Not one I’d originally been able to attend, but a bonus side-effect of the coronavirus isolation is that events such as these, are forced to cater for remote attendees, which is exactly what I am! Okta if you’re not aware, is the leader in Identity-as-a-service, so to you and me (techies, not sales folk) is that it is a service giving you SAML, OAUTH, etc (single sign on) to web apps, as well as a centralised directory that can be a huge differentiator in this new cloud-centric world. I’m keen to see what the new major announcements are, that I can utilise within Stagecoach (my employer) to improve the user experience or security.
Given that Okta were supposed to be doing this in person at the start of March, for them to put together a full virtual conference with keynotes, breakout sessions and both keynote and customer speakers is a real credit to them. They’d really put the effort in to the whole ‘experience’ – just look at the experience when you log in. Great creativity!
The keynote stream started a little late, but this was simply down to huge demand with people saying there were as many as 15,000 viewers, bloody impressive.
A huge part of the early focus was on the impact of coronavirus worldwide and what Okta and their partners and customers are doing to keep their business going, and helping the medical teams in their countries. They moved into the growth of technology in these tough times, with the video conferencing usage looking much like the coronavirus growth graphs
Real credit to Zoom, Cisco and RingCentral for enabling business to communicate in the most simple way we can.
Jeremy Butcher, Enterprise and Education Product Martketing at Apple was next, and he talked about the huge growth of Apple in the Enterprise, and how a number of those customers are realising that ‘identity is the centre point’, hence the growth of IDaaS and companies such as Okta in the market today.
Todd McKinnon (CEO) talked around the three key services that Okta currently offer, Directories, Integrations & Insights (Threat, Health and User) and that they were launching three new services today.
The first service new to their offering is their Identity Engine which provides things such as app-level policies, such as branding per application, flexible account recovery and further integrations into ecosystems via their hooks systems. This will available in Q4 2020. The link below gives you a little bit more info
Next up is the Workflows service which is already available for those with the lifecycle management, but is now far more enhanced. They showed us a great demo showing a code-less flow of how adding a new user to a group on Okta could interact with Slack, Google Sheets and Office 365, all personalised for that user. They also demonstrated the offboarding of a user, disabling their account, handing files to their manager and creating an account for their personal email to collect their final payslip. This new feature is generally available immediately and I’m very excited at the potential for this. The link below gives you more, coherent information than above.
Next up John Maeltis, Head of Product, Engineering & UX at Google and he talked in depth of how Google were using ChromeOS and Google Chrome in tandem with Okta.
New Okta verify apps for mobile (IOS / Android) but also for Mac OSX and Windows which run as a service – a significant step forward on the existing setup. Also it can use device context to determine whether the device is fit to be onboarded, integrating with third parties such as Crowdstrike and VMware Carbon Black.
They spoke to Sanjay Poonen, COO at VMware who talked in detail about their approach to UEM (Unified Endpoint Management). They both talked about how WorkSpace One and Okta were working to share data, such as devices and how CarbonBlack could help provide that security detail to formulate whether access via Okta should be given.
The big annoucement was that of Okta FastPass, and this personally is a huge announcement. The ability to sign onto any device, without a password but securely is huge – and you can use AD, Azure AD, Jamf or your Enterprise Mobile Management platform to tie in your corporate devices too. Superb. Available Q4 2020 but it is in beta now.
To put a little context around this, because this is a very unique release, it allows people to sign in using biometrics into whichever device they have; IoS, Android, Windows or MacOSX, straight into Okta and therefore passwordless access into their commonly used apps, such as Slack, O365 – pretty much anything that supports SAML or Oauth. Oh and you can still put MFA rules around this as you always could. They talked about it being the AD (Active Directory) killer, the jury is out on that, but my word – what a great feature.
It wasn’t just the keynote, but also lots of breakout sessions, from roadmaps, to customer briefings. I spent some time looking at the security roadmaps, as well as some of their partners such as PrinterLogic and how they use Okta SAML & SCIM to allocate printers based on groups without Active Directory or group policy objects.
I’ve also watched some further breakout sessions on their Access Gateway, a reverse proxy but with some clever tweaks on top.
You had the option to either watch the sessions live, or they were available on-demand for those of us in the UK that couldn’t stay up to match the 8 hours difference from pacific time. Again, a very useful feature
Ask the Expert & Okta Hub
Lastly, Okta put on a virtual ‘ask the expert’ chat , which although was basic in terms of functionality had some real helpful people available, mostly sales engineers. For specialist help, they had Okta Hub, virtual stands with subject matter experts in various Okta components and services. I took advantage and fired a few questions over – and they were either answered on the spot, or arranged for a follow up chat.
This was the partner stands that most poeple would be familiar with from any large IT exhibition / event. Essentially a large number of vendors, vying for your business. Plenty of staff to ask questions, view videos of their Okta integration and core product. Much like the ‘Ask the Expert’ stands, it was good as far as content, just lacking the fun feeling and of course the masses of freebies that people take home from every event! No free socks – gutted!
So did I enjoy my first virtual conference? Yeah, I think I did. I think its a credit to Okta’s event team for getting this event working online when so many other events have postponed or cancelled, and more credit to them in the way their speakers and team adapted, often in a playful manner to talking into a webcam. Its hard enough talking on stage to crowds of people and coming across well, but to talk to a camera, unable to read the feeling of a room and with kids running round your house has got to be tough.
The content and the development of the Okta product is nothing short of superb. There is a reason they have been the Gartner leader for a number of years, and it shows. It may not be a cheap product, but as the old saying goes – you get what you pay for. This years product announcements, in particular the Okta FastPass could be a real gamechanger as Okta look to convince Enterprises to ditch their legacy Active Directory estates and move to a cloud-based consolidated directory for all end-user devices. Time will tell whether their time and effort will bear fruits.