AWS’s free single sign-on launch shows expanisonist tendencies in SaaS market

The AWS logo hangs in the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 30, 2017.

Amazon Web Services quietly planted another stake in the workplace software-as-a-service market last night with the launch of a new single sign-on offering. It’s a free service that lets companies provide their employees with a single set of credentials for logging into a variety of different applications.

While AWS made its name as a cloud provider by providing companies with elastic infrastructure and platforms for running their applications in the tech titan’s datacenters, it has shown an increasing interest in providing tools to help customers improve employee productivity. This single sign-on service offers built-in integrations with services like Salesforce, Box, and Microsoft Office 365, as well as a tool for customers to create their own custom integrations written in the Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML).

AWS has been doubling down on providing workplace SaaS offerings over the past couple years. Early this year, the cloud provider launched Amazon Chime, a workplace chat and videoconferencing product that competes with offerings like Microsoft’s Skype for Business. It has also launched QuickSight, a business intelligence service; WorkMail, an email and calendar service; WorkDocs, a file collaboration and productivity suite; and WorkSpaces, a cloud virtual desktop service.

The cloud titan’s competitors often feature SaaS offerings as key parts of their portfolios. Microsoft has Office 365, Power BI, Dynamics 365, and other services in that vein. Google Cloud pushes G Suite, Analytics 360, and other offerings. Oracle, which has been locked in a war of words with AWS, has seen a great deal of success with its cloud SaaS business.

Single sign-on has been one of the key levers that Microsoft has used to migrate its cloud customers away from their on-premises software deployments. The company’s Azure Active Directory service provides a similar management experience to what IT administrators are used to in an on-premises environment, just as a fully managed cloud service.

That service then serves as a beachhead for the company’s in-house sales team and partners to upsell enterprises on other cloud offerings like its Office 365 productivity suite, Dynamics 365 business applications, and Azure cloud platform.

AWS already offered a managed Microsoft Active Directory service. Single-Sign On can integrate with that or connect to an on-premises Active Directory through the cloud provider’s AD Connector.

This isn’t just an enterprise-focused offering, though. Amazon’s cloud is popular among startups, and single sign-on is useful for helping to maintain security by only requiring employees to remember one password. Smaller companies that don’t want to pay for different security services may just turn to AWS because they’re already all-in on the cloud platform.

That’s not to say AWS will start dominating the market right away — business identity management is a crowded business, with cloud providers pushing their own offerings alongside companies that are focused primarily on providing identity management and security services. One such business is Okta, a cloud identity vendor that just announced a startup tier this week that provides smaller companies with free identity management services.

Building SaaS offerings would seem to be more than a passing fad for AWS. The cloud provider recently sued Gene Farrell, a departing executive, over his move to Smartsheet, a Seattle-area company that offers cloud-based collaborative productivity software. (The case was later dropped after the two parties reached a settlement agreement.)

AWS’ suit against Farrell raised eyebrows among people who closely watch the cloud provider’s movements, considering that other high-profile executives have been able to leave the company for competing businesses without a lawsuit.

Right now, the Single Sign-On service is only available in Amazon’s Northern Virginia region.

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