Archive for the ‘IT Management’ Category

Get a Free SaaS Identity Audit from Conformity

March 8, 2010

As we’ve frequently discussed here in this blog, SaaS identity ’silos’ are creating major headaches for companies moving to the cloud. In fact we’re finding that  in most organizations 5-20% of SaaS user identities have errors or mismatches that can result in major security and compliance risks.  Some of these issues include:

  • Orphaned user accounts
  • Duplicate user identities
  • Misaligned user data
  • Inappropriate user roles and permissions
  • Unauthorized ’super admins’

We’re excited to announce that for a limited time Conformity is offering a free SaaS Identity Assessment that will help organizations identify user identity gaps and mismatches with their SaaS deployments and corporate directories. With the assessment, Conformity SaaS identity experts will provide:

  • A summary report of major SaaS identity exceptions
  • Assessment of potential audit and compliance risks
  • Recommended best practices and policies for aligning SaaS user identities

Click on the link below to learn more about our free assessment, and let Conformity help you and your organization get ahead of the curve on SaaS audit and compliance issues.

Click here to learn more >>

What is “The Cloud” Really?

March 4, 2010

Once upon a time I read a very good marketing paper that began with the statement: “People buy quarter-inch drill bits, but they want quarter-inch holes”.  The biggest mistake most tech companies make in marketing their products is they talk about the features of their quarter-inch drill bits, not the quality of the quarter-inch holes that can be made, or how the features of that hole are relevant or important for how the hole is going to end up being used.”  Assuming you accept this, I make the following observations about how most companies in “the cloud management space” are making it harder for their markets to understand what they do rather than easier.

Specifically, the concern I have is that “managing the cloud” or “the cloud management market” or “managing cloud computing”
is going to look markedly different depending on where you sit.  In particular, I think there are actually four cloud management markets or segments, with overlapping requirements to be sure, but still different enough that any company, vendor, or IT organization trying to “manage the cloud” should think about positioning itself in that context.  I also believe much of the confusion (or FUD) around “the cloud” and “cloud management” is because people use similar terms to mean very different things, each valid in its own right, but very, very different.

  • Segment 1 – Existing IT organizations that have on-premise services and also either have or aspires to have cloud-based services as well (whether IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc).  This management market will have a particular set of benefits and challenges associated with how the entity tries to integrate these IT services, and the management thereof, to make it look reasonably seamless (so they don’t simply replace one set of complex problems for a different set of complex problems).  Private/public clouds will create variations on this theme, with security and billing being the two main differences, but otherwise very similar problems.
  • Segment 2- The opposite end of this spectrum – organizations that aggressively pursue doing as much in the cloud as possible, and only doing on-premise what is either not yet available in cloud form or too business-critical to yet trust to a cloud-based solution.  I’ve spoken to a dozen CIO’s in the last two months who have set a mandate for their organizations along exactly these lines — cloud when you can, on-premise when you have to.  This is primarily an SMB-based discussion today, but it’s starting to bleed up into the enterprise space.

These first two represent more of a true user of “cloud-based” services and benefits.

  • Segment 3 – Groups that are actually hosting the cloud services used by the first two markets; the so-called “the service provider market.” It’s a real market, but tends to have a set of problems much more in common with the on-premise guys (insofar as they’re managing workloads within a well-defined IT  infrastructure — they’re still “on-premise,” just a different “premise” from the captive IT organization).  Their users come from the cloud, rather than being a captive user community.  This “where are the users coming from” tends to cause the management problems to have different priorities than the captive user version, but otherwise has more in common than not.  The one variation in this space is how high up into the stack a given organization chooses to go (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc), which will also heavily influence what “management” means to them.   For example, Amazon is clearly an IaaS vendor in this space, and doesn’t know or care about applications per se.
  • Segment 4 – Also a provider market, but where all the services provided are actually located in the cloud, rather than a captive data centerConformity is representative of this type of market.  We provide a SaaS-based solution (which also happens to manage SaaS a specific problem of using SaaS applications, but that’s not a relevant distinction here) that runs entirely in the cloud, we don’t have a data center at all (except for a VPN server and a MS Domain Controller); we do everything else in the cloud (including development / builds / e-mail / calendaring / billing…. you name it).  This type of market will also have unique and real management problems, but with a very different emphasis than the first three.  It’s also still small, but rapidly growing, based on many VC discussions I’ve had in the last four months.

These last two represent more of a true provider of cloud-based services, even though they may also have “user-like” problems they need to solve.

As already noted, there is much overlap in these four “spaces,” so I don’t think one can be entirely pure in this four market segment model.  But the particular problems and their urgency will create a form of segmentation thatwill influence and govern how cloud management companies need to talk about themselves, what they do, what pain points they address, and the value of their solutions, because the value of a given solution will vary greatly depending on where in this four-market segmentation model a given customer views themselves.

So, assuming you agree at least in spirit with this segmentation, it might be helpful to start to introduce some of this nomenclature into the industry’s on-going discussion about cloud management issues.

Anyway, this is what occurred to me when I’ve tried to compare various “cloud management” offereings; it’s a bit of apples-and-oranges.  For example, CA or BMC might be expected to want to market its cloud-based offerings to companies in the first market, as on-premise is “core” and cloud is an “adjacent” space in this market (using the Baan / Zook “core/adjacency” nomenclature).

Smaller players, like UnivaUD, market its cloud-based offerings to companies in the third market, and while there’s clearly overlap and bleed-over between these two views,  they’re different enough that trying to compare them might not make sense.

As an aside, It’s also why I think “virtualization = cloud” is a horrible hoax that some vendors are foisting off on the rest of the industry.   Virtualization is an important technology, to be sure, but it’s a quarter-inch drill bit in the fullest sense of the word, and absent any discussion of what problem is being solved and why, carries almost no useful context in any final analysis of “the cloud management market.”

SaaS Adoption and the ‘Scaling’ of Management Pain

March 2, 2010

The current approach most organizations are taking to managing SaaS applications and user access is unsustainable.

In our webinar today on SaaS, Access Controls and Compliance (an on-demand recording can be viewed here), we shared the reasons we think organizations are setting themselves up for a costly fall as they accelerate SaaS and cloud adoption:

  • The hidden costs of cloud applications – as SaaS apps have largely been deployed around IT, the costs of management and administration have also remained ‘hidden’  from CIOs and IT executives.  Manual, redundant administration of users and access results in costs and risks that often shock executives when we bring it to their attention.  For example, we’re finding that identity ‘exceptions’ across SaaS apps in customer environments typically range from 5-20%.  Translation – nearly 1 in 5 SaaS users today have inappropriate access or multiple, inconsistent identities across systems.  The risk and compliance implications of this go without saying…
  • The scaling of management pain – each new SaaS app deployed creates another ‘source’ of user identity and associated authorizations.  The need to understand roles, profiles and permissions across apps means that the hidden costs and risks of SaaS expand exponentially with adoption.  Thus not only are costs not yet visible at the executive level, they’re rapidly scaling with SaaS and cloud adoption!
  • The oncoming SaaS management ‘tsunami’ – it’s almost universally true that SaaS and cloud adoption is accelerating across nearly every market segment.  Combine this fact with the ‘scaling’ of management pain, and you start to see why we think organizations are headed for trouble.   While today it appears that manual and spreadsheet-based approaches to managing SaaS users and access will ‘work for now’, trouble is rapidly growing beneath the surface, as internal auditors, IT operations and administrators will tell you.

IT management problems are often analagous to heart disease  – foresight and preventative steps (diet and exercise) are far preferable to open heart surgery after the problem gets out of control.

Unfortunately as SaaS and cloud adoption accelerates many organizations today are on the costly path to the operating table…

Thinking about “The Cloud”

February 10, 2010

Thanks, Scott, for the warm welcome to Conformity’s Blog universe.  I’ve been at Conformity for just about a month now, and I’ve been appointed (is there an opposite of disappointed?) at the excitement around the space, the quality and dedication of the team, and the interest in “our problem” (identity in the cloud) by customers and prospects.

Of course, unless you’ve been under a rock for the past, say, 10 years, you’ve no doubt heard that Cloud Computing (or On-Demand before that or ASP’s before that or Grid’s even before that) will solve everything from bad breath and world hunger to global warming and peace in our time.  While many of the developments are truly exciting, what we today call Cloud Computing should have been expected as an obvious trend from a whole collection of trends that have led up to it.

Why?  Because every advanced endeavor ultimately evolves into increasingly smaller and focused areas of specialization, where we (as individuals or business units or corporations) pay someone else to do things we’re either too busy, too inexperienced, or too lazy to do ourselves.

I suspect few of you reading this now actually grow your own vegetables.  It’s not that you can’t, mind you, since it’s not all that hard.  But farmers and grocery stores and the whole infrastructure behind the process of getting lettuce and carrots into the trunk of my car do it faster, cheaper, and better than I can (or am willing to – I do have small children, after all).

Historically, providing whatever computing services businesses large and small use in the course of their primary business activities has been difficult enough and expensive enough that these same businesses formed “IT Organizations” to provide those services for them (believing — largely correctly — that the IT group could do it faster, cheaper, and better than they could — an early and surprising enduring form of specialization).

No reason why this same process won’t happen again and again and again, with increasing segments of what has traditionally been the purview of what we now call an “on-premise” IT service being delivered by external entities that can perform more and more elements of what IT has traditionally done themselves, and with IT’s role evolving along the way.  With the introduction of a good enough transmission medium (the Internet), a good enough computing platform (LAMP stack, with or without virtualization), and sufficient consolidation, standardization, and economies of scale around certain business applications (e-mail, SFA, CRM, HR, etc), and *POOF* Cloud Computing and Cloud-based Applications are born.

The interesting news (and for companies like Conformity and our partners the good news) is that each of these forays into these areas of specialization come with their own technical and business challenges that must be solved along the way.  We, as technology professionals, get another chance to try to address long-standing questions around business process, pricing, ease-of-use, and the never-ending quest for a more efficient way to separate and distinguish between what Geoff Moore calls “core” versus “context”.

I won’t attempt to address the specifics of how we’ll be solving bad breath, world hunger, global warming, and peace in our time today (must leave something interesting to write about in future posts), but wanted to begin the dialog around what is and is not particularly new about Cloud Computing, what problems we might expect need to be solved (because they *are* different from what’s come before) and which problems are simply old wine in new bottles…

Recap: Enterprise SaaS Working Group – Identity Management in the Cloud

December 4, 2009

We had a great second meeting of the Enterprise SaaS Working Group this week, which focused on the topic of access and identity management for the cloud.  Participants in the session included Chris Bedi from VeriSign, Peter Dapkus from  Salesforce.com, Ryan Nichols from Appirio (who also provided a great summary of the event on the Appirio blog), Steve Coplan from  The 451 Group, Michael Amend from Dell, Doug Harr from Ingres and Scott Carruth from Initiate Systems.   Our initial discussion focused on the unique management challenges created by SaaS and cloud applications due to the the identity silos they create in the enterprise as shown below.

Cloud identity in the enterprise

The ensuing roundtable discussion focused on the impact these issues are having in the enterprises, with a particular focus on the following topics:

  • Speed bump or show stopper – on the question of whether access and identity management issues were a going to be a ‘speed bump’ or ‘show stopper’ for SaaS adoption in the enterprise, the answer really revolved around timing and depth of penetration.  While today it is more of a speed bump for initial adoption in the enterprise (or else we wouldn’t be seeing enterprise deals today), the issues become more problematic when considering what it will take for SaaS and cloud applications to become a ‘mainstream’ technology. Taken from that perspective, there was agreement that identity issues around access, authentication and authorization created by SaaS identity ‘silos’ were going to soon become major, and that they need to be reconciled and addressed.  
  • The directory redefined – one of the questions we posed around the future of the corporate directory, and whether enterprises would ever permit it to live in the cloud.  Chris Bedi of VeriSign made the great point that the more relevant and important question is around what a directory really becomes in a cloud-centric environment – where it ends up residing will be a function of how that question is answered.
  • Federated identity – related to the directory point, the group generally also agreed that in a cloud-centric (or even hybrid SaaS/on-prem environment) that there was unlikely to be a monolithic directory or source of identity related data, and that SaaS applications, HR systems and directories (on-prem and cloud) would also likely each contain ‘versions of the truth’ that will need to be synchronized and federated.  Ryan Nichols provided a very interesting example of how Appirio themselves have built a cloud-centric organization with Salesforce.com and Google both providing separate but complementary directory and identity data.
  • Identity done right – Doug Harr made the excellent point that current cloud identity challenges actually offer an opportunity for SMB and midsize enterprises who haven’t been able to invest in identity and systems management technologies to date to ‘get it right’.   IAAS and cloud-based identity management services will likely make these capabilities cost-effective for these target markets for the first time, enabling these organizations to effectively ‘white sheet’ their identity management approaches for both cloud and on-premise applications.

The full recording of the webinar is available and can be access by clicking here.  Please drop us an email as eswg@conformity-inc.com to be added to our mailing list, and to be notified of future Enterprise SaaS Working Group news and events.

12/2 Enterprise SaaS Working Group webinar – Access and Identity Management for the Cloud

November 16, 2009

We’re excited to announce that on December 2nd  at 10:00am PST / 1:00pm EST we’ll be holding the second meeting of the Enterprise SaaS Working Group on the topic of Access and Identity Management for the Cloud.

One of the recognized challenges with SaaS in the enterprise is the silos of identity that are created by cloud applications. Each service contains its own ‘version of the truth’ around users, permissions and credentials, disconnected from legacy directory services and identity management systems. Based on feedback from our first event, this meeting will focus on the identity management and access control issues that need to be addressed for SaaS to become truly mainstream in the enterprise. Discussion will focus on several questions including:

  • SaaS identity issues in the enterprise – speed bump or show stopper?
  • What will be the identity source(s) in a cloud-centric world?
  • Can separate cloud and on-premise user identities co-exist?
  • Will enterprise IT ever put corporate directories in the cloud?

Participants in the session will include:

The discussion will focus on critical issues and corresponding best practices in the areas of access management, authentication, identity synchronization and identity policy enforcement and will include a Q&A session open to all attendees. Click here for more information and to register for this exciting event!

Register now >>

Emerging Best Practices – Extending Microsoft Active Directory to SaaS and Cloud Applications

November 13, 2009

Though cloud and SaaS solutions are seeing rapid adoption in the enterprise, management of these applications is not aligned with traditional IT controls and policies.  SaaS has been deployed and managed largely by business users, with limited input from CIOs and IT organizations.  As these cloud-based technologies replace mission-critical on-premise applications and host sensitive organizational data, enterprise IT is now regaining their ‘seat at the table’.   When seeking to extend policies and controls to SaaS, these IT organizations are disappointed to learn that existing directories and  IT management technologies don’t easily extend to the cloud.  These organizations struggle to achieve alignment of SaaS and cloud solutions with established enterprise identity sources including Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS), directory services, and Identity Management (IdM) solutions.  This alignment and resulting visibility and control is critical for IT and Finance departments concerned with regulatory compliance, governance, and identity and access management.

Given the role that Microsoft Active Directory and associated proxy services play in  providing centralized authentication, access control, and identity synchronization for on-premise applications  it would seem to be a logical integration point to also harness SaaS and cloud solutions.  Unfortunately IT organizations are finding that AD itself does not easily extend into leading SaaS applications, with direct integration difficult if not impossible.

Despite this inability to directly integrate AD with major cloud applications, forward-thinking enterprises are focusing on a “loose coupling” of on-premise Microsoft Active Directory and SaaS solutions through new third party management solutions.  This approach allows an integration path with the existing, deployed directory technologies and does not require major adjustments in the SaaS vendor technology roadmaps.  By integrating the current SaaS and directory solutions, the enterprise can align critical services including user identity and attributes, login services (Single Sign-On), and IT policies.  This alignment can lead to immediate benefits in security, IT efficiency, and governance and regulatory compliance.  In our new white paper, Extending Microsoft Active Directory to the Cloud, we explore the approaches and solutions organizations are leveraging to identity synchronization, policy enforcement and single sign-on (SSO).

Click here to request a free copy >>

Extending Active Directory to the Cloud

October 17, 2009

One of the use cases we’re almost universally supporting across our midsize enterprise customer base here at Conformity is integration with Microsoft Active Directory (AD), and providing the ability to extend and link employee, role and organizational data with identity stores contained in leading SaaS applications such as Salesforce.com, NetSuite, Google Apps and others. With our AD connector, customers of the Conformity platform are extending capabilities today in two major areas:

  • User provisioning / deprovisioning – by normalizing and synchronizing role and permissions models across AD and Conformity and through deploying our event monitoring capabilities customers can automate user provisioning, deprovisioning and change management activities.    When a new employee is onboarded and set up within AD, access and permissions to cloud services appropriate for the employee’s role are automatically provisioned via Conformity.  For example, when a new outside sales rep joins the organization, when added in AD they then can also be provisioned against Salesforce.com, Xactly and Google Apps with appropriate access and permissions.   When the sales rep changes title or role, or leaves the organization, changes in AD also then trigger appropriate changes in cloud application access and permissions.  In effect, we’re providing users a cloud provisioning extension for AD that enables IT to extend access policies and controls to the cloud.
  • Chargeback models – integration of department and other organizational identifiers between AD and Conformity’s role model also streamlines our customers ability to automate extension of internal chargeback and financial management models to cloud applications.  By linking SaaS administrative siloes to AD  via Conformity, enterprises can track and manage departmental usage not just at the application level, but also within specific modules within the cloud services themselves.

In addition to dramatically reducing administrative headaches, synchronizing and normalizing identity data across AD and major cloud applications is also enabling them to streamline audit prep activities, reduce operational costs and strengthen access control and security.  More to come on this…

The Three Key SaaS Management Challenges

October 15, 2009

We find very few people today that would dispute the notion that SaaS and cloud applications have become mainstream technologies in SMB and the midmarket.  The challenges for the SaaS industry are also changing as a result.   With the battle over the viability of the on-demand model largely won,  the questions are now turning to the operational and IT management  implications of a SaaS-centric environment.

Our customers and prospects here at Conformity are forward-thinking organizations that are aggressively leveraging the cloud delivery model for multiple, if not a majority of their business applications.  Given our strong  belief in the SaaS and cloud model, we believe that they are a good indicator of trends we’ll shortly be seeing more broadly in the market.    All of these organizations are struggling with what their management processes and approaches look like in a purely ‘on-demand’ model.   Among these multi-SaaS organizations we’re consistently seeing three general problem domains:

  1. User provisioning and administration – as they’re optimized for different problem sets, all major SaaS applications have fundamentally different ways of thinking about users, roles, profiles and permissions.  Organizations have tended to have separate business administrators for say Salesforce.com, NetSuite and SuccessFactors.  Each of these admins as a result has had to develop a separate model of their organization, deparments and role structures, with the result being that various siloed identity stores have been created across the organization.  These stores are are all independent from each other and from on-premise directory services (Microsoft AD) and identity management solutions.  Normalizing these identity stores in support of centralized, streamlined administration and reporting is a common theme we’re hearing, and what what our solution here at Conformity is addressing.
  2. Single sign-on (SSO) / authentication – another common challenge we’re hearing is the desire to provide end-users the ability to access multiple SaaS applications (and often on-prem apps as well) using a single set of credentials, both for end-user convenience and security purposes.  This is the problem set being  addressed by vendors such as Ping Identity, Tricipher and Symplified.
  3. Data integration – the final theme we’re hearing is around cross-application data integration, and the desire to integrate multiple ‘best of breed’ applications across a common business processes or workflow.  This issue set consists of integration of cloud apps to both cloud and on-premise applications.   This is the domain being addressed by vendors such as Cast Iron Systems, Pervasive and Boomi.

While the data integation challenge is fairly distinct from the first two challenges, significant market confusion exists around provisioning and SSO, and whether a solution in one addresses both areas.  The short answer is no – the very simple analogy we use is that SSO tells you if you should let the visitor knocking on the front door into the house – provisioning and permissions management provides guardrails around what they can and cannot do once they’re in the front door.  Both are needed, but complementary capabilities – more to come on this….

Recap: The Enterprise SaaS Working Group

October 1, 2009

It’s been an exciting few days here at Conformity after our recent GA announcement and the kickoff of the Enterprise SaaS Working Group yesterday.  We had a very lively, engaging debate on the key issues the group believes need to be addressed for SaaS and cloud applications to become ‘mainstream’ technologies in the enterprises.  The group featured a diverse set of executive perspectives from cloud vendors, thought leaders and practitioners, and included:

A quick highlight of some of the discussion yesterday:

  • PaaS/SaaS – which model ‘wins’ in the enterprise? While opinions differed, a common sentiment shared by the panel was that there’s not going to be ‘right answer’ for all organizations.  Depending on the industry vertical, business process or IT management model PaaS or SaaS could be the ‘right answer’, and in many situations organizations could have PaaS and SaaS offerings sitting side by side.   
  • Private clouds – part of the answer or indicative of SaaS market immaturity? As with the PaaS/SaaS discussion a common theme was ‘it depends’.  The core advantage to SaaS and cloud delivery models is the ability to share resources – what part of the stack organizations decide they’d like to share will likely be driven primarily by security concerns and issues.  A likely scenario, as with PaaS/SaaS, is that different models will likely be adopted by different types of organizations depending on security and operational requirements.
  • Enterprise SaaS adoption – when does it overtake on-premise? Two different perspectives were discussed around when SaaS will overtake on-premise apps in the enterprise.   A common belief of the group was that SaaS is winning in a majority of new deals in the enterprise today, with the perspective shared that 50-75% of enterprises would ‘flip the switch’ on cloud in some manner by approximately 2012.  Peter Coffee of Salesforce also shared his belief that total installed base for SaaS would outnumber on-premise apps by 2020, though there would also likely be 1-2% of the market that would be ‘holdouts’.
  • Any applications that SaaS/cloud won’t be able to penetrate? If architected and deployed correctly, there are no perceived areas in which SaaS and cloud application models could not be leveraged with Peter Coffee of Salesforce , Tom Fisher of SuccessFactors and Ryan Nichols of Appirio all providing compelling examples of large scale, transaction intensive customer deployments.

The full recording of the webinar is available and can be access by clicking here.  Also, Ryan Nichols at Appirio had a great post on their perspective on our discussion topics here.

Please drop us an email as eswg@conformity-inc.com to be added to our mailing list, and to be notified of future Enterprise SaaS Working Group news and events.