Pam is on a roll

Between her open letter to application vendors and roles versus rules, Pamela Dingle is kicking up a lot of dirt. I tend to agree with most of her points as I have written about here. However her following point bothers me; I’m not saying I disagree with it completely but it sits oddly with me:

In the case where two roles are assigned to the same person, but should never be simultaneously applicable, Enterprises have limited choices. If, however, there is a layer in between the consumer and the provider that lets you mask roles based on user-chosen context, in my mind this problem goes away. I don’t see how you can do it without the user part — but perhaps I’m just not thinking hard enough


Granting the user a choice, in fact, requiring the user to choose their context is not something that an enterprise in this day and age can do lightly.  It requires a constant monitoring capability.  It requires a method to unwind the user’s privilege set at any point in time into business digestible policy statements. It requires a way to map user action, their total privilege set and enterprise/business policy to each other – not easily done.   Trust, verify and then cross-validate.  In this litigious hyper-audited world, I am not sure that enterprises can realistically enable user-chosen contexts without a raft of infrastructure that, today, is not well integrated enough.

Considering identity consolidation

James has provided me more to work with

Identity consolidation says that I figure out how to get user stores out of my enterprise application and instead get these applications to bind at runtime to a directory service such as Active Directory.

Ah, so identity consolidation is centralized authorization.  Got it.

I am making the assumption here that when James says user store he means authorization store.  (Applications in this model still need some modicum of a user store if nothing else for auditing purposes.)  I am assuming the implication here is that after authentication comes a round of authorization that the directory service provides.  The application would consume this authorization data, at runtime, and act accordingly.  Theoretically, an enterprise policy (XACML) store could theoretically reproduce the authorization models of every application in the enterprise today and that policy tools would interact with this store.  Though I think this is a very viable model for customer applications (especially J2EE and .NET), I do not see it as an enterprise approach where complex applications like mainframe security and ERP roam free.

Identity management says that I should go create a strategy around provisioning of identity and leverage tools such as Sun’s IDM, Thor, etc where I still fundamentally allow enterprise applications to have their own user stores and takes me down the path of building lots of connectors… [snip]  I am of the belief that identity management (provisioning) propagates and encourages an otherwise bad architecture.

I look at user provisioning as dealing with the reality (and foreseeable future) of the enterprise landscape.  That landscape involves lots of user and authorization stores.  For reasons I discuss below, that is not going to change any time soon.  It is better to provide flexible, short time-to-value solutions, as identity management does, that address the reality of today than to wait for the ideal enterprise landscape to arrive at its glacial speed.

I disagree with James’ assertion that user provisioning requires the construction of connectors.  The connector wars of the provisioning world are over.  Connecting to systems like a complex bespoke application or RACF or SAP has become a science, not an art.  On the whole, provisioning doesn’t require connector construction; it requires configuration.  Each provisioning vendor worth their salt has a way of quickly connecting to “unknown” systems that don’t require core engineering efforts.

The one thing that I would also love insight into is how to get vendors who still insist on having their own user stores (e.g. Documentum, Alfresco, etc) to see the error of their ways and to take quick steps towards remedying them.

I think you’ll find the reason the vendors give on maintaining their own user and authorization stores is much the same reason why they have yet to adopt Service Provisioning Markup Language in a meaningful way.  There is nothing in it for them.  Nada.  The only vendors who might stand to gain (and thus adopt) centralized authorization are mega-vendors like IBM who have dozens upon dozens of applications.  For these vendors, producing a common auth store with the requisite halo of tooling becomes a path to customer lock-in.  “Ms. Customer, you can use AuthStore 5.0 to manage all of the authorizations for all of our products.  And here is AuthManage 6.0 to help you do just that.”  And if the customer ports their bespoke applications to the common auth store, the vendor gets big-time lock-in.  Want to get rid of XYZ Vendor?  You’ll have to reincorporate authorization stores into your applications. I have to imagine externalizing an auth store for a homegrown application would be painful, undoing that work even more so.

Stepping back to what I originally wrote about: no amount of centralized user and authorization management will make up for a lack of strong organizational and business process understanding coupled with appropriately defined controls.  That is the fuel for identity management and, frankly, identity consolidation as well.

Give me more to work with and I will

James recently picked up on my Identity leprosy or identity zombies post and writes:

Ian believes that identity needs brains but falls into the trap of thinking about identity solely from the perspective of provisioning and while avoiding runtime aspects. I wonder if he would blog on why enterprises should consider identity consolidation over identity management? 

 Before I respond I’d like to get some clarity.  James, give me a more to work with and I’ll happily write more.  Help me understand that which you are contrasting between “identity consolidation” and “identity management.”  Help me understand how provisioning doesn’t have runtime implications.