Happy New Year 2010 to all. Best wishes in the year that just starts.

I will start this year's first posting by acknowledging Burton Group's (just acquired by Gartner) Bob Blakley September 30th, 2009 vantage point titled: "2010 Identity and Privacy Strategies Planning Guide: A Market in Transformation", which has been an excellent reference in helping me shape some of my thoughts for this article. I think it is a great document with great insights on current trends in identity management. 

My prior blog posting introduced a definition for Identity as a Service (IDaaS), setting the stage for this posting, which discusses models for deploying IDaaS, from the perspective of the entity that consumes the Identity service, in this case an organization (as opposed to an individual). The assumption will be that the entity and the service provider are two separate organizations, and moreover, two separate legal entities. In a way, this perspective is no other than the Enterprise identity management.

In addition, for this discussion, we will try not differentiating the kind of Identity services being provided (provisioning, registration, authentication, etc.), or which user population within the entity it is intended (i.e. employees, contractors, suppliers, customers or business partners). The idea is that the approaches should be applicable to all of them.

Defining Managed IDaaS

In this article's context, Managed IDaaS is an approach to IDaaS in which the entity employs one or more separate legal entities as service providers. The service provider is contractually bound to specific terms that define how the service is performed, and it governs its adherence to these terms through mutually agreed and measurable service level agreements (SLAs). In other words, Managed IDaaS, is the scenario in which an organization consumes Identity services from an external service provider. These services can range from operating a provisioning infrastructure, to verifying the identity of a person, to providing strong authentication or federated authentication credentials, to managing passwords;  and they can be provided both internally (i.e. within the organizations Intranet) or externally (i.e. through an extranet portal), and can physically reside on-premise or in the cloud, or a combination thereof.

Two main variants of Managed IDaaS are common today, and as Gartner forecasted, they should trend upwards in adoption within the next two years. They are mainly determined by who is responsible for and who owns what part of the Identity service infrastructure, which in many cases correlates directly to where the infrastructure component actually resides:

  • Cloud IDaaS - where the service provider owns and operates the entire Identity service infrastructure, and provides it to the entity in a pure SaaS manner, without any sort of footprint or backend integration with the entity's IT infrastructure. Identity information is exchanged in an offline (manual or batched) manner.
  • Co-sourced IDaaS - using Wikipedia's definition of co-sourcing, this is an approach in which the Identity service interacts directly or through some technical footprint with the entity's IT backend infrastructure (directories, repositories and other target systems). The entity and the service provider have a shared responsibility for building and operating the Identity service, the balance of this responsibility determines distinct scenarios, which we will focus in more detail in this article.

managed idaasTo better understand Managed IDaaS, it is useful to decompose it into building blocks. The diagram on the left provides a high-level structure for an Identity service, made up by three main functional areas:

Consumable Identity Service - this is the end point of the service, which interacts and integrates with the consuming entity, whether an end user interacting through a web UI or an application or repository that exchanges information with the service. This is the area in which the specific logic and functionality provided by the service is actually "wired".

Identity Management Stack - this is the middleware of the service; the software modules that provide the basic functionality to manage and process identity information.  The diagram shows an arbitrary sample of the software components that make up the identity management stack. It is not mean to be an exhaustive list, but rather a representative sample. Nishant Kaushik has done a great job explaining the identity services framework, which instantiate the identity management stack.

IT Platform - this is the technical backbone of the service. The basic IT computing infrastructure that is not specific to identity management, but generic to any IT service.

These three basic functional areas are useful in explaining how variants of a Managed IDaaS come to life, particularly co-sourced IDaaS.

Co-Sourced IDaaS

It is a Managed IDaaS variant in which the Identity service's consumable service interacts directly with backend (or back office) IT infrastructure managed and operated by the entity. And more importantly, one in which the entity and service provider enter into a partnership in which they share some of the responsibility in building, hosting or operating the Identity service.

The diagram below illustrates four common co-sourced IDaaS scenarios, which we'll discuss next. I admit that while I have spent time thinking about these scenarios, I do not think I have articulated them in a way that clearly delineates their boundaries (if any), so I am hopeful that by venting them out, I will get very good thoughts from you.customization level

  1. All on-premise, provider operated - when the entity owns the identity management stack used to build the service, as well as the actual IT platform; and the Identity service is hosted on the entity's premise where it integrates directly with the entity's backend IT systems in the Intranet. The service provider is responsible for configuring and operating the consumable Identity service. This model is a more "traditional" Enterprise identity management deployment approach, where an organization procures the entire IT stack, and hires an external integrator to build, and possibly operate the Identity service, according to defined requirements. The organization and the integrator establish service agreements which govern roles, responsibilities, response times, escalation procedures and son on.
  2. Provider hosted and operated - where the service provider hosts and runs the entire Identity service, and integrates directly with the entity's consuming backend IT systems. This scenario is seen often at organizations that outsource their IT infrastructure and operations to an IT outsourcing service provider, and the Identity services are collocated and dedicated to the organization. From a connectivity perspective, the Identity services are typically accessed via dedicated lines (private clouds, private VPN). In this scenario, the service provider is often responsible for procuring and operating the consumable Identity service, the identity management stack and the IT platform. The outsourcing service provider and the organization establish service level agreements as well as licensing agreements which ensure that the organization is entitled to use the technology infrastructure require for the Identity service. This scenario is typically single tenant for both the consumable Identity service and the identity management stack functional areas.
  3. Hybrid: on-premise and in the cloud - where the service provider hosts and runs the entire Identity service in an environment hosted in the cloud, and requires some technology footprint to be deployed on-premise at the entity's IT environment to effect the integration with its backend IT systems. The scenario is one where the organization "leases" the Identity service from the service provider, which includes the use of the on-premise footprint - say a virtual or physical appliance, and access to the actual Identity service which is hosted in the cloud. From a connectivity standpoint, the appliance provides secure communication through the public Internet, and it may also provide caching and queuing to increase the reliability and responsiveness of the service. The service provider owns and runs the Identity service backbone and may adopt a multi-tenant model. The organization and provider agree to service SLAs, which will also govern how the on-premise footprint is operated.
  4. All in the cloud - where the service provider hosts and runs the entire Identity service in an environment hosted in the cloud and it integrates with the entity's backend IT systems without requiring additional technical footprint, leverage secure, open standards-based interfaces over the public Internet. In this case, the organization "leases" the Identity service from the service provider, and configures its backend IT systems to communicate directly with the service. The provider owns and runs the Identity service backbone and will most likely adopt a multi-tenant model. The organization and service provider agree to SLAs under an Application Service Provider model.

In future postings, we will discuss considerations and advantages of the co-sourced IDaaS model. In the meantime, I look forward to your comments.


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Frank Villavicencio

Frank Villavicencio