New Series: Understanding and Selecting Identity Management for Cloud Services

By Adrian Lane

Adrian and Gunnar here, kicking off a new series on Identity Management for Cloud Services.

We have been hearing about Federated Identity and Single Sign-On services for the last decade, but demand for these features has only fully blossomed in the last few years, as companies have needed to integrate their internal identity management systems. The meanings of these terms has been actively evolving, under the influence of cloud computing. The ability to manage what resources your users can access outside your corporate network – on third party systems outside your control – is not just a simple change in deployment models; but a fundamental shift in how we handle authentication, authorization, and provisioning. Enterprises want to extend capabilities to their users of low-cost cloud service providers – while maintaining security, policy management, and compliance functions. We want to illuminate these changes in approach and technology. And if you have not been keeping up to date with these changes in the IAM market, you will likely need to unlearn what you know. We are not talking about making your old Active Directory accessible to internal and external users, or running LDAP in your Amazon EC2 constellation. We are talking about the fusion of multiple identity and access management capabilities – possibly across multiple cloud services. We are gaining the ability to authorize users across multiple services, without distributing credentials to each and every service provider.

Cloud services – be they SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS – are not just new environments in which to deploy existing IAM tools. They fundamentally shift existing IAM concepts. It’s not just the way IT resources are deployed in the cloud, or the way consumers want to interact with those resources, which have changed, but those changes are driven by economic models of efficiency and scale. For example enterprise IAM is largely about provisioning users and resources into a common directory, say Active Directory or RACF, where the IAM tool enforces access policy. The cloud changes this model to a chain of responsibility, so a single IAM instance cannot completely mediate access policy. A cloud IAM instance has a shared responsibility in – as an example – assertion or validation of identity. Carving up this set of shared access policy responsibilities is a game changer for the enterprise.

We need to rethink how we manage trust and identities in order to take advantage of elastic, on-demand, and widely available web services for heterogenous clients. Right now, behind the scenes, new approaches to identity and access management are being deployed – often seamlessly into cloud services we already use. They reduce the risk and complexity of mapping identity to public or semi-public infrastructure, while remaining flexible enough to take full advantage of multiple cloud service and deployment models.

Our goal for this series is to illustrate current trends and technologies that support cloud identity, describe the features available today, and help you navigate through the existing choices. The series will cover:

  • The Problem Space: We will introduce the issues that are driving cloud identity – from fully outsourced, hybrid, and proxy cloud services and deployment models. We will discuss how the cloud model is different than traditional in-house IAM, and discuss issues raised by the loss of control and visibility into cloud provider environments. We will consider the goals of IAM services for the cloud – drilling into topics including identity propagation, federation, and roles and responsibilities (around authentication, authorization, provisioning, and auditing). We will wrap up with the security goals we must achieve, and how compliance and risk influence decisions.
  • The Cloud Providers: For each of the cloud service models (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS) we will delve into the IAM services built into the infrastructure. We will profile IAM offerings from some of the leading independent cloud identity vendors for each of the service models – covering what they offer and how their features are leveraged or integrated. We will illustrate these capabilities with a simple chart that shows what each provides, highlighting the conceptual model each vendor embraces to supply identity services. We will talk about what you will be responsible for as a customer, in terms of integration and management. This will include some of the deficiencies of these services, as well as areas to consider augmenting.
  • Use Cases: We will discuss three of the principal use cases we see today, as organizations move existing applications to the cloud and develop new cloud services. We will cover extending existing IAM systems to cover external SaaS services, developing IAM for new applications deployed on IaaS/PaaS, and adopting Identity as a Service for fully external IAM.
  • Architecture and Design: We will start by describing key concepts, including consumer/service patterns, roles, assertions, tokens, identity providers, relying party applications, and trust. We will discuss the available technologies fors the heavy lifting (such as SAML, XACML, and SCIM) and discuss the problems they are designed to solve. We will finish with an outline of the different architectural models that will frame how you implement cloud identity services, including the integration patterns and tools that support each model.
  • Implementation Roadmap: IAM projects are complex, encompass most IT infrastructure, and may take years to implement. Trying to do everything at once is a recipe for failure. This portion of our discussion will help ensure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. We will discuss how to select an architectural model that meets your requirements, based on the cloud service and deployment models you selected. Then we will create different implementation roadmaps depending on your project goals and critical business requirements.
  • Buyer’s Guide: We will close by examining key decision criteria to help select a platform. We will provide questions to determine with vendors offer solutions that support your architectural model and criteria to measure the appropriateness of a vendor solution against your design goals. We will also help walk you through the evaluation process.

As always, we encourage you to ask questions and chime in with comments and suggestions. The community helps make our research better, and we encourage your participation.

Next: the problems addressed by cloud identity services.

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A great introduction for this topic, which seems always to be forgotten when people talk about cloud services. Taking care of security - which includes authentication and authorization - in our company being a IT service provider, makes this topic especially interesting. Customers wanting to use cloud will reduce our business income, but we might give them some additional services for a seamless integrationin in their current world.
Special topic for me is the difference between cloud being used for development and testing (more likely IaaS and PaaS) and cloud being used by business.

By Oliver J. on

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