451 Research Report: 8K Miles crosses the chasm in cloud-based identity federation
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Analyst: Wendy Nather 22 Nov, 2013
Original Report URL from 451 Research website : https://451research.com/report-short?entityId=79384
8K Miles has been heavily invested in cloud integration. As one of Amazon Web Services’ Premier Consulting Partners for 2013, it has helped customers stand up everything from Amazon’s Elastic Block Store to its S3 and Relational Database services. So it made sense to continue to add cloud integration services in the identity and access management (IAM) space. To this end, the company acquired Sunnyvale, California-based FuGen Solutions in May to obtain its Cloud Identity Broker and Multi-Domain Identity Services Platform.
The 451 Take
A combination of design and operations support helps 8K Miles, and its subsidiary FuGen makes on-ramping of federated identity partners easier, particularly for enterprises that don’t have the infrastructure or expertise to figure it out themselves. A migration opportunity can become a hosting opportunity, while a hosting opportunity could turn into the kind of identity and attribute exchange that is still needed. Other efforts are underway to build such an exchange, but 8K Miles and FuGen could get out ahead of it – although it might help if they settled on one company name to promote the unity they’re offering.
Did identity federation get any easier when the execution venue moved from legacy systems to the cloud? Actually, that’s a trick question, because most of it hasn’t moved – it’s just been stretched. Even without the dynamism and scale requirements of the cloud, an enterprise’s federation efforts with its partners suffer from complexity that many organizations aren’t equipped to handle.
There are many types of federation, and only some of them are binary: that is, one organization completely trusts the other one, so that it accepts any identity offered. A common example is federation between a health insurance provider and a partner that provides pharmacy benefits: there can be a one-to-one acceptance because it’s the same business case (benefits for an insured client) and the same level of security risk. Because it’s the same business case, both sides can validate the user in the same way and no additional validation is needed. A user can be passed through single sign-on from one site to another in a fairly seamless fashion.
However, not all federation is binary. Take the example of a state education agency: it has thousands of school district employees that need to use the agency’s applications. The agency would like to have the districts set up access for those users, but it is still legally on the hook to approve every access. This means that the agency has to rely on some assertions by the district, but must take an additional step of its own for validation and approval before it can fully accept that user into its systems. These validation workflows often use attributes of the user’s identity: whether the user is an employee of the district (which only the district is authoritative about), which roles the user is assigned (which might be determined by the agency), or whether the user is also a member of a different organization (such as working for a second district).
Attributes may sound complicated, and the business rules behind them can be. But an attribute is really the reason why you’re allowing access to that user. You’re allowing access because the insurance provider says this is a registered subscriber; you’re allowing it because the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) asserts that this is a licensed driver; you’re allowing it because the user is a registered PayPal customer. And you can only rely on that attribute when it comes from the right authoritative party: only PayPal can say with certainty who its current customers are.
The ecosystem of attributes has yet to be addressed in a coherent way. Many websites and applications will be happy to accept the credentials of a Facebook user, because they only care that someone at Facebook (presumably) validated the user account. That’s all the validation they need. But that’s not enough for many other organizations, especially where legal and regulatory issues are on the line. But if you could get all these authoritative parties in one place…
This is where 8K Miles and FuGen come in.
Founded in 2007, 8K Miles is led by Suresh Venkatachari, its chairman and CEO, who also founded consulting firm SolutionNET. The company has 140 employees among its locations in California, Virginia, Canada and India. In May, 8K Miles acquired FuGen Solutions for $7.5m, with the target becoming a subsidiary.
Products and services
8K Miles offers both consulting services (cloud migration, engineering and application development) and frameworks for assembling secure cloud systems. The company provides a turnkey architecture for implementing a secure private cloud, including firewall and DDoS protection services, secure remote access, system administrator access and monitoring, and disk encryption. This can be deployed either as an Amazon virtual private cloud or in an organization’s own datacenter. 8K Miles similarly offers a secure enterprise collaboration implementation that combines Alfresco’s content management and Amazon’s RDS. An AWS Direct Connect package contains both design and management of the network, points of presence, and security.
When 8K Miles bought FuGen, it obtained both a cloud identity brokerage and the target’s Multi-Domain Identity Services Platform (MISP). The platform supports the partner onboarding and federation management activities, as well as what the vendor calls last-mile single-sign-on integration to a centralized hub for smaller customers that don’t have legacy IAM systems to connect, or who don’t have the expertise to put everything together. The platform is vendor-agnostic in that it can be used with any IAM provider’s systems to connect and federate partners. The authentication protocols supported include SAML 1.1, SAML 2.0, WS-Federation, WS-Trust, OpenID and OAuth. MISP comes with rules-based validation and reporting, criteria certification, monitoring and logging, and storage of scenarios, data messages, templates and certification reports.
One of the strengths of the broker and platform offerings is that FuGen and 8K Miles staff can duplicate the customer’s complex federation requirements in their virtualized environment. The vendor can build the hub and test all of the integrations with the partners’ systems in a lab setting. Once it’s been assembled and shown to work properly, the company can walk the customer through implementing the working version on its own systems, providing instructions down to the level of the configuration file changes. In cases where the customer does not have specialized IAM expertise or a test network, FuGen can provide both.
These services are available for community providers, SaaS application firms, identity and attribute vendors, and many others. FuGen’s customers range from one of the largest financial services institutions to media providers, large IT suppliers and defense contractors (Amazon AWS customers use FuGen’s federated identity features).
The idea of creating a vendor-agnostic federation space is a good one – as the number of partners grows with which FuGen has already built integrations, the onboarding for future customers goes more quickly. For example, if FuGen has already done the hard work of figuring out connectors for a large payment provider that happens to use Oracle for an IAM system and Ping Identity for cloud-based SSO, then any other partners that want to federate with that large payment provider using the same products will have most of the work already done. The network effect comes into play here: the more partners FuGen integrates, the stronger its offerings grow as a cloud-based ID federation service.
For the reasons described above, many enterprises end up relying on a varied set of IDs and attributes, all coming from different partners. Building a central ID and attribute exchange could speed federation projects for government, healthcare, finance and other verticals if FuGen can pre-integrate those providers. When businesses can join a virtual marketplace where they can get the attributes they need from their state DMV, PayPal and business process outsourcer, and all of the integration work is done for them, then the community has a good chance of growth. Many identity and attribute exchange projects are already underway (and FuGen is already part of some of these open initiatives) – the one advantage is that the company helps facilitate the plumbing, not just the framework. Also, this isn’t just about the cloud: enterprises can still federate with one another using their own systems, with FuGen’s services to set it up. The one hitch is that this is a potential that hasn’t been fully realized. 8K Miles and FuGen would have to figure out how to charge for this service, since charging by ID or partner account might be too dynamic to support a licensing structure. (This isn’t to say that a cloud provider can’t charge dynamically, it’s just that determining how many IDs are in use at any given time is a tricky proposition.) The vendor could charge an onboarding project fee, but services after that – such as monitoring, support, troubleshooting and integration tweaks – would need a different incremental pricing structure. If a large provider is hooked into the hub, and new partners join it, does the provider get charged more, or just the new partners? Identity and attribute management are both still developing areas of technology, and with the cloud as a delivery method, many aspects have to be reconsidered.
The term ‘identity broker’ is unintentionally confusing, since it is most often used to describe technology that helps intermediate an enterprise’s portfolio of ID stores and services, usually to provide single sign-on for that enterprise’s users or its customers. This is not the same as a third-party identity exchange, such as the kind envisioned by the Identity Ecosystem Steering Group (whose website, incidentally, is powered by Ping). There is also a lot of discussion in the IAM community about who can and should act as identity providers, and the candidates include social media such as Facebook or Google, financial institutions and telcos, since all of these appear to have the largest user bases.
However, none of these identity providers in and of themselves can supply all of the assurance and validation that different business cases require. It doesn’t matter whether Verizon has verified a user for phone service if a relying party has to figure out whether the user is really the same one who walked into the emergency room last night. Some organizations have much stronger requirements for identity assurance, and will have to assemble their own validation lists from multiple ID providers.
Not only does the ID and attribute exchange need to be vendor-agnostic, it also needs to be easy to join. This is where the pre-integration and onboarding services are crucial. Customers don’t have to let FuGen host the hub, but it helps with the kind of complex troubleshooting that federated IAM can sometimes require. The opportunity for FuGen is that it can be a broker for the brokers, so to speak: each enterprise in an ideal world would have just one interface to expose to the world, but those interfaces still need to be matched up with the other ones.
The term ‘broker’ is confusing, but if we focus on ‘exchange,’ we get closer to our original meaning and can consider the competition. SecureKey Technologies was recently awarded a contract by the US Postal Service to create the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange. Criterion Systems was one of the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace pilot grant recipients in 2012, and is building its ID DataWeb Attribute Exchange Network, with an ecosystem of technology partners and relying parties such as Ping, CA Technologies, Fixmo, Verizon, Experian and Wave Systems. If firms like these manage to build a working exchange, it could rival what 8K Miles and FuGen can do. Again, the latter are helping customers set up the integration, not just acting as a provider, so the operational features of their offering set it apart from these exchange projects. The race will be to see who can collect the largest amount of trusted resources and participants in a broadly working exchange. Vendor neutrality and open standards will play a role, but so will user-friendliness. If FuGen can offer both the onramp services and the day-to-day operation in a way that preserves trust, it could have the magic formula.
As a cloud broker, 8K Miles expanded its repertoire with the acquisition of FuGen. Identity management is certainly a key part of cloud migration and operation, and FuGen’s virtualized lab environment helps it work out all of the bugs in a complex identity federation system without impacting the customer.
FuGen may be known in the IAM industry, particularly due to its participation in public initiatives, but customers may find the name too confusing alongside 8K Miles (neither name really says what the company does). It also has a lot of potential in supporting an identity and attribute exchange, but that potential needs to be realized.
Nobody has really figured out federation yet. Even though some straightforward, homogeneous business use cases are working fine, the more complicated ecosystems are still in the committee/framework/pilot stages. If 8K Miles/FuGen can onramp enough critical-mass partners, it could become a de facto hub before these committees can turn around.
Vendors such as SecureKey and Criterion are building exchanges too, although they’re in the early stages.
8K Miles/FuGen will also be confused with many other cloud IAM technology vendors due to the misuse of the term broker.
Analyst(s): Wendy Nather , 451 Research
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