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The twist in IBM’s federated identity deal with France Telecom

Jul 28, 20042 mins
Access ControlEnterprise ApplicationsIBM

* France Telecom requires IBM to conform to Liberty Alliance spec

At last week’s Catalyst Conference, Burton Group CEO Jamie Lewis kicked off the proceedings by identifying Service Oriented Architecture as the hot new area for identity management. Vendors, though, indicated that regulatory compliance was going to be the theme over the next year. Both will be big topics, but there was one announcement that I considered the bombshell of this event and it wasn’t in either area.

Federated identity, talked about over the past few years – some say talked to death – was the subject of the biggest announcement all week. IBM and France Telecom reached an agreement to provide identity federation and single sign-on services to the 50 million Orange mobile subscribers in Europe. This is, by far, the largest federation project to be undertaken.

Adding a remarkable twist to the story, France Telecom (a founding member of the Liberty Alliance) chose IBM (not a member, but a driving force behind the WS-Federation specification, which many see as a competitor to Liberty) to do the implementation.

The carrier required IBM to conform to the Liberty Alliance specification. That means the Liberty folks are in the uncomfortable position of crowing about an IBM win in the federation space. Still, the deal can’t help but be a boon to everyone in the federation game and as a major validation of the value of the technology. Still, it does explain why IBM pursued (and garnered) the “Liberty Alliance Interoperable” certification recently.

IBM will use – in addition to the identity services offered through its IBM-Tivoli Identity Manager – WebSphere Portal, WebSphere Everyplace Access, and IBM Tivoli Access Manager, as enabling technologies for mobile-user single sign-on. Orange Mobile, in turn, will enable access to the network, via a Web services interface, a myriad of new services both of its own making as well as from third party partners, including those in financial services, messaging, contact management and social networking.

To gauge the excitement factor of this news, I was interviewing Chris O’Connor, IBM’s director of corporate security strategy about the emerging area of the “identity of things” and network access control (an interesting concept we’ll return to in the near future), but the Orange/France Telecom announcement kept cropping up in our conversation. It is important and it does auger well for the future of federation and the possible convergence and consolidation of the various federation standards.