and access management service for authentication and authorization across Azure and other Microsoft services. Let's explore the key differences between them.

  1. Authentication and Authorization: AWS IAM is primarily used for authentication and authorization within the Amazon Web Services (AWS) ecosystem. It allows you to create and manage users, groups, and roles, and define their permissions and access levels to AWS resources. Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), on the other hand, is a comprehensive identity and access management solution provided by Microsoft for its cloud services, including Azure. It provides authentication and authorization services not only for Microsoft services but also for third-party applications and services integrated with Azure AD.

  2. Federated Identity: While both AWS IAM and Azure AD support federated identity, there is a slight difference in their approach. AWS IAM integrates with external identity providers (IdPs) using the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) or OpenID Connect (OIDC) standards, allowing users to sign in to AWS using their existing credentials from these identity providers. Azure AD, however, provides a more extensive support for various federation protocols, including SAML, OIDC, WS-Federation, and others, enabling users to authenticate and access a wider range of applications and services beyond Azure.

  3. Multi-factor Authentication: Both AWS IAM and Azure AD support multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add an additional layer of security to user sign-in processes. However, Azure AD offers more flexibility in terms of MFA options, allowing organizations to choose from various methods such as OTP (One-Time Password), phone call verification, SMS verification, and even integration with hardware security tokens. AWS IAM, on the other hand, primarily supports virtual MFA devices and U2F security keys for additional authentication factors.

  4. Cross-Cloud Support: While both AWS IAM and Azure AD are designed for their respective cloud platforms, AWS IAM has limited support for cross-cloud scenarios. It is primarily focused on managing access and permissions for AWS services and resources. In contrast, Azure AD provides support for identity and access management across various clouds, including Azure, Microsoft 365, and third-party cloud services integrated with Azure AD. This makes Azure AD a more versatile choice for organizations with a multi-cloud or hybrid cloud strategy.

  5. Application Management: AWS IAM provides limited support for managing access and permissions to applications. It mainly focuses on AWS resources and services. Azure AD, on the other hand, offers comprehensive application management capabilities, allowing organizations to manage access, single sign-on, and user provisioning for a wide range of applications, including Microsoft 365 apps, third-party SaaS applications, and custom applications integrated with Azure AD. This makes Azure AD a more suitable solution for organizations with diverse application landscape and a need for centralized application access management.

  6. Enterprise Features: Azure AD offers several enterprise-level features that are not available in AWS IAM. These include advanced conditional access policies, risk-based authentication, identity protection, and privileged identity management. These features enable organizations to enforce stronger security controls, detect and mitigate identity-related risks, and streamline privileged access management processes. AWS IAM, although robust in its own right, does not provide the same level of advanced enterprise-specific features as Azure AD.

In summary, AWS IAM focuses primarily on authentication and authorization for AWS services, while Azure AD is a comprehensive identity and access management solution for various cloud services, including Azure. Azure AD offers more extensive federated identity support, a broader range of multi-factor authentication options, cross-cloud compatibility, comprehensive application management, and advanced enterprise features.

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Pros of AWS IAM
Pros of Azure Active Directory
  • 23
    Centralized powerful permissions based access
  • 3
    Straightforward SSO integration
  • 6
    Backed by Microsoft Azure

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Cons of AWS IAM
Cons of Azure Active Directory
  • 1
    Cloud auth limited to resources, no apps or services
  • 1
    No equivalent for on-premise networks, must adapt to AD
  • 3
    Closed source

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What is AWS IAM?

It enables you to manage access to AWS services and resources securely. Using IAM, you can create and manage AWS users and groups, and use permissions to allow and deny their access to AWS resources.

What is Azure Active Directory?

It is a comprehensive identity and access management solution that gives you a robust set of capabilities to manage users and groups. You can get the reliability and scalability you need with identity services that work with your on-premises, cloud, or hybrid environment.

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What companies use AWS IAM?
What companies use Azure Active Directory?
See which teams inside your own company are using AWS IAM or Azure Active Directory.
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Blog Posts

May 21 2020 at 12:02AM

Rancher Labs

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