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Microsoft, Liberty join for Web services identity interop

Liberty Alliance, Microsoft and VeriSign join Concordia Project in effort to bring interoperability to competing identity management technologies.

For the first time representatives of Liberty Alliance and Microsoft are going to sit down together along with VeriSign Inc. in an attempt to bring interoperability to their competing identity management systems, the three organizations announced today.

Currently developers need to accommodate a variety of authentication mechanisms as they are presenting Web services for business applications.
Roger Sullivan
PresidentLiberty Alliance Management Board

With Burton Group Inc. providing neutral ground at its upcoming Catalyst 2007 conference in San Francisco at the end of this month, representatives of the three organizations will begin the process of finding a way for their technologies to all get along. Sitting down together at Catalyst will be Conor Cahill, identity architect of Intel Corp., representing Liberty's SAML 2.0-based Liberty identity standards; Mike Jones, director of identity partnerships at Microsoft, representing Windows CardSpace; and David Recordon, VeriSign's innovator for advanced products and research, representing OpenID.

Getting the three to meet in an open forum may not seem like a big deal, but Roger Sullivan, president of the Liberty Alliance Management Board and vice president of identity management at Oracle Corp., said this meeting represents 12 months of negotiations. "This will be the first time that representatives from all three technology groups have met together in a public forum to openly discuss interoperability use cases," he said.

The meeting will be the first step in the newly launched Concordia Project aimed at providing interoperability among identity management systems, so Web services developers do not have to write separate code to handle each of the three, Sullivan said.

"Currently developers need to accommodate a variety of authentication mechanisms as they are presenting Web services for business applications," he explained. "What this initiative is intended to do is to create uniform or common interop methodologies, or APIs or standard structures, so that information can be exchanged from one technology to the other without having to redo your application or create a parallel stack of application Web services."

One of the drivers in bringing representatives of the three competing technologies together is that major corporations and government organizations are demanding an end of this Tower of Babel scenario for identity management, Sullivan said. Among the corporate supporters of the Concordia Project are General Motors, AOL and the Government of British Columbia.

Ian Bailey, director of application architecture with the government of British Columbia, said e-government initiatives, which provide Web services for citizens, are hampered by having three separate identity technologies. Web applications designed to link police, hospitals and social services to citizens have to deal with problems created by having three separate identity management systems that currently do not interoperate.

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"The fact that there's three is a problem," he said. That problem is compounded for small organizations such as a clinics or physicians' office which lack the IT skills to do custom coding to integrate the three standards.

But even Fortune 500 corporations don't want to spend their IT resources programming work-arounds for the three technologies, Sullivan said. He said there are places for all three in the marketplace, so this is not about developing one standard for identity management, but rather getting the existing technologies to work together. If everybody in the Concordia Project can find a way to get along, it will free developers from spending time hand coding integration of identity management, he said.

"What this initiative is designed to do is to help come up with standards-based approaches to solving these problems," he said, "so that developers aren't forced to recreate the wheel, and that the applications and Web services infrastructure can grow because there is a common way of handling these authentication mechanisms."

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