New Interoperability for Microsoft?

Little piques the frustration of IT professionals more than flawed interoperability among different security and identity systems — unless it’s no interoperability at all.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) joined the MIT Kerberos Consortium on Monday as a founding sponsor. It will now have a place on the executive board along with founders Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Google (NASDAQ: GOOG), Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA), and MIT.

MIT’s Kerberos protocol may be the most popular network authentication technology in use today.

Founded in September 2008, the consortium’s goal is “to establish Kerberos as the universal authentication platform for the world’s computer networks,” according a statement from the organization. The idea is to develop interoperable technologies that let “organizations and federated realms of organizations to use Kerberos as the single sign-on solution for access to all applications and services.”

Microsoft has had Kerberos implementations in Windows for years, including in Windows 2000, XP, Server 2003, Vista and Server 2008. Kerberos also provides the primary authentication technology in Microsoft Active Directory, according to the consortium’s statement.

As part of becoming a founding sponsor, Slava Kavsan, Microsoft’s director of development for Windows core security, will sit on the organization’s executive board.

“Our customers are keenly interested in having our products be more interoperable in heterogeneous environments ‘so we joined the consortium’ to give us a better opportunity to listen to customer feedback,” Kavsan told

Unrelated to the Kerberos Consortium announcement, Microsoft will co-sponsor an event with the Concordia Project at next week’s RSA conference in San Francisco. That event will be aimed at demonstrating interoperability between Microsoft’s and competitors’ identity technologies.

“This … is the first Concordia event to demonstrate interoperability scenarios using Liberty Alliance and Microsoft (Information Card, Liberty Alliance, and WS-*) identity protocols,” a Concordia spokesperson said in an e-mail to

The Concordia Project, which was founded last February at RSA 2007 by Liberty Alliance co-founder Sun Microsystems, will hold its interoperability event on Monday.

“The event will include FuGen Solutions, Internet2, Microsoft, Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL), Ping Identity, Sun Microsystems and Symlabs demonstrating varying interoperability scenarios using Information Card, Liberty Alliance, and WS-* identity protocols,” the spokesperson said.

Microsoft has placed many of its WS-* protocols, including some that provide Kerberos interoperability, under its Open Specifications Promise (OSP) — the company’s promise not to sue developers for using the technologies for free.

While Microsoft and Liberty Alliance have been staunch competitors in the area of identity metasystems over the years, the Concordia Project was started to work specifically on encouraging interoperability among competing identity metasystems. The organization, which Microsoft is not an official member of, has held two previous public events, one
in June
and onein September — to get input about real-life use cases from huge IT customers.

At the two earlier events, attendees were treated to use case discussions by GM (NYSE: GM), Boeing (NYSE: BA), and the provincial government of British Columbia, Canada, as well as from Chevron (NYSE: CVX), the InCommon Federation and the State Services Commission of the New Zealand government, according to the Concordia Project.

New moves toward openness?

The question remains: Is this all part of Microsoft’s recently announced Interoperability Principles? Or do the principles instead reflect what Microsoft was already doing?

In late February Microsoft announced a company-wide initiative around what it terms its “Interoperability Principles.”

Those changes fit into the framework of four guiding principles, company executives said at the time: guaranteeing open connections to its high-volume applications, promoting data portability, increased support for industry standards and extending the dialog between Microsoft and the technology community, including open source developers.

However, one analyst said that Microsoft’s newfound mantra of openness and interoperability is not so new, rather it grew out of customers’ desires for better interoperability — not the other way around. For one thing, both the Kerberos Consortium and the Concordia Project work started long before the February declaration of principles. That is, in this case, the tail may actually be wagging the dog.

“I think it’s an acceptance of the reality on the ground that’s reflected in the ‘Interoperability Principles’ and not vice versa,” said Greg DiMichillie, lead analyst for application platforms at research firm Directions on Microsoft.

“The principles are a belated recognition of what the customers were telling them they had to do anyway,” DiMichillie said. That and, of course, a pitch to assure the European Commission that Microsoft really means it when it pledges to make its software interoperable with competitors, he added.

Kenneth Corbin contributed to this report.

Article courtesy of

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