Liberty Alliance holdout IBM ends resistance

IBM has become the latest company to join the Liberty Alliance, a global consortium aimed at developing standards for managing user identities. IBM joins Oracle and Intel as a backer of the effort, which Sun Microsystems leads.

The company joined the consortium on Wednesday, IBM said in a statement sent out to analysts the same day.

Liberty Alliance was established in 2001, but IBM was initially reluctant to back the consortium, choosing instead to pursue its own identity management standards.

As Liberty gained momentum, however, customer demand pushed IBM to work with Liberty's specifications. IBM signed a deal earlier this year with Orange, France Telecom's mobile division, to create a single sign-on service for Orange's 50 million cellular phone customers that complies with the Liberty specifications. The initiative is one of the largest so far using the Liberty guidelines, and is touted by the consortium as a vote of confidence in its work.

"We were just meeting (Orange's) needs," IBM spokesman Ron Favali said about that project's Liberty compliance. "IBM joining Liberty now is the next logical step in that progression."

IBM plans to support "a broad range of federated identity specifications across its Tivoli identity management product line," including its own Web Services Federation specification, the company said in a written statement. IBM drafted WS-Federation, a rival federated identity specification, in conjunction with authors from Microsoft and BEA Systems.

Karla Norsworthy, IBM's vice president of software standards, said IBM believes specification convergence is in customers' best interests, and will work with other vendors and standards groups toward that goal. WS-Federation is part of a broader group of IBM-backed Web services protocols, known collectively as WS-*. As IBM works with the Liberty Alliance, its goal will be to ensure that any standard adopted for identity management shares a common architectural framework with other Web services specifications, Norsworthy said.

Still, IBM will follow where its customers lead, she said: "IBM has a rich history of working with our customers to support what they have. Now that we have real customers wanting uptake on the Liberty specifications, we'll support them."

IBM's decision to join Liberty could be an important first step in converging the wide variety of security, messaging and identity management protocol specifications that will be used to do distributed computing over the Internet, said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink. "We hope that there is convergence," he said. "With IBM joining Liberty Alliance, it seems that now there is at least some effort being made to doing that."

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