IBM Wednesday announced that it has joined the Liberty Alliance, the identity management group working to define standards around federated identity and Web services.
The news is significant in that IBM and Microsoft Corp. set out with competing specifications for federated identity—including the WS-Federation and Microsofts Passport—while Sun Microsystems Inc. proposed the Liberty specifications. However, now IBM is not only a Liberty member but also a board member, company officials said.
Karla Norsworthy, vice president of software standards at IBM, said in a statement released by the company: "IBMs joining the Liberty Alliance is consistent with announcements made earlier this year that IBM customers are deploying IBM products that are interoperable with certain Liberty specifications. Customers are looking for identity management software that is flexible, supporting both WS-* and Liberty. To that end, IBM plans to support a broad range of federated identity specifications across its Tivoli identity management product line."
Sources said the impetus for IBM joining Liberty was a large deal the company made recently with Orange PCS Ltd.s French unit, which required Liberty compliance. A source close to IBM said the companys membership in Liberty should not come as a surprise and is "just business."
Norsworthy said: "IBM remains committed to the Web services stack. We are rolling out support for the WS-Security roadmap specifications (such as WS Security and WS Federation) in our products. The WS-Security roadmap specifications provide composable solutions that work well with other Web services specifications. Early this month we completed another successful interop session for the trust and secure conversation specifications. Long term IBM believes the best solution for customers would be a convergence of various federated identity standards. IBM has joined the Liberty Alliance to help continue as a liaison between our customers and the industry in this effort."
Meanwhile, Sun and Microsoft have said they plan to align their digital identity schemes as part of the major settlement the companies reached in the spring around the antitrust lawsuit Sun filed against the software giant. And the IBM Liberty news is timely in that next week the Digital ID World conference in Denver is expected to be the forum for more news on the federated identity front and possibly more on the progress Sun and Microsoft have made.
"Any move towards consolidation of the standards is a good move," said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, in Waltham, Mass. "IBM took the opportunity of responding to a customer demand for Liberty Alliance adoption and rather than resist that, they took the initiative and made a bold move to support the standard outright, giving their customers some relief in the area of evolving specs."
However, he said, "I think the challenge still will be in getting the federated identity specs agreed upon so that they can be broadly supported by the WS-I. At some point one of these specs will win out. In any case, a consolidated stack of security standards for Web Services is great for the industry. Maybe Microsoft is next?"