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The Problem with Consumer Cloud Services...

…is that they're consumer cloud services

…is that they're consumer cloud services.

While we're all focused heavily on the challenges of managing BYOD in the enterprise, we should not overlook or understate the impact of consumer-grade services within the enterprise. Just as employees bring their own devices to the table, so too do they bring a smattering of consumer-grade "cloud" services to the enterprise.

Such services are generally woefully inappropriate for enterprise use. They are focused on serving a single consumer, with authentication and authorization models that support that focus. There are no roles, generally no group membership, and there's certainly no oversight from some mediating authority other than the service provider.

This is problematic for enterprises as it eliminates the ability to manage access for large groups of people, to ensure authority to access based on employee role and status, and provides no means of integration with existing ID management systems.

Integrating consumer-oriented cloud services into enterprise workflows and systems is a Sisyphean task. Cloud-services replicating what has traditionally been considered enterprise-class services such as CRM and ERP are designed with the need to integrate. Consumer-oriented services are designed with the notion of integration – with other consumer-grade services, not enterprise systems. They lack even the most rudimentary enterprise-class concepts such as RBAC, group-based policy and managed access.

cloudidentitybrokerSaaS supporting what are traditionally enterprise-class concerns such as CRM and e-mail have begun to enable the integration with the enterprise necessary to overcome what is, according to survey conducted by CloudConnect and Everest Group, the number two inhibitor of cloud adoption amongst respondents.

The lack of integration points into consumer-grade services is problematic for both IT – and the service provider. For the enterprise, there is a need to integrate, to control the processes associated with, consumer-grade cloud services. As with many SaaS solutions, the ability to collaborate with data-center hosted services as a means to integrate with existing identity and access control services is paramount to assuaging the concerns that currently exist given the more lax approach to access and identity in consumer-grade services.

Integration capabilities – APIs – that enable enterprises to integrate even rudimentary control over access is a must for consumer-grade SaaS looking to find a path into the enterprise. Not only is it a path to monetization (enterprise organizations are a far more consistent source of revenue than are ads or income derived from the sale of personal data) but it also provides the opportunity to overcome the stigma associated with consumer-grade services that have already resulted in "bans" on such offerings within large organizations.

There are fundamentally three functions consumer-grade SaaS needs to offer to entice enterprise customers:

  1. Control over AAA

    Enterprises need the ability to control who accesses services and to correlate with authoritative sources of identity and role. That means the ability to coordinate a log-in process that primarily relies upon corporate IT systems to assert access rights and the capability of the cloud-service to accept that assertion as valid. APIs, SAML, and other identity management techniques are invaluable tools in enabling this integration. Alternatively, enterprise-grade management within the tools themselves can provide the level of control required by enterprises to ensure compliance with a variety of security and business-oriented requirements.

  2. Monitoring

    Organizations need visibility into what employees (or machines) may be storing "in the cloud" or what data is being exchanged with what system. This visibility is necessary for a variety of reasons with regulatory compliance most often cited.

  3. Mobile Device Management (MDM) and Security

    Because one of the most alluring aspects of consumer cloud services is nearly ubiquitous access from any device and any location, the ability to integrate #1 and #2 via MDM and mobile-friendly security policies is paramount to enabling (willing) enterprise-adoption of consumer cloud services.

While most of the "consumerization" of IT tends to focus on devices, "bring your own services" should also be a very real concern for IT. And if consumer cloud services providers think about it, they'll realize there's a very large market opportunity for them to support the needs of enterprise IT while maintaining their gratis offerings to consumers.

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More Stories By Lori MacVittie

Lori MacVittie is responsible for education and evangelism of application services available across F5’s entire product suite. Her role includes authorship of technical materials and participation in a number of community-based forums and industry standards organizations, among other efforts. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as network and systems development and administration expertise. Prior to joining F5, MacVittie was an award-winning Senior Technology Editor at Network Computing Magazine, where she conducted product research and evaluation focused on integration with application and network architectures, and authored articles on a variety of topics aimed at IT professionals. Her most recent area of focus included SOA-related products and architectures. She holds a B.S. in Information and Computing Science from the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Nova Southeastern University.