Microsoft works toward a service-based identity platform

Microsoft would like to see identity become more of a simple service and less of a complex infrastructure companies are forced to build and maintain

Microsoft is working on a series of upgrades to its directory and identity technologies in the coming months with the goal of creating a service-based identity platform.

Microsoft is leaving itself plenty of wiggle room saying that upgrades for such Active Directory and client-based features as Federation Services, CardSpace, Identity Lifecycle Manager and claims-based access control will come in 2008 "plus". If the company follows its stated development plans to release a minor upgrade to the server every two years, the "plus" would be 2010.

But the upgrades to the directory and identity platform would be anything but minor, and the presence of the claims-based access control features points to the fact that Microsoft would like to see identity become more of a simple service and less of a complex infrastructure companies are forced to build and maintain.

Microsoft is already using claims-based access for SharePoint and Rights Management Server. Claims are a set of statements that identify a user and provide specific information. The claims are read by applications to make decisions on who gets access, who can retrieve content or who can complete transactions.

Last week, at NetPro's Directory Experts Conference in the US, Microsoft expanded on its idea to create a set of identity pieces that snap together via standard protocols and provide what the company referred to last week as an "identity bus."

The bus would move claims and be available for applications to plug into in order to take advantage of security and access control features. The bus could live on either side of the firewall and would have many places on the network where "transformers" could accept and dispense claims in many different formats.

Some experts believe Microsoft plans to head straight toward building such a services infrastructure and bypass the current behind-the-firewall approach to identity.

"I think there real aim is to skip this whole generational identity and access issue and go straight for the services goal," said Earl Perkins, an analyst with Gartner. "By doing this they will be positioned for the consumer space and the extranet, and they can show up to compete with Google and already have security and identity. So this platform is not ready yet, but in 24 months it will be closer to reality."

Perkins says the services platform could be adapted within enterprises by having integration experts such as the Oxford Computing Group, which specializes in Microsoft identity and access management technologies, build what companies need internally.

"It still seems to me that a lot of different [Microsoft product] teams are in play, there are a lot of different ideas as how to move identity forward within Microsoft," said James Booth, director of the Oxford Computing Group. "They are still trying to figure it out themselves."

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