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Cloud Identity Problems Solved By Federating Directories

Amazon, Radiant Logic join competition to supply virtual directories that make enterprise identities available in the cloud.

Cloud computing has prompted some companies to turn to virtualized directory servers that sit atop enterprise directory resources and allow users to carry their on-premises identities into the cloud.

Radiant Logic wants to play in this space. The third-party company announced recently it can collect users' enterprise identities and allow them to be used inside or outside corporate walls in cloud computing settings.

A company spokesmen said July 25 that Radiant Logic creates a virtual directory that "securely links cloud-based apps with all enterprise identity sources," including multiple Active Directories. Radiant Logic's virtual directory will deal with multiple forests--a grouping at the top of the Active Directory hierarchy, such as the name of an enterprise, with tree and domain sub-groupings underneath it.

Other third parties, including Quest Software's Symlabs and Optimal IdM's Virtual Identity Server Federation Services, are also active in the virtual directory space.

Amazon Web Services likewise announced Thursday that it has expanded its Identity and Access Management service, introduced late last year, to federate enterprise directories into a virtual directory for use in EC2's infrastructure.

Getting identity management servers, such as Microsoft's Active Directory, Lotus Notes directories, and Sun Microsystems LDAP-based Identity Manager, to work together in cloud computing is a problem. To do so, a directory set up for one reason is called upon to serve a broader purpose.

Microsoft recognized the problem early and has supplied the means to federate a user's identity through a platform that coordinates on-premises Active Directories and its Windows Azure cloud. Active Directory Federation Services 2.0 works with Windows Azure Access Control Services to create a single sign-on identity for Azure users.

Moving across vendor directories and specific enterprise contexts, however, gets more complicated. Data management teams don't set up user access the same way that identity management teams do. In some data settings, context is important and determines whether a user with general permission has specific permission to view the data.

Radiant spokesmen said in the July 25 announcement that its RadiantOne Virtual Directory Server Plus (VDS+) captures context-sensitive information as well as identity information, then makes it usable to its RadiantOne Cloud Federation Service. Both products were announced at Gartner's Catalyst Conference in San Diego.

Virtual Director Server Plus uses wizard-driven configuration to create a virtual directory. Cloud Federation Service, in conjunction with VDS+, then becomes a user identity and security token provider to applications running in the cloud. It federates identities from Active Directories, Sun, and other LDAP directories, databases, and Web services.

Cloud Federation Service (CFS) uses SAML 2.0, an OASIS standard that uses security tokens in exchanging authentication information about a user between security domains. CFS can also use WS-Federation, a specification that enables different security domains to interoperate and form a federated identity service.

Both are used by Radiant Logic to allow a user to sign on once to a service in the cloud, then have his credentials carried forward to additional applications and services without requiring follow up log-ins. CFS is priced starting at $10,000 per CPU. VDS+ is priced starting at $25,000 per CPU.

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