Sun, others unveil software with Liberty support

A day after the release of a set of standard specifications designed to allow users to log in once and gain access to multiple public and private password-protected Web sites, Sun Microsystems Inc. Tuesday released a suite to establish levels of user access to Web sites.

The Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) Platform for Network Identity is a hardware and software suite designed to let customers manage user identities. The suite is designed to allow administrators to determine what applications and data an employee, partner or customer visiting a Web site can access.

The company said Tuesday that the software and hardware package now supports the Liberty Alliance specification version 1.0, and is immediately available to select customers under the company's early access program. General availability is slated for October. The Liberty Alliance specification was unveiled Monday during a press conference in San Francisco at The Burton Group Corp.'s Catalyst Conference 2002. With support for the Liberty Alliance specification, customers that employ the Sun ONE Platform for Network Identity would be able to allow users to sign on to their network or Web site with a single user name and password and also access password-protected applications and Web sites that support the Liberty Alliance specification, said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of software at Sun and the company's liaison to the Liberty Alliance.

Sun announced Wells Fargo & Co. as an early access customer that is testing the network identity software to manage its customers identity on its Internet banking Web site. The San Francisco bank will test the Sun ONE Platform for Network Identity to allow its customers to access Wells Fargo accounts and services and eventually those from partner Web sites. Schwartz characterized the technology as one that will provide "frictionless commerce on the Web."

"Our focus is primarily to use this system to make it more convenient for customers to sign on and use our applications," said Eric Castain, senior vice president of Internet application architecture for Wells Fargo.

The Sun ONE Platform for Network Identity is comprised of the Sun ONE Identity Server version 6.0 and Sun ONE Directory Server version 5.2. Both were made available Tuesday under Sun's early access program. Additionally, the platform comes with the Solaris 9 operating system, professional services support, Sun Fire 280R server, Ultra and SPARC III servers and Sun StorEdge storage arrays, the company said in a statement.

In addition to supporting the Liberty Alliance specification, the platform will support new security standards including version 1.0 of SAML (Security Assertion Markup Language ) and Kerberos version 5, the company said.

Sun also said Tuesday that it would add support for the Liberty Alliance specification in several of its other software products. Next in line is Sun ONE Portal Server. The company and its partners have also said they plan to add support for the specification to the Java programming language by submitting a Java Specification Request (JSR) to the Java Community Process (JCP). The JCP is a body made up of representatives from a number of vendors that collectively vote on changes made to Java.

"That's a direction that all of our partners have expressed interest in," said Schwartz.

Dan Blum, an analyst with Burton Group, said that sending the Liberty Alliance specification through the JCP would fall in line with past technologies added to Java to enable it to be used in new ways for building and deploying applications and services that are delivered over the Internet.

"They've been adding support for Web services standards through JSRs in the past," Blum said, noting the inclusion of such standards as SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

Similarly, the authentication specification would be integrated into Sun's Solaris operating system by way of the Sun ONE Directory Server, which is integrated into Sun's operating system, the company said.

The Liberty Alliance effort was launched in September 2001 as a competitor to Microsoft Corp.'s Passport authentication service, which allows subscribers to visit Passport member Web sites without signing in each time. Nearly 70 companies in the hardware, software and Internet space, have agreed to support the Liberty Alliance specification in future products. Members include AOL Time Warner Inc., American Express Co., General Motors Corp., Nokia Corp., Cisco Systems Inc. and eBay Inc.

In Version 1.0, the Liberty Alliance specification provides five core technologies that companies can implement in their products to allow this interoperability between identification services:

- An "opt-in" account linking feature, which allows users to link their various password-protected accounts and to share personal information such as name, address and credit card data between vendors that support the Liberty Alliance specification.

- A feature to allow "simplified sign-in" to these linked accounts which enables a user to visit various sites without having to re-enter a user name or password.

- An "authentication context" that allows applications and service providers to set parameters for the amount of information that can be shared with partners.

- A "global log-out" feature that enables a user to log out of all of the Web sites and applications he is signed in at with a single click.

- A "wireless client feature" that extends the single sign-on specification to handheld devices.

Sun will be the first Liberty Alliance member to release a product that incorporates version 1.0 of the specification. Others on tap to release new products include Novell Inc., a Liberty Alliance member company that has created a software suite called "Project Saturn," which will compete with the Sun ONE Platform for Network Identity. It combines the company's eDirectory server software and its iChain technology, a Web access management product, to offer a network identity infrastructure that could allow a company to link its corporate intranet with partners to access such services as online travel booking, stock trading and employee 401(k) accounts, said Gary Hein, vice president and fellow at Novell, in Provo, Utah.

Several other vendors Monday announced plans to release Liberty-enabled products by the end of the year. They include security software makers RSA Security Inc. and Entrust Inc., domain name clearing house operator NeuStar Inc., OneName Corp., a vendor of digital identity software, and single sign-on technology maker Communicator Inc.

Many of the early software products that will support the Liberty Alliance specification are aimed at enterprise customers, said Burton Group's Blum.

"Within the next year I think we will see substantial adoption ... internally at companies and between fairly close business partners," he said.

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