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4 reasons to choose open source software for identity & access management

Michael Schwartz February 22, 2018

Identity & Access Management (IAM)

The stakes are high. Authentication is the front door to your organization’s mobile, IOT and Web digital services:

If you get it wrong, it will inhibit your ability to roll-out new services.

If you get it right, it will help you fend off impending competition.

Authentication is also frequently the first step in access management (AM): Who is this person? And what can they access?

Open source vs. commercial

“Open source” versus “commercial” is a critical distinction when evaluating enterprise AM platforms.

The term “open source” is used liberally for marketing purposes. To Gluu, “open source” means: (1) source code has a free open source license; (2) versioned Linux packages are released in a timely manner; (3) documentation is complete; (4) community support is available to all.

You can’t grow a community without all these things.

Why “open source”?

Open source is not right for all organizations. If the number of users is relatively low, or there aren’t internal resources to manage mission critical IT systems, there’s no question–use a SaaS solution! But for distributed teams with sufficient IT personnel, open source offers a number of advantages over proprietary enterprise software:

  • First: Do you want freedom? Will you have the right to use the latest software from the AM vendor, forever? Once you implement an access management infrastructure, switching costs are high, and your organization’s bargaining leverage evaporates. For example, think about Hadoop or Apache HTTPD. Companies have products that integrate this software, and they can’t be held hostage waiting for security fixes to be released.
  • Second: I’m not alone in the belief that the open source development methodology is superior to the commercial model. Free open source software (FOSS) fosters an ecosystem of collaborators. The collective productivity of a community is far greater than any one software vendor. And patches tend to be available from active open source projects more rapidly. I can’t tell you how many times I was waiting for a “patch” from a large commercial AM vendor that was perennially shipping next quarter–I had no power to do anything about it.
  • Third: I really like this article: Open source: why is it such a big deal? It points out that open source contributions lead to employee retention: “Do you have a person in your company who delivers superb code at will? She walks around with all sorts of stickers on her laptop, speaks a tongue that doesn’t even sound English, goes on week-long ‘hackathons’ that you have to put up with because she’s so good? Put her on an open source software (OSS) project and you just bought yourself the best retention policy!”
  • Fourth: The challenge of selecting an AM platform is that it must be the best *future* product. With respect to software development–past performance may not be an indicator of future results. Commercial solutions sometimes jump out in front, but ultimately many are overtaken by open source communities. Also, innovation may slow down after the product reaches a certain maturity level. Your best bet is to adopt the open source software that has the largest community and ecosystem.

Be a collaborator

Do you want to become both a customer and a collaborator in your AM platform? This is a win-win for your organization and society at large, and will provide stability for your developers, system administrators, and technical marketers for many years to come.

Now go out there and make the Internet a safer place!

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Mike Schwartz

Mike has been an entrepreneur and identity specialist for more than two decades. He is the technical and business visionary behind Gluu. Mike is an application security expert and has been a featured speaker at RSA Conference, Gartner Catalyst, Cloud Identity Summity (now "Identiverse") and many other security conferences around the world.