Liberty Alliance reveals architecture plans

The Liberty Alliance Project released details outlining its federated identity management architecture Tuesday, in a move that it said would help companies resolve technical issues encountered when building the foundation for Web services.

"The architecture outlines where we are going and explains our long-term technical vision," said Michael Barrett, president of the Liberty Alliance Management Board and vice president of Internet technology strategy at American Express Co.

The alliance, which was formed in 2001, represents a consortium of companies and organizations aimed at developing open standards for identity management and identity-based services on the Web. Members include technology titans such as Sun Microsystems Inc., which spearheaded the project, as well as America Online Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

The group released technical specifications in July last year to address the basic issues of federation and simplified sign-on and is set to released another set in mid-2003 aimed at building interoperable identity-based Web services, which also address privacy, security and business needs.

The architecture released Tuesday, however, offers companies a road map of where the group is headed, Barrett said, allowing companies to plan for future versions of technical specifications due to be released from the group.

According to the architecture, which is posted in a white paper on the group's Web site at http://www.projectliberty.org, the first module lays out Liberty's identity federation framework, including opt-in account linking, simplified sign-on, anonymity and session management.

The second module details adopting and extending other industry standards such as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), XML (Extensible Markup Language) and SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language), while the third module lays out a Liberty Identity Web services framework.

In the fourth module, the group outlines interface specifications for identity services, for building basic user profiles, for example.

"This road map really talks about what we've done and sets up a framework for interoperable ID-based services," said Jason Rouault, chair of Liberty Alliance's Technology Expert Group and senior architect at Hewlett-Packard Co.

While the alliance appears to be gaining momentum, and has seen its ranks swell recently as more companies and government agencies hop on board, it is still seen as at odds with software behemoth Microsoft Corp. which has its own answer to single sign-on and identity management with Passport.

Barrett said he sees the group's work as separate from Microsoft's service, however.

"Passport is a centralized service operated by a single company," he said, adding that Liberty's federated model is more flexible.

While Microsoft and the Liberty Alliance are clearly headed down different paths, the consortium seems confident that the architecture it is presenting will not only give companies a technical framework on which to build identity-based Web services, but will also help businesses form new practices to ease Web services implementation.

"This isn't just about building specifications and technology ... it's about addressing business issues," said Simon Nicholson, Liberty Alliance's chair of the Business and Marketing Expert Group.

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