In amongst all the exciting new product announcements for new Windows releases and cloud computing platforms it’s all too easy to miss out on some of the core infrastructure enhancements that Microsoft is making. Last week I got the chance to catch up with Joel Sider from Microsoft’s Identity and Security group – a new organisation at Microsoft formed to address the issues of identity and security (which are really two sides of the same coin) and which, until recently have been treated as individual point solutions.
Joel explained to me that, with a single business group and a single engineering group, Microsoft is able to focus on the complete product stack, from System Center and Identity Lifecycle Manager (ILM – formerly MIIS), through Forefront security to the Windows platform, including Active Directory, Rights Management Services (RMS) and Network Access Protection (NAP).
Two of the products under the umbrella of the identity and security group have been in the news recently:
- A release candidate of Identity Lifecycle Manager “2” is available now. Due for final release in the first half of 2009, ILM “2” provides self-service for employees, enhanced administration and automation for IT professionals, and extensibility for developers. In developing this product, Microsoft’s focus was in allowing IT departments to set policies for access, empowering end users and knowledge workers to perform actions and tasks (e.g. reset passwords, manage group membership, etc.). Until the release of this product, such actions would have required the use of third party products (e.g. Quest Active Roles Server and unlike MIIS, which was powerful but had a limited user interface, the focus with ILM is on providing an intuitive management interface and self service capabilities whilst still allowing extensibility (e.g. for audit and compliance purposes). ILM uses a concept of sets to group objects (e.g. “All people”) and then a workflow (authentication, authorisation, or action) may be applied to complete a number of steps (e.g. in a password reset scenario to answer a number of security questions; or approving membership of a group and sending out a notification in a group membership scenario).
- Intelligent Application Gateway (IAG) service pack 2 is also due for release shortly. Originally available only in hardware appliance form, the former Whale Communications product can now be run as a Hyper-V virtual machine to reduce costs and increase flexibility in the infrastructure. In addition, IAG supports access from non-Microsoft browsers (e.g. Firefox) and platforms (i.e. users running Linux and Mac OS X) and has additional optimisers for recently released applications. (For those who are unaware of IAG’s capabilities, it provides granular access to specific applications via an SSL VPN with support for almost any application but optimisations for those which it has an awareness of – that’s the “intelligent” part of IAG).
Other significant developments taking place within the identity and security group include: the Windows Azure .NET Identity Framework (codenamed Geneva) which provides a Microsoft.NET identity access control service; Windows Cardspace; and the Forefront integrated security product (codenamed Stirling) which will combine the various disparate Forefront components.
From my perspective, I’m really encouraged to see Microsoft working to provide a more focused approach. As I’ve written before, many of Microsoft’s identity and security products are the result of acquisitions and, whilst it’s important not to lose the features and functionality that made these products successful in the first place, they also need to be tightly integrated to avoid the inevitable confusion caused by feature overlap and conflicting goals. It seems to me that Microsoft is working towards providing a sensible and logical identity and security portfolio for customers and partners.