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Sun's Vision: Network Identity Through Hardware

Sun Microsystems Tuesday began spinning network identity solutions in a new direction with the launch of a platform that adds hardware to the mix.

Unveiling the Sun Open Net Environment (ONE) Platform for Network Identity, the company said the combination of hardware, software and services is intended to allow organizations to "rapidly establish an open, end-to-end network identity infrastructure."

"Organizations have three key network identity objectives," said Jonathan Schwartz, chief strategy officer of Sun. "First and foremost is the need for heightened security and identity control around the Web interactions in the form of accurate authroization and authentication. Second is the need for an open identity service, rather than one with the potential to disintermediate them downstream. Finally, they need a rapid and comprehensive way to set up a robust, scalable and reliable backbone for establishing their own network identity system."

"We're doing this in the context of providing a complete solution for network identity," added Mark Bauhaus, vice president of Sun's Professional Services.

The platform consists of two offerings: an Enterprise edition designed to manage up to 10,000 online identities inside the firewall, and an Internet Edition designed to manage up to 250,000 online identities outside the firewall. Both editions feature pre-installed and configured software, hardware and storage -- including iPlanet Directory Server Access Management Edition 5 and the Solaris 8 Operating Environment running on Sun Fire 280R Ultra SPARC III servers and Sun StorEdge D2 storage arrays (72 Gbyte or 145 Gbyte) -- and 10 days of technical consulting from Sun Professional Services.

Sun said the solutions can be customized to support thousands and even tens of millions of online identities. Pricing for the Enterprise Edition starts at $149,995, while pricing for the Internet Edition begins at $999,995.

Identity management is fundamental to the success of Web services, a fact that led Sun to establish a consortium called the Liberty Alliance last September. Created by Sun and 32 other companies, the Liberty Alliance is working to create a specification for the interoperability of open authentication systems. Sun rallied the Liberty Alliance as a response to a move by Microsoft Corp. to turn its Passport system into a "federated authentication system," potentially capturing the center of the nascent Web services market for the Redmond-based software provider.

"It's recently become clear that the software for managing user identity and authentication is one of the key building blocks of the emerging Internet operating system," Tim O'Reilly, founder and chief executive officer of technology publisher O'Reilly & Associates and an activist for open source software and Internet standards, said when Liberty Alliance was formed. "It's so fundamental that a widespread consensus has emerged that this is a technology that shouldn't be owned or controlled by any one player. Instead, we need an open, distributed system with implementations available from multiple technology providers and identities issued by many parties operating in a web of trust. Project Liberty is an important step in that direction."

Sun said Tuesday that the Sun ONE Platform for Network Identity will support federated network identity once the Liberty Alliance makes its specifications available. Schwartz said Sun expects those specifications to be released in mid-calendar 2002.

But, contrary to popular belief, Schwartz also said that Sun is not attempting to dash Microsoft's Passport efforts with its platform.

"The issue of interoperability with Microsoft Passport is Microsoft's, not Sun's," he said. "We would be thrilled to interoperate with Passport."

Schwartz explained that the Liberty Alliance is creating a specification for the interoperability of identity systems, not an identity system itself. Therefore, customers can use Sun's hardware to manage the identities of employees, customers and business partners on their own.

"We think we have a considerable advantage, not against Microsoft but for customers," Schwartz said.