When it comes to cloud computing, the subject that seems to get the least attention is authentication and identity management.
While there is no single dominant approach to authentication in the cloud as of yet, it's clear that at some juncture Microsoft's Active Directory is going to play a significant role. After all, Active Directory dominates the enterprise in terms of authentication. So while we may not know yet what the standard for authentication in the cloud is going to be, the chances are very good that at the very least authenticating internal users in the enterprise to a public cloud computing is going to involve Active Directory.
None of this is lost on the major vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, EMC and its VMware subsidiary, Canonical that are lining up behind open source software Likewise Software to make sure their offerings can integrate with Active Directory.
Likewise Software CEO Barry Crist says the company is building an open source ecosystem around Microsoft's Active Directory environment that focuses on first integrating non-Windows platforms with Active Directory and then automating the management of Active Directory.
While Microsoft has done a good job of proliferating Active Directory everywhere, as of late the company has not focused much on enhancing that franchise. That creates opportunities for companies such as Likewise to effectively turn Active Directory into a platform for heterogeneous authentication both within the enterprise and across the cloud, which is something that Microsoft is reluctant to do given its singular focus on putting Windows everywhere.
It's still too early to say what Microsoft might ultimately do concerning Active Directory in the cloud. The company is working on a next-generation implementation of Active Directory, but has not articulated an authentication strategy in the cloud based on Active Directory.
In the meantime, other vendors such as Likewise appear to be effectively defining how Active Directory deployments within the enterprise are going to function as part of a cloud with or without Microsoft's help.