February 26, 2010

Microsoft, UW partner for cloud-services integration

Here's a fun statistic: A University of Washington study found that when students arrive on campus, each already has an average of 3.5 e-mail addresses.

That's just the start of it. More than 64,000 UW students and faculty have Facebook accounts, said Terry Gray, associate vice president of technology strategy at the university. Of course, thousands of Huskies are on Twitter, Gmail, YouTube, Windows Live, Skype, GoToMeeting, Yahoo – shall I keep going?

Each service requires its own authentication, or username and password. And unless you use the exact same info for each Web site – bad idea! – you have to remember all of that mumbo-jumbo.

A solution?

The UW's IT staff and Microsoft are working together on single-sign-on technology through Live@edu, Microsoft's student-oriented hosted e-mail, communications and collaboration service similar to the Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS). (By the way, Ron Markezich, corporate vice president for Online Services, on Wednesday said Live@edu will soon be branded something along the lines of BPOS@edu.)

The technology, currently in testing, will allow UW and non-UW researchers to collaborate and also allow students to connect to third-party online services through their UW NetIDs.

"We concluded that cloud computing is actually a pretty big deal," Gray told an audience of public-sector CIOs on Thursday at Microsoft's Redmond headquarters. "It's a tsunami that can't be stopped, so we had a decision to either surface it or drown in it."

Nick Eaton/seattlepi.com

During a conference workshop for public-sector CIOs, the UW's Terry Gray shows off just a small part of the complex world of cloud services.
Click to enlarge

From the outside looking in, the technology isn't very sexy. In fact, in its current implementation the Identity Federation service looks like – well, is – a log-in page.

But there's a lot of complexity under the hood – lots of acronyms. It works through claims-based Federated Identity Management (FIdM) in Windows Identity Foundation (WIF), and through Active Directory (AD) via Active Directory Federation Services (ADFSv2 – formerly codenamed "Geneva"). Outside of a Microsoft-based undercarriage, SAML/Shibboleth federation supports OpenLDAP.

I'm stopping because my head is hurting. If you want more information on the technical aspects, go here.

Dave Fisher, senior program manager for Microsoft's Live@edu team, said the technology will be broadly available by late 2010.

"We have the technologies, they're real, we're putting this together," he told the workshop audience Thursday, "and we're looking forward to offering these to all of you, to all of our customers."

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