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Identity Myth: SSO is Hard; Truth: Old Apps Suck

December 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I sat down with a very smart group of folks and they were saying how they think SSO is very, very hard. If your world is all Active Directory (AD), it’s easy. But that is true in a tiny percent of the world. Everywhere there is some odd ball application and in most places there are just as many applications not using AD as there are using it (even if they buy Quest solutions, sadly). The cloud, something everyone is forced to mention in every tech blog post, also complicates this. How do you do SSO when the identities aren’t under your control? Or, reverse that, how do you get SSO from your cloud vendor when your on premise applications aren’t under their control? But every time I have the SSO conversation at length with people the conclusion is always the same. If all you have are applications from the last 10 years and some cloud stuff, there are approaches, including Quest’s, that can fully solve that problem. You can integrate into your commodity AD authentication, put up SSO portals, or use widely adopted standards like SAML – or all of the above in a clever combination. Even thick client GUI applications can be tamed with enterprise SSO (ESSO) solutions at the desktop. The things that always end up falling through all the cracks are older applications. Things that are often the crown jewels of the business. Applications that are so old because they are so critical that no one can touch them without huge impact to the business. But the older technologies resist almost every attempt to bring them under control. Even ESSO, which is the catch all for so many other laggards, can’t tame many of the odd green screens, complex multi field authentications, or other odd things that some of these applications demand at the login event. When I’ve spoken to our SSO customers, they always seem happy with 70-80% adoption on their SSO projects. They know they will never get that last group until the applications change. But there doesn’t seem to be any compelling event for those applications to be changed. So SSO continues to seem hard, but we all know that’s not exactly true.

long view identity thoughts – Gartner IAM Summit 2009 part 2

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been traveling like mad (writing this in Berlin). So this comes far too long after the show for my taste, but I really wanted to get this out there because there is some very good stuff to highlight.

The star of the Gartner IAM Summit was Earl Perkins. He has a way of saying things that makes the very obvious seem as wise as it should. The thoughts he concentrated on that left an impression on me were:

  1. There is too much focus on the C in GRC. Vendors are the most guilty here, since they tend to see compliance as the easiest route to sales success. If there is an audit finding or clear potential for one, you have a compelling event. It’s just as valid to talk about using IAM products in a way that removes risk and aids in governance, though; and the business uses those terms. Vendors are always looking for ways to address the business buyer vs. the technology buyer. Of course, that is also useful for the advocate of IAM projects within an organization. Talking to your customer internally about risk and governance makes them see you as proactive vs. reactive to compliance needs that arise from outside pressure.
  2. The auditor is your friend. I got to see Earl brief clients directly on this at the “breakfast with the analysts” session. I can’t agree more with this. Making the business take your IAM project more seriously by virtue of making it the auditor’s edict is a wonderful trick.

Reduction is another theme that came out of both the analyst and customer led sessions. All forms of reduction are good. Quest had a session highlighting our Authentication Services being used at Chevron, and that focused on reducing the overall number of identities in any enterprise by consolidating to AD for all Unix, Linux and Macs as well as many applications. But reducing the number of roles, the number of entitlement definitions and directory infrastructures was touched on again and again.

Last is a favorite of mine: reading the magic quadrant correctly. Gartner always says this clearly, but it feels like no one ever hears them. I look at the magic quadrant as three dimensional. The two dimensional graph is a ceiling where vendors who have made the cut poke through and show up in their respective areas, as if you were looking at the top of a cube. Turn the cube to it’s side and you would see the shorter lines which don’t make it to the top of the cube which all represent the vendors which are not good enough to be in the “magic ceiling”. Earl also revisited why there is still and likely to never be an IAM magic quadrant – there is no one definition to make a cohesive statement about.

A very good conference all in all. Can’t wait for the next one…

AD Bridging gets respect at Burton’s Catalyst09

day two at catalyst09 was very on target for me. the identity track was all about leveraging existing resources for bigger ROI and that’s all we ever talk about in PM meetings around here. Burton’s Mark Diodati presented about the AD Bridge space, a name he may have invented, and then there was also a customer case about the practice of doing AD Bridging for Unix, Mac and Linux systems. the best part was when a person in the audience took the mic during Q&A and thanked Mark and Burton for taking the AD Bridge products seriously and the whole audience erupted in applause.

i’ve got lots of notes and thoughts about everything that went on. i’ll likely be posting reactions to catalyst09 over the next week.

8 weak doors or one strong one?

lots of talk about sso and authN at TEC 2009. what fascinates me is how many people are espousing the merits of having completely different credentials for many systems. they all claim that the reason is security (at least all of them that i have heard). one of our senior products folks has an analogy they use that i like to discuss this. he will ask, if you were building a house would you want 8 weak doors or one strong one? and i think that really gets to the heart of the security issue.

but even if you grant that perhaps many credentials could potentially be stronger than one, the question becomes what is the trade off? basically, we’ve been working de facto under the multiple credential world for the whole open systems era and no one thinks we’re in a good security state. i would submit it’s because of all the other issues that come from many credentials like more to manage and burden on the users. so i’d ask if there is really a way to get rid of the burden on the users and maintenance issues? some say synchronize, but then you have one door again (or at least one key that works on all the doors). and now you have extra infrastructure on top of what you already have.

sso and AD briding has a role. so does sync. but whatever the stuff that powers this stuff, sso seems like it will always be the one strong door when it’s done right. what do you think?

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