End-to-end Identity Management with open source?

After working with a relatively large identity and access management implementation over the last year, I’m really interested to continue working in this field.

There are with large projects many lessons learned, and plenty of times when you think to yourself “could I have done this better?”

And so, I’m contemplating getting into the Identity Management business.

But before I do, there seems to be a few different paths to take:

Each of decisions has their own pros and cons, so lets explore those.

First, supporting Oracle. Big organisations need heavy identity solutions. They have many different providers of identity data, and many different services that consume that data. While the organisation owns that identity data, they don’t have much control over where that data is stored and consumed. Hence the need for lots of different agents to interact between identity provider <> identity consumer. And that’s all well and good, but the competition for providing support in this space is fairly niche. You must be big enough to support the product, and to find customers big enough to want the product. In New Zealand, this is a fairly limited market, and is owned, unsurprisingly, by Oracle.

Next, there’s supporting the Sun identity stack. I have lots of experience on the Sun identity stack, and it has its benefits and pitfalls. The main difference between the Sun stack and the Oracle stack is open is open source (Sun) and one is not (Oracle). For customers this means not paying Sun for the software, but to implement something so significantly complex, you really must have a smart consulting company on your side, like Sun. The same arguements about being heavyweight apply here too. Only certain large organisations need this highly complex solution.

Next there’s the middleweight solution, Triplesec. Triplesec provides a lot of the functionality of the heavyweight solutions, but underpinned on relatively less complex architecture. The pitfall I’m finding with Triplesec is a lack of documentation. One advantage (or disadvantage) of the heavyweight solutions is documentation, lots and relatively thorough. Triplesec technologically is sound, but without documentation or support, you’d have to have a lot of trust in your vendor to be implementing this at the moment. Also to my knowledge, this solution is relatively untested – I haven’t heard of any large scale implementations. Not that this should stop you, but just be warned that you’re on your own here.

Finally, there’s SimpleSAMLphp. This isn’t a whole identity management solution as provided by Oracle or Sun, but more a way to take information from an Identity Source like an LDAP directory, and then authenticate against that. Provisioning new users and managing multiple disparate identity sources into one meta-identity provider this is not, but for a simple identity solution that is relatively easy to understand, support, and is widely in use (throughout all of Norway and Denmark), pretty bespoke, and using open standards. A good solution for the majority of small New Zealand companies.

And for some fun, I’ve been working on a logo for this project:

Identity Systems

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