Welcome!

Cloud Expo Authors: Roger Strukhoff, Pat Romanski, Gilad Parann-Nissany, Elizabeth White, Trevor Parsons

Related Topics: Cloud Expo, XML, Open Source, Virtualization, Web 2.0, Security

Cloud Expo: Article

Turning Identity-as-a-Service Inside Out

From the perspective of the user, the Cloud should empower us. IDaaS does the opposite.

Simple question with a surprisingly complex answer: who owns your identity? Our first instinct is to insist that we each own our own identities. After all, we are our identities, right?

Not so fast. There are myriad players who own a piece of your identity, from the credit bureaus to your bank to Facebook to your doctor to your employer. Every single one has some kind of identity management system that keeps track of information about you. In fact, this personally identifiable information (PII) is so powerful that when someone steals it, we call that crime identity theft - as though stealing your PII was the equivalent of stealing your very soul.

The reason PII has such power, of course, is because we give it power. Knowing a username and password gives you the power to access a system. Knowing your Social Security Number and birth date may give you the power to get bank account information from a call center rep. Add a bit more knowledge and you have the power to apply for a loan or a job or a security clearance. The old adage states that knowledge is power, but information only has power if we choose to empower it.

From the perspective of IT, managing user identities has long been in our wheelhouse. The Identity and Access Management (IAM) market matured years ago, and all enterprises have a broad set of robust IAM alternatives to choose from. But hey, it's almost 2013, right? Why buy some IAM product I have to install and maintain. Why don't I just get it in the Cloud?

The Problem with Identity-as-a-Service
No brainer, right? Sign up for Identity-as-a-Service (IDaaS), or perhaps call it Identity Management as a Service (IDMaaS) or IAM as a Service (IAMaaS) - the marketplace still hasn't settled on the term - and you can throw away your Active Directory or LDAP. If all your users want to do is access the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings you provide, then placing your user directory in the Cloud is an obvious choice. Even when you want to control access to on-premise applications, IDaaS might make sense. After all, your current IAM solution connects to the apps in question over the network as it is. What does it matter whether IAM is running in the Cloud or not? Just put your user directory in the Cloud, configure it to control access to all your apps, and call it a day.

The problem is, this "put all the users in a directory" approach to IAM is increasingly inadequate to cover the kinds of identity management scenarios that we're facing in our maddeningly complex, interconnected world. But this story isn't new, either; after all, federated identity standards and technologies have been around for a decade or more. With federated identity, two separate security domains (that is, different departments or organizations with their own IAM systems) can exchange identity information with each other securely. Think of one of the travel aggregators, like Orbitz or Travelocity. Log into the aggregator Web site and you can purchase tickets and hotel rooms and the like, without ever contacting the airline or hotel directly. Behind the scenes the aggregator and the service provider are exchanging secure tokens that contain a bit of your identity, along with the appropriate instructions.

Federated identity is an essential enabler of Cloud security as well, particularly when the enterprise isn't comfortable moving their IAM to the Cloud. In fact, federating on-premise identity to the Cloud is a central technique we discuss in our Cloud Computing for Architects course. But it's not the same as IDaaS, where an organization actually moves its user directory to the Cloud. And federated identity breaks down when there are too many participants in a complex interaction, like the types of interactions that are becoming increasingly common in the Cloud.

So far so good: IDaaS isn't right for every organization today, but it could easily belong somewhere on your Cloud roadmap. But even when you reach a level of maturity where you're comfortable moving your IAM to the Cloud, IDaaS still falls short, because it doesn't take into account how we as individuals would like to think about our identities. From the perspective of the user, IDaaS moves the control over our own identities even further away from the user - and that's not the way we consumers view the Cloud. From the perspective of the user, the Cloud should empower us. IDaaS does the opposite.

Identity as a Cloud Resource
The reason so many vendors fell into this trap with IDaaS is essentially the horseless carriage problem: we have IAM, we want to move to the Cloud, so let's put IAM in the Cloud - instead of rethinking the problem from the perspective of what the Cloud actually means. So, let's think about this problem in an entirely different way. Instead of beginning with the user directory at the heart of every IAM offering, let's begin with the user identity itself.

Essentially, we'd like to have some kind of avatar: a digital representation of our identity that the user controls for themselves. In other words, something like a digital wallet or key ring that manages PII on behalf of the user. Such technologies have been around for a few decades, of course; in fact, the whole idea of a digital wallet dates from the dot.com era in the 1990s. But such technologies didn't take off, for two reasons. First, big companies didn't like the idea of giving their customers control of their own identities. Second, we didn't have the Cloud.

Let's put off the discussion of control for a moment, because putting the Cloud piece into the puzzle will help us deal with the control issue. We need to consider the Cloud, however, because it changes everything. What the Cloud brings to the table is not just the ability to treat identity management as a service. It also enables us to treat identities themselves as Cloud resources.

As we discussed in an earlier ZapFlash, there are many different types of Cloud resources, including servers, storage, networks, queues, etc. Furthermore, the list isn't fixed. As Cloud Computing matures, we expect and encourage new types of resources. What makes them Cloud resources is that the user is able to dynamically provision and deprovision them with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

So, let's take the notion of a user identity - or to be more precise, the user's avatar - and consider it to be a Cloud resource. The user, that is, we can provision such avatars as we see fit. And because they're in the Cloud, they're location independent. Facebook could use our avatar. Assign it privileges or other properties. Or our bank. Or our employer. But we control it.

Furthermore, we can choose how we control our Avatar. We may wish to log into its Web interface, but that's only one option. We could also use a hardware device like a flash drive or a USB dongle. We could add biometrics to the device, say via a fingerprint reader. Or we could install software on our computers that would enable us to control the avatar.

Treating identities as Cloud resources can also provide privacy boundaries. For example, I might instruct my avatar to provide my Social Security Number to my bank and the IRS, but not to Facebook. And of course, one of the primary benefits of this approach is that I can maintain my personal information in a single place. If I move, I notify my avatar, and everyone I've authorized to see my address automatically gets the update.

The ZapThink Take
In fact, treating identity as a provisionable Cloud resource - an avatar in the Cloud - makes so much sense that you might wonder why nobody has already made a billion dollars on this idea. The answer, of course, is control. Remember all the hullabaloo when Microsoft tried to position Passport as a general purpose identity store? Customers rebelled and Microsoft ended up in court - several times, in fact. Fundamentally, nobody wanted Microsoft to be in control of our identities.

Today we're going through a similar situation with Facebook, Twitter, and the like. Why bother creating yet another login with yet another password to forget, when we can simply log into that new site with our Facebook ID? Yes, we all go along, until we eventually realize we really don't want to give Facebook so much control over our online identity.

The Cloud, at least in theory, shifts this control to the user. The user should be responsible for provisioning Cloud resources. Yes, there needs to be software behind the scenes that makes provisionable avatars work and keeps them secure, but if they are truly Cloud resources, the Cloud service providers won't control them. Their customers will.

Image source: Sundaram Ramaswamy

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is Chief Evangelist at EnterpriseWeb, where he drives the message and the community for EnterpriseWeb’s next generation enterprise platform. He is a global thought leader in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture. He is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer, and he also serves as blogger for DevX. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution: How Cloud Computing, REST-based SOA, and Mobile Computing are Changing Enterprise IT (John Wiley & Sons), was published in March 2013. Prior to EnterpriseWeb he was President of ZapThink, where he created the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, and ran the LZA course as well as his Enterprise Cloud Computing course around the world. He was also the primary contributor to the ZapFlash newsletter and blog for twelve years. Mr. Bloomberg is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in August 2011. Mr. Bloomberg’s book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). He has a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).

Cloud Expo Breaking News
File sync and share. Endpoint protection. Both are massive opportunities for today’s enterprise thanks to their business benefits and widespread user appeal. But one size does not fit all, especially user-adopted consumer technologies. Organizations must apply the right enterprise-ready tool for the job in order to properly manage and protect endpoint data. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Michael Bachman, Senior Enterprise Systems Architect at Code42, he will discuss how the synergy of an enterprise platform – where sync/share and endpoint protection converge – delivers incredible value for the business.
Simply defined the SDDC promises that you’ll be able to treat “all” of your IT infrastructure as if it’s completely malleable. That there are no restrictions to how you can use and assign everything from border controls to VM size as long as you stay within the technical capabilities of the devices. The promise is great, but the reality is still a dream for the majority of enterprises. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Mark Thiele, EVP, Data Center Tech, at SUPERNAP, will cover where and how a business might benefit from SDDC and also why they should or shouldn’t attempt to adopt today.
Today, developers and business units are leading the charge to cloud computing. The primary driver: faster access to computing resources by using the cloud's automated infrastructure provisioning. However, fast access to infrastructure exposes the next friction point: creating, delivering, and operating applications much faster. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Bernard Golden, VP of Strategy at ActiveState, will discuss why solving the next friction point is critical for true cloud computing success and how developers and business units can leverage service catalogs, frameworks, and DevOps to achieve the true goal of IT: delivering increased business value through applications.
APIs came about to help companies create and manage their digital ecosystem, enabling them not only to reach more customers through more devices, but also create a large supporting ecosystem of developers and partners. While Facebook, Twitter and Netflix were the early adopters of APIs, large enterprises have been quick to embrace the concept of APIs and have been leveraging APIs as a connective tissue that powers all interactions between their customers, partners and employees. As enterprises embrace APIs, some very specific Enterprise API Adoption patterns and best practices have started emerging. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Sachin Agarwal, VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at SOA Software, will talk about the most common enterprise API patterns and will discuss how enterprises can successfully launch an API program.
MapDB is an Apache-licensed open source database specifically designed for Java developers. The library uses the standard Java Collections API, making it totally natural for Java developers to use and adopt, while scaling database size from GBs to TBs. MapDB is very fast and supports an agile approach to data, allowing developers to construct flexible schemas to exactly match application needs and tune performance, durability and caching for specific requirements.
The social media expansion has shown just how people are eager to share their experiences with the rest of the world. Cloud technology is the perfect platform to satisfy this need given its great flexibility and readiness. At Cynny, we aim to revolutionize how people share and organize their digital life through a brand new cloud service, starting from infrastructure to the users’ interface. A revolution that began from inventing and designing our very own infrastructure: we have created the first server network powered solely by ARM CPU. The microservers have “organism-like” features, differentiating them from any of the current technologies. Benefits include low consumption of energy, making Cynny the ecologically friendly alternative for storage as well as cheaper infrastructure, lower running costs, etc.
Next-Gen Cloud. Whatever you call it, there’s a higher calling for cloud computing that requires providers to change their spots and move from a commodity mindset to a premium one. Businesses can no longer maintain the status quo that today’s service providers offer. Yes, the continuity, speed, mobility, data access and connectivity are staples of the cloud and always will be. But cloud providers that plan to not only exist tomorrow – but to lead – know that security must be the top priority for the cloud and are delivering it now. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Kurt Hagerman, Chief Information Security Officer at FireHost, will detail why and how you can have both infrastructure performance and enterprise-grade security – and what tomorrow's cloud provider will look like.
Web conferencing in a public cloud has the same risks as any other cloud service. If you have ever had concerns over the types of data being shared in your employees’ web conferences, such as IP, financials or customer data, then it’s time to look at web conferencing in a private cloud. In her session at 14th Cloud Expo, Courtney Behrens, Senior Marketing Manager at Brother International, will discuss how issues that had previously been out of your control, like performance, advanced administration and compliance, can now be put back behind your firewall.
More and more enterprises today are doing business by opening up their data and applications through APIs. Though forward-thinking and strategic, exposing APIs also increases the surface area for potential attack by hackers. To benefit from APIs while staying secure, enterprises and security architects need to continue to develop a deep understanding about API security and how it differs from traditional web application security or mobile application security. In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Sachin Agarwal, VP of Product Marketing and Strategy at SOA Software, will walk you through the various aspects of how an API could be potentially exploited. He will discuss the necessary best practices to secure your data and enterprise applications while continue continuing to support your business’s digital initiatives.
The revolution that happened in the server universe over the past 15 years has resulted in an eco-system that is more open, more democratically innovative and produced better results in technically challenging dimensions like scale. The underpinnings of the revolution were common hardware, standards based APIs (ex. POSIX) and a strict adherence to layering and isolation between applications, daemons and kernel drivers/modules which allowed multiple types of development happen in parallel without hindering others. Put simply, today's server model is built on a consistent x86 platform with few surprises in its core components. A kernel abstracts away the platform, so that applications and daemons are decoupled from the hardware. In contrast, networking equipment is still stuck in the mainframe era. Today, networking equipment is a single appliance, including hardware, OS, applications and user interface come as a monolithic entity from a single vendor. Switching between different vendor'...
Cloud backup and recovery services are critical to safeguarding an organization’s data and ensuring business continuity when technical failures and outages occur. With so many choices, how do you find the right provider for your specific needs? In his session at 14th Cloud Expo, Daniel Jacobson, Technology Manager at BUMI, will outline the key factors including backup configurations, proactive monitoring, data restoration, disaster recovery drills, security, compliance and data center resources. Aside from the technical considerations, the secret sauce in identifying the best vendor is the level of focus, expertise and specialization of their engineering team and support group, and how they monitor your day-to-day backups, provide recommendations, and guide you through restores when necessary.
Cloud scalability and performance should be at the heart of every successful Internet venture. The infrastructure needs to be resilient, flexible, and fast – it’s best not to get caught thinking about architecture until the middle of an emergency, when it's too late. In his interactive, no-holds-barred session at 14th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Development Community Advocate for SoftLayer, will dive into how to design and build-out the right cloud infrastructure.
You use an agile process; your goal is to make your organization more agile. What about your data infrastructure? The truth is, today’s databases are anything but agile – they are effectively static repositories that are cumbersome to work with, difficult to change, and cannot keep pace with application demands. Performance suffers as a result, and it takes far longer than it should to deliver on new features and capabilities needed to make your organization competitive. As your application and business needs change, data repositories and structures get outmoded rapidly, resulting in increased work for application developers and slow performance for end users. Further, as data sizes grow into the Big Data realm, this problem is exacerbated and becomes even more difficult to address. A seemingly simple schema change can take hours (or more) to perform, and as requirements evolve the disconnect between existing data structures and actual needs diverge.
SYS-CON Events announced today that SherWeb, a long-time leading provider of cloud services and Microsoft's 2013 World Hosting Partner of the Year, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 14th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 10–12, 2014, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York. A worldwide hosted services leader ranking in the prestigious North American Deloitte Technology Fast 500TM, and Microsoft's 2013 World Hosting Partner of the Year, SherWeb provides competitive cloud solutions to businesses and partners around the world. Founded in 1998, SherWeb is a privately owned company headquartered in Quebec, Canada. Its service portfolio includes Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Dynamics CRM and more.
The world of cloud and application development is not just for the hardened developer these days. In their session at 14th Cloud Expo, Phil Jackson, Development Community Advocate for SoftLayer, and Harold Hannon, Sr. Software Architect at SoftLayer, will pull back the curtain of the architecture of a fun demo application purpose-built for the cloud. They will focus on demonstrating how they leveraged compute, storage, messaging, and other cloud elements hosted at SoftLayer to lower the effort and difficulty of putting together a useful application. This will be an active demonstration and review of simple command-line tools and resources, so don’t be afraid if you are not a seasoned developer.