Click here to close now.


SDN Journal Authors: Don MacVittie, Lori MacVittie, Liz McMillan, Dinko Eror, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, @BigDataExpo, SDN Journal, OpenStack Journal

@CloudExpo: Article

Three Approaches to Single Sign-On for Cloud Application Providers

Ignore, pretend or do something about it?

Did you know that:

  • Half of paid SaaS customers do not use the application at all
  • Nine out of 10 has left an application when they forgot a password, instead of restoring it
  • Eighty-six percent may leave a web site when asked to sign up
  • Two out of five would rather scrub the toilet than come up with a new password

These figures, based on research from Totango and Janrain in 2012, clearly show that sign-up and sign-on are major issues for any cloud application provider.

If you are providing cloud applications to businesses, single sign-on must at least have been up for discussion. Like with most other challenges, there are three possible approaches you can choose between:

  1. Pretend it is not your problem
  2. Pretend you are doing something about it
  3. Do something about it

Let's look at how your choice affects your business, which after all should be your guiding light.

Pretending it is not your problem
This approach is very popular to any challenge, because you get away without doing anything.

Many application providers decide to outsource management of user accounts and password to the customers. They offer some kind of web based administration interface, which one or more local administrators can use to create new user accounts and keeping old ones up-to-date.

However, this approach has some major drawbacks for your business. According to the research mentioned earlier, sign-up and sign-on are among the most critical processes for any online business. This approach transfers the responsibility for these critical processes to people you have no control over, and who have little or no incentives to support your business.

Pretending you are doing something about it
Another popular approach to any challenge is to pretend to do something about, because then you at least have your own back covered.

Some application providers choose this approach by deciding that they only support standards. The problem is that there are no widely adopted standards in this field. SAML is promoted as an industry standard, but that is of little value when your customers haven't adopted it. According to Eric Olden, one of the fathers of SAML, in an article in Computer Magazine in 2011: "The problem with federation and SSO is that, after more than a decade, SAML adoption has not risen above 10 percent of enterprise apps - apparently due to the excessive costs of infrastructure software. There simply is not enough return on investment for most service providers to implement, expand, and manage a complex federation network". The adoption among large enterprises is not any bigger, and especially among mid-sized enterprises SAML is practically non-existent. In my own personal opinion, SAML requires too much from too many to make it mainstream any time soon.

If you pretend you have a solution, then you have to pretend the benefits as well. If half of your business comes from large organizations, and if 10% of them support SAML, then this approach can only bring improvements to 5% of your business. From a business point of view, having a solution that improves 5% of your business is nice to have, but it is by no means strategic.

Doing something about it
Doing something about it is always the hardest choice, because it means that you have to go out to the customers and figure out what would work for them.

So, what are customers using today? As stated above, some large organizations have invested in SAML, but what about the rest? The least common denominator is a network, a user directory, a web server and an internet connection. The most typical setup is a Windows Domain, Active Directory and Microsoft IIS. Active Directory has a market share that is reported to be above 90%, and that figure gives a good indication for the other components as well. Such adoption rates are required by true de facto standards, which are solid enough to build strategic solutions on.

If you are serious about growing your business with large and mid-sized organizations, then it is of strategic importance to eliminate adoption and engagement obstacles related to signing up and signing on. You have to proactively convert as big a share of your customer base as possible to automated sign-on as fast as possible. In order to succeed, requirements on your customers have to be as low as possible in terms of time, investments and expertise. In practice this means that you need a solution, which does not require anything more from your customers than the least common denominator described above. From a business point of view, SAML is just a bonus, and only if you have customers who have invested in it.

If you are interested in such a solution, I would love to continue talks in person.

More Stories By Kjell Backlund

Kjell Backlund, CEO of Emillion, is a seasoned software business entrepreneur with over 20 years experience in international business. He founded Emillion in 2001, with the vision that automating sign-on and user management would be essential to the success of SaaS and Service Desk applications(

@CloudExpo Stories
For almost two decades, businesses have discovered great opportunities to engage with customers and even expand revenue through digital systems, including web and mobile applications. Yet, even now, the conversation between the business and the technologists that deliver these systems is strained, in large part due to misaligned objectives. In his session at DevOps Summit, James Urquhart, Senior Vice President of Performance Analytics at SOASTA, Inc., will discuss how measuring user outcomes –...
There are many considerations when moving applications from on-premise to cloud. It is critical to understand the benefits and also challenges of this migration. A successful migration will result in lower Total Cost of Ownership, yet offer the same or higher level of robustness. Migration to cloud shifts computing resources from your data center, which can yield significant advantages provided that the cloud vendor an offer enterprise-grade quality for your application.
As a company adopts a DevOps approach to software development, what are key things that both the Dev and Ops side of the business must keep in mind to ensure effective continuous delivery? In his session at DevOps Summit, Mark Hydar, Head of DevOps, Ericsson TV Platforms, will share best practices and provide helpful tips for Ops teams to adopt an open line of communication with the development side of the house to ensure success between the two sides.
Manufacturing has widely adopted standardized and automated processes to create designs, build them, and maintain them through their life cycle. However, many modern manufacturing systems go beyond mechanized workflows to introduce empowered workers, flexible collaboration, and rapid iteration. Such behaviors also characterize open source software development and are at the heart of DevOps culture, processes, and tooling.
NHK, Japan Broadcasting, will feature the upcoming @ThingsExpo Silicon Valley in a special 'Internet of Things' and smart technology documentary that will be filmed on the expo floor between November 3 to 5, 2015, in Santa Clara. NHK is the sole public TV network in Japan equivalent to the BBC in the UK and the largest in Asia with many award-winning science and technology programs. Japanese TV is producing a documentary about IoT and Smart technology and will be covering @ThingsExpo Silicon Val...
There are so many tools and techniques for data analytics that even for a data scientist the choices, possible systems, and even the types of data can be daunting. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Chris Harrold, Global CTO for Big Data Solutions for EMC Corporation, will show how to perform a simple, but meaningful analysis of social sentiment data using freely available tools that take only minutes to download and install. Participants will get the download information, scripts, and complete en...
Between the compelling mockups and specs produced by analysts, and resulting applications built by developers, there exists a gulf where projects fail, costs spiral, and applications disappoint. Methodologies like Agile attempt to address this with intensified communication, with partial success but many limitations. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, will present a revolutionary model enabled by new technologies. Learn how busine...
Containers are changing the security landscape for software development and deployment. As with any security solutions, security approaches that work for developers, operations personnel and security professionals is a requirement. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, Kevin Gilpin, CTO and Co-Founder of Conjur, will discuss various security considerations for container-based infrastructure and related DevOps workflows.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Key Information Systems, Inc. (KeyInfo), a leading cloud and infrastructure provider offering integrated solutions to enterprises, will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Key Information Systems is a leading regional systems integrator with world-class compute, storage and networking solutions and professional services for the most advanced softwa...
Overgrown applications have given way to modular applications, driven by the need to break larger problems into smaller problems. Similarly large monolithic development processes have been forced to be broken into smaller agile development cycles. Looking at trends in software development, microservices architectures meet the same demands. Additional benefits of microservices architectures are compartmentalization and a limited impact of service failure versus a complete software malfunction....
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM Cloud Data Services has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th Cloud Expo, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. IBM Cloud Data Services offers a portfolio of integrated, best-of-breed cloud data services for developers focused on mobile computing and analytics use cases.
The last decade was about virtual machines, but the next one is about containers. Containers enable a service to run on any host at any time. Traditional tools are starting to show cracks because they were not designed for this level of application portability. Now is the time to look at new ways to deploy and manage applications at scale. In his session at @DevOpsSummit, Brian “Redbeard” Harrington, a principal architect at CoreOS, will examine how CoreOS helps teams run in production. Attende...
The buzz continues for cloud, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) and their collective impact across all industries. But a new conversation is emerging - how do companies use industry disruption and technology enablers to lead in markets undergoing change, uncertainty and ambiguity? Organizations of all sizes need to evolve and transform, often under massive pressure, as industry lines blur and merge and traditional business models are assaulted and turned upside down. In this new da...
IT data is typically silo'd by the various tools in place. Unifying all the log, metric and event data in one analytics platform stops finger pointing and provides the end-to-end correlation. Logs, metrics and custom event data can be joined to tell the holistic story of your software and operations. For example, users can correlate code deploys to system performance to application error codes.
Containers are revolutionizing the way we deploy and maintain our infrastructures, but monitoring and troubleshooting in a containerized environment can still be painful and impractical. Understanding even basic resource usage is difficult - let alone tracking network connections or malicious activity. In his session at DevOps Summit, Gianluca Borello, Sr. Software Engineer at Sysdig, will cover the current state of the art for container monitoring and visibility, including pros / cons and li...
The enterprise is being consumerized, and the consumer is being enterprised. Moore's Law does not matter anymore, the future belongs to business virtualization powered by invisible service architecture, powered by hyperscale and hyperconvergence, and facilitated by vertical streaming and horizontal scaling and consolidation. Both buyers and sellers want instant results, and from paperwork to paperless to mindless is the ultimate goal for any seamless transaction. The sweetest sweet spot in innov...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data...
As the world moves towards more DevOps and microservices, application deployment to the cloud ought to become a lot simpler. The microservices architecture, which is the basis of many new age distributed systems such as OpenStack, NetFlix and so on, is at the heart of Cloud Foundry - a complete developer-oriented Platform as a Service (PaaS) that is IaaS agnostic and supports vCloud, OpenStack and AWS. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Raghavan "Rags" Srinivas, an Architect/Developer Evangeli...
Redis is not only the fastest database, but it has become the most popular among the new wave of applications running in containers. Redis speeds up just about every data interaction between your users or operational systems. In his session at 17th Cloud Expo, Dave Nielsen, Developer Relations at Redis Labs, will share the functions and data structures used to solve everyday use cases that are driving Redis' popularity
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Infrastructure & Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS) is a managed services provider of cloud computing solutions for the IBM Power Systems market. The company helps mid-market firms built on IBM hardware platforms to deploy new levels of reliable and cost-effective computing and hig...