Extending identity management into the cloud




The focus of several questions I was asked at Interop involved identity management and application access in a cloud computing environment. This makes sense; not all applications that will be deployed in a public cloud environment are going to be “customer” or “market” focused. Some will certainly be departmental or business unit applications designed to be used by employees and thus require a certain amount of access control and integration with existing identity management stores, like Active Directory.

Interestingly F5 isn’t the only one that thinks identity and access management needs to be addressed for cloud computing initiatives to succeed.

blockquote It's important to not reinvent the wheel when it comes to moving to the cloud, especially as it pertains to identity and access management. Brown [Timothy Brown, senior vice president and distinguished engineering of security management for CA] said that before moving to the cloud it's important that companies have a plan for managing identities, roles and relationships.

Users should extend existing identity management systems. The cloud, however, brings together complex systems and opens to door for more collaboration, meaning more control is necessary. Brown said simple role systems don't always work, dynamic ones are required. [emphasis added]

--“10 Things to Consider Before Moving to the Cloud”, CRN, 2010 

Considering the emphasis on “control” and “security”, both of which identity management is closely tied, were the top two concerns of organizations in an InformationWeek Analytics Cloud Computing survey this is simply good advice.

The problem is how do you do that? Replicate your Active Directory forest? Maybe just a branch or two? There are overarching systems that can handle that replication, of course, but do you really want your corporate directory residing in the cloud? Probably not. What you really want is to leverage your existing identity management systems where they reside – in the corporate data center – but use its authentication and authorization information to allow or deny access to cloud-based applications.