Okta updates as it faces off against Salesforce and Microsoft

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Okta, one of the big names in the single sign-on market, is expanding its service today, while keeping its eye on new deep-pocketed competitors including Salesforce and Microsoft.

“Any time big companies like that want to play in your space it makes you wake up and take notice,” said Todd McKinnon, CEO of Okta.

Okta is one of several companies that helps customers manage the increasing number of cloud-based apps that employees are using. Instead of requiring users to remember and enter usernames and passwords for each app, Okta and competitors like Ping and Centrify let users log on to all their cloud apps with a single login, often tied in with Microsoft Active Directory (which is what many enterprises use for logging into their networks and on-premises apps). 

Okta today took the wraps off some new features, including support for on-premises apps and tools that let customers add support for cloud services, rather than waiting for Okta to do it for them. 

It’s that breadth of capabilities that will help Okta stand apart from the big guys, McKinnon said. Salesforce launched its Identity single sign on service two weeks ago, and Microsoft's Azure Active Directory service came out earlier this year, although it will get key updates before the end of the year.

McKinnon's opinion of the Salesforce Identity launch: “Pretty underwhelming.” He said that the number of apps Identity supports pales to the 3,000 that Okta supports. At launch, Salesforce said Identity uses open standards and would support any app, but didn't say how many it has integrated.

Also, McKinnon noted that the integration with Active Directory comes via ForgeRock, a company that developed the integration that Salesforce uses in Identity.

“So what did [Salesforce] spend a year working on?” McKinnon wonders. Salesforce first announced that it was working on an identity management product a year ago.

As a former Salesforce employee – he worked there for six years – McKinnon has some theories. “It means they don’t think it’s a priority,” he said.

When CITEworld spoke to Salesforce at the launch of the product, it sounded committed to the service, however.

McKinnon sounded more worried about Microsoft. “Microsoft is arguably more formidable as a competitor. They have more money. They have Active Directory, the most successful identity product ever,” he said. “This one is something we watch very closely.”

Still, Okta is seeing some weaknesses from Redmond. For instance, some Okta customers don’t use Active Directory at all, instead creating a new directory with Okta. As those businesses move away from using Exchange and Windows, they see even less reason to use Active Directory, he said.

It makes sense for McKinnon to point out potential problems that his competitors face. But huge, established enterprise vendors like Microsoft and Salesforce have a significant advantage in that they are selling to a large installed base, while Okta is a lesser known brand. Plus, cost puts Okta at a huge disadvantage: Microsoft and Salesforce are both making their identity offerings free to customers.

To compete in that environment, Okta is adding more features to its service. For instance, today it is announcing support for on-premises apps. That means that customers can use Okta to offer single sign on for all the cloud and on-premises apps – like Oracle or SAP apps – that workers use.

Okta isn’t alone in adding support for on-premises apps; most others in the identity management space are supporting cloud and on-premises apps in some fashion.

In addition, Okta is now allowing businesses to themselves add support for new cloud apps. That means they don’t have to ask Okta to support an app and then wait for the company to do it.

It’s also exposing more APIs so that customers can build Okta’s technology into customer facing websites. For instance, a business can let a customer sign in to their web site to access information that might be stored in different cloud services, without requiring that customer to sign in multiple times for each of the services.

At least in the aftermath of the Salesforce Identity announcement, there’s been one clear upside for Okta, according to McKinnon. “One thing we’ve seen is interest in Okta has gone through the roof since these guys came into the market,” he said. Companies that have never heard of Okta are seeing it compared to the new offerings from Microsoft and Salesforce and so are reaching out to the company, he said.

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