Thursday, 20 October 2011

Federated Clouds

Imagine the ability to seamlessly manage independent resources on multiple cloud providers with a single interface.  There are some immediate benefits to consider: avoiding vendor lock-in, migration of a resource from one cloud to another, replication of data ...

You might be excused for thinking it's a little ambitious but a colleague on the Contrail project drew my attention to this article on Cloud Brokering.  As Lorenzo said, you don't have to pay for the full article to get the jist but it seems from a rudimentary search that there are a number of commercial products already ventured into this area:

Federating clouds is a core objective of Contrail, and from what I heard at the Internet of Services meeting I attended last month, there's plenty of research interest in this topic.  Picking out some points raised in the discussions (with some of my own thoughts mixed in):
  • the importance of federating clouds for the European model.  Cloud infrastructures deployed in smaller member states can't match the resources available to the large US enterprises but if those smaller infrastructures are joined in a federation their resources can be pooled to make something greater.
  • Standards are essential for federated clouds to succeed (an obvious point really) but that existing standards such as OVF and OCCI provide incomplete coverage of what is needed across the spectrum of cloud architecture related concerns.
  • The problem of funding and continuity of work, general to many research efforts but cloud technology by its nature surely needs a long term strategy for it to flourish. 
  • The need for longer term research goals with 10-15 year gestation, short-term goals will be absorbed by commercial companies.  There's a danger of simply following rather than leading.
So on the last point then, it's all right to be ambitious ;)

Friday, 7 October 2011

Federated Identity Workshop Coming up...

This is a plug for a workshop on Federated Identity Management for Scientific Collaborations coming at RAL 2-3 November:

It's a follows the first of it's kind held earlier this year held at CERN and brought together experts in the field and representatives from a range of different scientific communities to present the state of play for federated identity management in each of the various fields and draw together a roadmap for future development.   See the minutes for a full account.

Picking out just a few themes that were of interest to me: inter-federation trust came up a number of times and the need for services to translate credentials from one domain to another.  I read that as a healthy sign that a) various federated identity management systems have bed down and become established and b), that there is not a fight of competing security technologies for one to take over all, rather a facing up to realities of how can we make it work so that these co-exist along side each other.

Credential translation brings in another two interesting issues: provenance and levels of assurance that actually also arose independently in some of the talks and discussions.  If I have a credential that is as a result of a translation of another credential from a different domain how much information is transferred between the two, is it lossy are the identity concepts and various attributes semantically the same?   The same issues arise perhaps to a lesser degree with delegation technologies. 

Levels of assurance is another issue that is surely going to crop up more and more as different authentication mechanisms are mixed together in systems: the same user can enter a federated system with different methods how do we ensure that they are assigned access rights accordingly.   Some complicated issues to tackle but the fact that they can begin to be addressed shows the progress that has been made building on the foundations of established federated systems.