As I write this, Red Hat is announcing the acquisition of Identyx, a software company that specialises in open source identity management software. Identyx's sells fully supported versions of Penrose, a virtual directory and Velo, an open provisioning solution. Both products are based on open source projects hosted at safehaus.org, which was started up by Jim Yang and Alex Karasulu, best known as being a major driver behind the Apache Directory Server project. Identyx business model is typical for open source software providers: a stable, official release from Identyx, priced on basis of a yearly maintenance contract where price depended on the overall response time and level of service.
Why Red Hat? After all, Red Hat has rarely been mentioned in the identity management area. This is not so much because Red Hat has been inactive - not at all, in fact - but identity management at Red Hat has not been marketed much. But that's about to change. Red Hat has restructured recently and opened up a new business unit called "Management and Security Products" in February. This business unit will be responsible for the directory and certificate server, IPA and the Identyx products.
Red Hat has been acquiring and building several interesting components in the identity area for a while. Red Hat has also acquired what used to be the Netscape Directory Server and Certificate Server from AOL, who inherited them through the acquisition of Netscape by AOL in 1998. For AOL, these software packages were not any core business and just daddled on like neglected stepchildren before finally being sold on to RedHat. RedHat has invested in the development of these products and made them available in a supported and free version under the RedHat and Fedora brands respectively. Although both products are available on multiple UNIX platforms, they have never really been perceived as serious contenders in the identity management space, and have had their success mostly with customers who already had a significant investment in Red Hat's platform.
Last but not least, Red Hat has funded the FreeIPA (IPA = Identity, Policy and Audit) solution, an integrated security framework currently supporting identity management with plans to add policy management and auditing. This has matured over time, and RedHat will announce the general availability of FreeIPA 1.0 atthe RedHat summit that is currently in full swing. Red Hat has plans to tie Identyx into IPA, as there are many cross-over cases, especially in the integration of Active Directory. Red Hat customers see many cases where Active Directory users and Linux policies need to be managed together and will harness the Penrose virtual directory to provide easy integration through virtualisation. Penrose will also continue to be available separately.
So what is Red Hat's vision, and why the jump into identity management now? The overall vision is similar to that of BMC and Microsoft who see Identity Management as an important cornerstone of IT infrastructure management. Red Hat especially sees demand in cloud computing models, where customers need agility in their environment to create a flexible IT fabric by consuming IT infrastructure as dynamic workload resources. The security models change when resources are constantly moved around. Control mechanisms need to be in place to ensure security. Audit trails need to be created in order to ensure compliance. Red Hat sees identity management and configuration of machines converging through specialised workflows.
Due to the special nature of most identity management projects, an open source approach can be particularly advantageous. This is because often extensive customisation and integration is part of a deployment, and many parts of these customisations are shareable - something that does not typically happen as easily with shrink wrapped commercial software. However, using open source identity management software has so far been elusive for many enterprises due to a lack of a strong partner. Red Hat's acquisition of Identyx now allows RedHat to enter the lucrative identity management market with a strong position and a credible offering of products, allowing customers to reap the full benefits of open source identity management by leveraging RedHat's unique experience and standing in the open source area. Other than Novell and Sun who also offer their own branded Linux open source platforms, Red Hat builds completely on open source. The strategy might pay off, but there is a long steep road still ahead for Red Hat. The acquisition of Identyx has just made that road shorter, and is good news for Identyx's and Red Hat's existing customers. We at Kuppinger Cole will be analysing Red Hat in much more detail from now on.