Disruptive Forces: The Economy and the Cloud

New generations of digital infrastructure get deployed quickly even when they are incompatible with what already exists.  But old infrastructure is incredibly slow to disappear.   The complicated business and legal mechanisms embodied in computer systems are risky and expensive to replace..  But existing systems can&#39t function without the infrastructure that was in place when they were built…  Thus new generations of infrastructure can be easily added, but old and even antique infrastructures survive alongside them to power the applications that have not yet been updated to employ new technologies.

This persistence of infrastructure can be seen as a force likely to slow changes in Identity Management, since it is a key component of digital infrastructure.

Yet global economic and technological trends lead in the opposite direction. The current reality is one of economic contraction where enterprises and governments are under increasing pressure to produce more with less. Analysts and corporate planners don’t see this contraction as being transient or likely to rebound quickly. They see it as a long-term trend in which organizations become leaner, better focused and more fit-to-purpose – competing in an economy where only fit-to-purpose entities survive.

At the same time that these economic imperatives are shaking the enterprise and governments, the introduction of cloud computing enables many of the very efficiencies that are called for.

Cloud computing combines a number of innovations. Some represent new ways of delivering and operating computing and communications power.  But the innovations go far beyond higher density of silicon or new efficiencies in cooling technologies…  The cloud is ushering in a whole new division of labor within information technology.

Accelerating the specialization of functions

The transformational power of the cloud stems above all else from its ability to accelerate the specialization of functions so they are provided by those with the greatest expertise and lowest costs.

I was making this “theoretical” point while addressing the TSCP conference recently, which brings together people from extremely distributed industries such as aeronautics and defense.  Looking out into the audience I was suddenly struck by something that should have been totally obvious to me.  All the industries represented in that room, except for information technology, had an extensive division of labor across a huge number of parties.  Companies like Boeing or Airbus don&#39t manufacture the spokes on the wheels of their planes, so to speak.  They develop specifications and assemble completed products in cost effective ways that are manufactured and refined by a whole ecosystem.  They have massively distributed supply chains.  Yet our model in information technology has remained rather pre-industrial and there are innumerable examples of companies expending their own resources doing things they aren&#39t expert at, rather than employing a supply chain.  And part of the reason is because of the lack of an infrastructure that supports this diversification.  That infrastructure is just arriving now – in the form of the cloud.   

Redistributing processes to be most efficiently performed

So  technologically the cloud is an infrastructure honed for multi-sourcing – refactoring processes and redistributing them to be most efficiently performed.

The need to become leaner and more fit-to-purpose will drive continuous change.  Organizations will attempt to take advantage of the emerging cloud ecology to substitute off-the-shelf commoditized systems offered as specialized services. When this is not possible they will construct their newly emerging systems in the cloud using other specialized ecosystem services as building blocks.

Given the fact that the best building blocks for given purposes may well be hosted on different clouds, developers will expect to be able to reach across clouds to integrate with the services of their choice. Cloud platforms that don’t offer this capability will die from synergy deficiency.

Technological innovation will need to take place before services will be able to work securely in this kind of loosely coupled world – constituting a high-value version of what has been called the “API Economy”. The precept of the API economy is to expose all functionality as simple and easily understood services (e.g. based on REST) – and allow them to be consumed at a high level of granularity on a pay-as-you-go basis.

In the organizational world, most of the data that will flow through these APIs will be private data. For enterprises and governments to participate in the API Economy they will require a system of access control in which many different applications run by different administrations in different clouds are able to reuse knowledge of identity and security policy to adequately protect the data they handle.  They will also need shared governance.

Specifically, it must be possible to reliably identify, authenticate, authorize and audit across a graph of services before reuse of specialized services becomes practicable and economical and the motor of cloud economics begins to hum.

 

A confused critique of identity federation

in a recent piece at The Federal Circle, Earl Smith II, managing partner, comes out “all guns blazing” against identity federation and the “weird and wonderful” Laws of Identity. 

Earl wishes he could “simplify” digital identity, rejecting identity federation as being too abstract to solve digital identity problems.  Unfortunately, his view of things mixes up architecture and the way real live systems are deployed, and he creates a straw man out of particular deployment assumptions.  The resulting explanation demonstrates that once confused about this, things can look stranger and stranger: 

All such “federated identity” models start with the intuitively appealing premise that if an individual has already been identified by one service provider, then that identification should be made available to other services, to save time, streamline processes, reduce costs, and open up new business channels.  It’s a potent mix of supposed benefits, and yet strangely unachievable.

True, we can now enjoy the convenience of logging onto multiple blogs and social sites with an OpenID, or an unverified Twitter account.  But higher risk services like banking, e-health and government welfare stand apart, still maintaining their own identifiers and sovereign registration processes.

To my mind, the fashionable open identity approach is ironically lumbered with the same lofty ambitions that killed off traditional Big PKI.  The express aim is to create “trust frameworks” sufficient to enable business to be conducted amongst strangers.  To this end, federated identity proponents implore banks and government agencies to re-invent themselves as “Identity Providers” in accordance with the weird and wonderful Laws of Identity.

The Laws of Identity embody some powerful ideas, especially the view that when we go about our business, each of us exercises a plurality of virtual identities.  In different settings we present different identities, each standing as a proxy for a complex and bounded relationship.  We have different relationships with various entities and services: banks, government agencies, health services, employers, stores, professional associations, social networks and so on.  Each identity is context dependent, and can lose its meaning when taken out of context…

But for the most part, the Laws of Identity and the new ecosystem model are chockfull of unfamiliar abstractions.  They deconstruct identities, attributes and services, and imagine that when two parties meet for the first time with a desire to transact, they start from scratch to negotiate a set of attributes that confer mutual trust.  In practice, it is rare for parties in business to start from such a low base.  Instead, merchants assume that shoppers come with credit cards, patients assume that doctors come with medical qualifications, and banks assume that customers have accounts.  If you don’t have the right credential for the transaction at hand, then you simply can’t play (and you have to go back, out of band, and get yourself appropriately registered).

Perhaps the most distracting generalisation in the new identity ecosystem is that Service Providers, Identity Providers and Attribute Providers are all different entities.  In reality, these roles are all fulfilled simultaneously and inseparably by banks, governments, social networks and so on.

To put order into this nest of ideas, let&#39s begin with what Earl calls “the most distracting generalization in the new ecosystem”:  that Service Providers, Identity Providers and Attribute Providers are all different entities. 

In fact, Earl, I made no such statement in the Laws of Identity or anywhere else, despite my support for an identity ecosystem.  

The Laws of Identity refers to an Identity Provider as issuing “claims”, a Relying Party as “depending on” claims, and a Subject as “presenting” claims, but makes no statement that if you do one you can&#39t do the others.  Why?  Identity Provider, Subject and Relying Party are architectural roles.  A single entity can play any combination of those roles.  One particular combination is complete separation of the roles, but in most cases every entity plays more than one.     

For example, today&#39s large web sites (like the MSN&#39s, Googles and Yahoos) are composed of thousands of individual services.  Without having to be conscious of it, people log in to a site&#39s Identity Provider service, which issues claims that are consumed by each of the composite Relying Party services that make up the site.  So the “decomposition” which Earl sees as “deconstructed unfamiliar abstractions” is, at the architectural level, a MUST in order to have large scalable sites, and this is as key to the current web as to the metasystem model which is just standardizing and extending it. 

I refer Earl and others to the User-Centric Identity Metasystem paper for more details.  Section 6.2 states:

6.2 ACTORS PARTICIPATING IN THE METASYSTEM

The actors participating in the Identity Metasystem can be classified by role, taking into consideration that any individual actor or set of actors can play multiple roles (both at the same time and at different times).

(6.2 goes on to define roles such as Subject, Claims Issuer, Relying Party, etc).

That paper is not simple-minded in its presentation, but its goal is to lay out a model for precisely understanding the way identity systems actually work and can work in the future, not to do mass pedagogy.  People using Facebook or Google or Windows Live never think about the decomposition of services within the identity fabric, yet depend every day on that very decomposition.

Continuing to unwind Earl&#39s comments, let&#39s factor out what he says about Trust Frameworks.  Here I&#39m not unsympathetic to the points he is making, though I think they are only part of the story.  I agree that most initial usage of the architecture is, as in the examples I&#39ve given here, within tightly bounded trust contexts. But I also think that once the technology framework is in place (e.g. now…) we will see more and more examples of federation within wider contexts where it makes sense.  The question is simply, “what makes sense”?

If I could use my banking identity to log into the IRS, would that make sense to me?  Yes, because I don&#39t access the IRS site often enough that I can ever remember an IRS credential.  Would it make sense to Earl?  Maybe not.  So that very potential divergence leads us to posit the need for an ecology with choices – one of which would be the IRS itself for those who don&#39t relate to bridging of contexts.

Earl calls upon us to agree on a few simplifying assumtions:

  • There aren’t many strangers in real life business
  • Relying Party and “Identity Provider” are often the same
  • There are no surprise credentials

These are all good points, but don&#39t diminish the utility of federation.  For example, in the case of using a banking identity to access the IRS, I&#39m not a stranger to the IRS, nor is the bank.  And my banking credential is not a surprise.  I just don&#39t want the IRS to make me manage an extra credential for once-a-year use.  Requiring me to do this is not a simplifying assumption!

Paradoxically the next piece by Earl at The Federal Circle is called Will Cost Savings Continue to be a Significant Driver for Cloud Computing?  But Earl never asks how an enterprise or government organization that runs some of its services in the cloud handles the resulting identity problems without increasing its costs… 

Would he suggest two credentials, one for inside the enterprise and one to get to the cloud?  Two helpdesks?  Two authorization systems?  Or would he agree we should be able to reuse a single credential across these two contexts? 

Bingo.  Wouldn&#39t it be nice if Cloud services could rely on (dare I say be a Relying Party for) identities provided by the enterprise or government?   The point is that if I build my identity systems today in keeping with an architecture that allows various roles to be played wherever it makes most sense, I set myself up for a future that is unfolding in ways I can&#39t always predict. 

I hope that as someone advising people on how to grow and future-proof their organizations, Earl looks at the issues involved in federation one more time.  The ability to cross technological and organization boundaries – which is called federation – is central to our ability to evolve with the agility Earl rightly sees as necessary. 

Once Earl comes to see that federation architecture is completely consistent with the assumptions he puts forward, I have the feeling he will have an interesting perspective on the kinds of cross-context claims that make sense in various business and government contexts. 

Using Consumer Identities for Business Interactions

Mike Jones writes about an “identity mashup” that drives home a really important lesson:  the organizational and technical walls that used to stand in the way of Internet business are dissolving before our very eyes.  The change agent is the power of claims.  The mashup Mike describes crosses boundaries in many dimensions at once:

  • between industries (medical, financial, technical)
  • between organizations (Medtronic, PayPal, Southworks, Microsoft)
  • between protocols (OpenID and SAML)
  • between computing platforms (Windows and Linux)
  • between software products (Windows Identity Foundation, DotNetOpenAuth, SimpleSAMLphp)
  • between identity requirements (ranging from strong identity verification to anonymous comment)

This is a super-concrete demonstration of the progress being made on the “Identity Metasystem” so many of us in the industry have been working on.   My favorite word in Mike&#39s piece is “quickly”, to which I have taken the liberty of adding my own emphasis:

Medtronic, PayPal, Southworks, and Microsoft recently worked together to demonstrate the ability for people to use their PayPal identities for participating in a Medtronic medical device trial, rather than having to create yet another username and password. Furthermore, the demo showed the use of verified claims, where the name, address, birth date, and gender claims provided by PayPal are relied upon by Medtronic and its partners as being sufficiently authoritative to sign people up for the trial and ship them the equipment. I showed this to many of you at the most recent Internet Identity Workshop.

From a technology point of view, this was a multi-protocol federation using OpenID and WS-Federation – OpenID for the PayPal identities and WS-Federation between Medtronic and two relying parties (one for ordering the equipment and one for anonymously recording opinions about the trial). It was also multi-platform, with the Medtronic STS running on Windows and using the Windows Identity Foundation (WIF) and DotNetOpenAuth, the equipment ordering site running on Linux and using simpleSAMLphp, and the opinions site running on Windows and also using WIF. A diagram of the scenario flows is as follows:

Identity Mash-Up Diagram

We called the demo an “identity mash-up” because Medtronic constructed a identity for the user containing both claims that came from the original PayPal identity and claims it added (“mashed-up”) to form a new, composite identity. And yet, access to this new identity was always through the PayPal identity. You can read more about the demo on the Interoperability @ Microsoft blog, including viewing a video of the demo. Southworks also made the documentation and code for the multi-protocol STS available.

I’ll close by thanking the teams at PayPal, Medtronic, and Southworks for coming together to produce this demo. They were all enthusiastic about using consumer identities for Medtronic’s business scenario and pitched in together to quickly make it happen.

 

Issuing Information Cards with ADFS 2.0

When  Microsoft released Active Directory Federation Services V2 recently, we indicated we were holding off on shipping CardSpace 2.0 while figuring out how to best integrate Minimal Disclosure Technology (U-Prove) and create maximum synergy with the OpenID and OAuth initiatives.  Some feared the change in plan meant Microsoft was backing away from the idea of Information Cards and a visual identity selector.  Nothing could be further from the truth – the growth in adoption of federation and the shift toward cloud computing both make Information Card technology more important than ever.

This new announcement from Technet identity blog will therefore come as good news:

Today, Microsoft is announcing the availability of the Information Card Issuance Community Technology Preview (CTP) to enable the following scenarios with Active Directory Federation Services 2.0 RTM:

  • Administrators can install an Information Card Issuance component on AD FS 2.0 RTM servers and configure Information Card Issuance policy and parameters.
  • End users with IMI 1.0- or IMI 1.1 (DRAFT)-compliant identity selectors can obtain Information Cards backed by username/password, X.509 digital certificate, or Kerberos.
  • Continued support for Windows CardSpace 1.0 in Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP SP 3 running .NET 3.5 SP1.

We have also added two new mechanisms for interaction and feedback on this topic, an Information Card Issuance Forum and a monitored e-mail alias ici-ctp@microsoft.com

 

Interview on Identity and the Cloud

I just came across a Channel 9 interview Matt Deacon did with me at the Architect Insight Conference in London a couple of weeks ago.  It followed a presentation I gave on the importance of identity in cloud computing.   Matt keeps my explanation almost… comprehensible – readers may therefore find it of special interest.  Video is here.

 

In addition, here are my presenation slides and video .

Cloud computing: an unsatisfied customer?

Gunnar Peterson has written many good things about architecture and identity over the last few years. Now he lays down the guantlet and challenges cloud advocates with a great video that throws all the fundamental issues into sardonic relief. Everyone involved with the cloud should watch this video repeatedly and come back with really good answers to all that is implied and questioned… albeit through humor.

All the help we can get

Now that the world is so thoroughly post-modern, how often do you come across information that qualifies as unexpected?  Well, I have to say that the following story , appearing in the The Australian, left me wide-eyed:

Yesterday, in the church of the City of London Corporation, (Canon Parrot)  presented an updated version of Plow Monday, an observance that dates from medieval times. On this day, the first Monday after Twelfth Night, farm labourers would bring a plough to the door of the church to be blessed.

“When I arrived a few months ago I looked at this service and thought, ‘Why do we have a Plow Monday?’,” Canon Parrott said. Men and women coming to his church no longer used ploughs; their tools were their laptops, their iPhones and their BlackBerries.

So he wrote a blessing and strode out to deliver it before a congregation of 80, the white heat of technology shining from his every pronouncement. “I invite you to have your mobile phone out … though I would like you to put it on silent,” he said.

This was Church 2.0. Behind him, the altar resembled a counter at PC World. Upon it, laid out like holy relics, were four smart phones, one Apple laptop and one Dell.

Then, after another hymn, came the blessing of the smart phones. The Lord Mayor of London offered his BlackBerry to Canon Parrott, which was received with due reverence and placed upon the altar.

The congregation held their phones in the air, and Canon Parrott addressed the Almighty. “By Your blessing, may these phones and computers, symbols of all the technology and communication in our daily lives, be a reminder to us that You are a God who communicates with us and who speaks by Your Word. Amen.”

It makes me wonder what Innis said to McLuhan when he read abut this.

Le Figaro carried a report of an additional prayer, “”May our tongues be gentle, our e-mails be simple and our websites be accessible”. 

Perhaps it is asking too much, but I would have really liked Father Parrott to add, “websites be accessible and secure.”  After all – it can&#39t hurt.   Perhaps next time?

Federation with ADFS in Windows Server 2008

Steve Riley at Amazon takes a fascinating and non-ideological approach on his new blog.  The combination will keep me tuned in – I expect others will feel the same way.  He writes:

“As I&#39ve talked with customers who have deployed or plan to deploy Windows Server 2008 instances on Amazon EC2, one feature they commonly inquire about is Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS). There seems to be a lot of interest in ADFS v2 with its support for WS-Federation and Windows Identity Foundation. These capabilities are fully supported in our Windows Server 2008 AMIs and will work with applications developed for both the “public” side of AWS and those you might run on instances inside Amazon VPC.

“I&#39d like to get a better sense of how you might use ADFS. When you state that you need “federation,” what are you wanting to do? I imagine most scenarios involve applications on Amazon EC2 instances obtaining tokens from an ADFS server located inside your corporate network. This makes sense when your users are in your own domains and the applications running on Amazon EC2 are yours.

“Another scenario involves a forest living entirely inside Amazon EC2. Imagine you&#39ve created the next killer SaaS app. As customers sign up, you&#39d like to let them use their own corpnet credentials rather than bother with creating dedicated logons (your customers will love you for this). You&#39d create an application domain in which you&#39d deploy your application, configured to trust tokens only from the application&#39s ADFS. Your customers would configure their ADFS servers to issue tokens not for your application but for your application domain ADFS, which in turn issues tokens to your application. Signing up new customers is now much easier.

“What else do you have in mind for federation? How will you use it? Feel free to join the discussion. I&#39ve started a thread on the forums, please add your thoughts there. I&#39m looking forward to some great ideas.”

I really look forward to this.  Let&#39s see where it goes…  

Given the mail I get from mutual customers, I know Steve will end up with some interesting insights.

Identity Roadmap Presentation at PDC09

Earlier this week I presented the Identity Keynote at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in LA.  The slide deck is here, and the video is here.

After announcing the release of the Windows Identity Foundation (WIF) as an Extension to .NET, I brought forward three architect/engineers to discuss how claims had helped them solve their development problems.   I chose these particular guests because I wanted the developer audience to be able to benefit from the insights they had previously shared with me about the advantages – and challenges – of adopting the claims based model.  Each guest talks about the approach he took and the lessons learned.

Andrew Bybee, Principal Program Manager from Microsoft Dynamics CRM, talked about the role of identity in delivering the “the Power of Choice” – the ability for his customers to run his software wherever they want, on premises or in the cloud or in combination, and to offer access to anyone they choose.

Venky Veeraraghavan, the Program Manager in charge of identity for SharePoint, talks about what it was like to completely rethink the way identity works in Sharepoint so it takes advantage of the claims based architecture to solve problems that previously had been impossibly difficult.  He explores the problems of “Multi-hop” systems and web farms, especially the “Dreaded Second Hop” – which he admits “really, really scares us…”  I find his explanation riveting and think any developer of large scale systems will agree.

Dmitry Sotnikov, who is Manager of New Product Research at Quest Software, presents a remarkable Azure-based version of a product Quest has previously offered only “on premise”.  The service is a backup system for Active Directory, and involved solving a whole set of hard identity problems involving devices and data as well as people.

Later in the presentation, while discussing future directions, I announce the Community Technical Preview of our new work on REST-based authorization (a profile of OAuth), and then show the prototype of the mutli-protocol identity selector Mike Jones unveiled at the recent IIW.   And finally, I talk for the first time about “System.Identity”, work on user-centric next generation directory that I wanted to take to the community for feedback.  I&#39ll be blogging about this a lot and hopefully others from the blogosphere will find time to discuss it with me.

 

Real business on Geneva

Network World writer John Fontana has turned his tweet volume up to MAX this week covering TechEd.  I think it works – I&#39m enjoying it – though the sheer volume of Fontana Tweet makes it pretty hard to get your usual bird&#39s-eye view of who is eating donuts, listening to new bands and staying up till all hours (can I live without that?).   John also posted a news piece announcing that Microsoft IT has turned on Geneva for widespread production use internally.

Funny, last week I was at the Kuppinger Cole European ID Conference in Munich (more soon).  Dave Kearns (one of John&#39s colleagues at Network World) hosted a panel where he asked Vittorio and me whether Microsoft was actually using the Geneva technology.  

I waved my arms pathetically and explained that our IT department had strict procedures establishing the point in the ship cycle where they will do production deployments.  Well, now Beta 2 is out the door and it&#39s great that our IT has sufficient confidence to move immediately towards widespread internal usage.   

‘LOS ANGELES – Two days after shipping the second beta of its newest identity platform, Microsoft&#39s internal IT department is rolling out the software corporate wide.

‘Geneva, Microsoft&#39s identity platform for the cloud, will support 59 identity applications that Microsoft maintains with 29 business partners.

‘The federated applications include a payroll services and an online company store.

‘The company&#39s IT department will change DNS records today on its internal network so all its identity federations are handled through its Geneva server environment rather than the current five Active Directory Federation Servers (ADFS) the company runs, according to Brian Puhl, a technology architect for Microsoft IT.

‘Microsoft has nearly 410,000 computers and 165,000 users on its network.

‘Puhl laid out the plan Tuesday during a session at Microsoft&#39s annual TechEd conference. He said the cut over initially moves the company from ADFS 1.0 to ADFS 2.0 in Geneva, but that over time Microsoft will take advantage of streamlined support for its Live ID technology, incorporate CardSpace-based identity and roll-out claims-aware applications that are in development at Microsoft. (See graphic of Microsoft&#39s Geneva architecture.)

‘”Geneva is a lot more than ADFS 2.0,” Puhl said.

‘Geneva was released in public beta for the first time Monday and Microsoft plans to make the software generally available at the end of 2009.

‘The identity platform&#39s foundation is the claims-based access model and Security Token Service (STS) technology that Microsoft has been developing over the past few years as part of its industry effort to create a single identity system based on standard protocols.

‘Geneva is made up of the Geneva Server, formerly called Active Directory Federation Services 2.0; Geneva CardSpace Client, a smaller and faster version of the identity client now available with Vista; and the Geneva Framework, which was formerly code-named Zermatt.

‘Also part of the platform is the Microsoft Service Connector, the Microsoft Federation Gateway and the .Net Access Control Service, which are designed to create a sort of identity backbone and connection to the cloud.

‘Microsoft plans to tap that backbone to link to cloud services, including its Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). ‘

More here.