RealTime IT News

Sun Looks to Capitalize on 'Perfect Storm'

Sun Microsystems is primarily known for its high-end hardware and ubiquitous Java software, but the company is quickly establishing itself as a leader in identity management solutions.

The opportunity for growth looks strong as companies wrestle with a host of problems from compliance with new government accounting regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley to security concerns related to identity theft and misuse.

Version 6 of Sun's identity management software will be more customizable and feature expanded data synchronization. It's slated for release this December.

"We're working towards giving customers 80 percent of what they need to get going right out of the box," Andy Land, product line manager for identity management at Sun, told internetnews.com. "And the remaining 20 percent will use wizards and menu choices to set up rules."

On the security side, Version 6 will allow management to show auditors that logs weren't tampered with, as well as digital signature approvals.

A big chunk of the identity-management growth for Sun has come from blue-chip customers, including a 320,000-seat deal with General Motors and a 450,000-seat deal with General Electric and T-Mobile, which is using Sun's software to help manage about 10 million customer records.

"There's been a kind of perfect storm that's driving interest," said Land. "The technology is mature enough to accommodate what customers want to do. There are business drivers like security concerns, and the big one is compliance [with Sarbanes-Oxley], which really forced the need for identity management into the spotlight."

Under Sarbanes-Oxley regulations, CEOs have to sign off on approval of financial statements forcing companies to better detail their spending and use of resources.

On the security and software licensing side, companies need to know which employees have access to specific applications, and when, for example, a license is being misused.

"In the old days, identity was built into each application, but now a corporation's infrastructure is more complex and they use more software," said Land. "You need a system that provides a framework for all the applications and understands who has access."

General Electric is making use of provisioning features in Sun's solution. The system tracks digital and physical assets, such as corporate calling cards and laptop computers.

For example, when an employee is about to leave the company, the system lets the HR department know it's time to disable e-mail and network access, reclaim the notebook, etc.

But ZapThink analyst Jason Bloomberg said IBM, HP and CA do a better job than Sun integrating identity management into a larger service-oriented architecture . "Sun's identity management solutions are the brightest light in their otherwise sub-par software offering," Bloomberg told internetnews.com in an e-mail. He said Sun's approach to integration is portability-centric -- the strength of Java, versus the interoperability of its main competitors.

Nevertheless, Land said Sun relishes RFPs and competitive evaluations. Identity management systems are big enterprise applications that take months to deploy, and Land claims Sun has an edge over competitors with its "virtual identity manager" approach.

Nicholas Crown, solutions architect at Sun, said that, rather than polling all the information on a user's account into a central system like the company's competitors do, it stores a few key pieces of information, such as names, e-mail addresses and links to their accounts. "We reach out for the data in real time and get to it faster."