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Common Principles, Sustainability Key to TIER Success

Jun 17, 2016, by Emily Eisbruch
Tags: TIER, Trust & Identity, Trust and Identity in Education and Research

by Klara Jelinkova, CIO, Rice University

Before I talk about TIER, I want to add my congratulations to Scott Cantor, who GÉANT recently honored with its 2016 Community Award (you can read the details in the GÉANT announcement and this Internet2 blog post). Scott's contributions to our community are immeasurable; it is rewarding to see an acknowledgement of this from our friends and colleagues in Europe.

Congratulations to Scott Cantor, The Ohio State University and Lead of the Shibboleth Team, and recipient of the GEANT Community Award

The recent 2016 Internet2 Global Summit in Chicago provided an opportunity for the many community members and Internet2 staff involved with TIER to gather, discuss the first release, and plan for the next steps. More broadly, there was the opportunity to understand the direction for the new Internet2 Trust and Identity portfolio, which is under the leadership of Vice President Kevin Morooney.

As a starting point to unify efforts, the TIER Community Investor Council and the InCommon Steering Committee met together to ensure common priorities, information sharing, and coherence between these two trust and identity leadership groups. All of the TIER working groups met face-to-face in Chicago, as well, and the insights developed and the energy in the room led to a call for additional face-to-face meetings, with the next planned for September 25-28 at the Internet2 Technology Exchange in Miami.

There is significant work ahead of us and meeting more frequently in person will be important for ensuring we keep our commitment to construct a trust and identity portfolio that will serve the unique needs of research and education. 
This coordination has already yielded our first significant, important milestone: the on-schedule first release of TIER. We now also better understand the challenges and opportunities before us. In the TIER Investor meeting at the Global Summit we discussed several key questions related to ongoing community development and guidance.

  1. One of the premises of TIER is to integrate, modernize and professionalize the trust and identity software stack. To get the full benefit of that change we, as a community, need to move to the same supported set of software and practices. We will work with the TIER investors on a process by which we can best assure that campuses have the ability to get on the same current code release for the TIER components they use.
  2. Collaborative nature and "sweat equity" have long been desirable attributes of the trust and identity efforts. We need to carefully balance the need to continue to nurture the involvement of volunteers while recognizing the requirement to augment that commitment with contractor resources so we can meet our release schedules.
  3. In order to engage in higher-stakes transactions across the InCommon Federation we must continually increase the level of trust in the software, services and federation operations. This will require that we all operate under the same set of general principles and assumptions, and remain on supported versions of software. Upgrading to Shibboleth Identity Provider version 3 prior to the July end-of-life of version 2 is the most recent example.

We will have a second TIER release before the end of the year and, at the same time, we’re working within our community to create a longer term, sustainable approach for trust and identity services. 

Sustainability requires an investment of resources and and stability of software and support. 

On the resources side, the Internet2 community has reinforced the importance of trust and identity by investing time, talent, and funding. Internet2 higher education members, reflected through action of the Internet2 Board, agreed in 2015 to a dues increase effective 2016 to provide additional ongoing support to the trust and identity programs. 

On the stability side, InCommon continues to act on the 2009 InCommon Futures Report, which provided guidelines and recommendations to assure the long-term sustainability of the federation and associated software and services. The InCommon Federation has become critical infrastructure for our campuses and is increasingly important for national and global research collaborations. Many campuses rely on federated identity management to support integration with mission-critical cloud services. Urgency, responsiveness, and quick action become more and more important.

I know that I speak for all members of the TIER Community Investor Council when I say that we are grateful and energized by the substantial commitment of many of our contributing campuses, research organizations, and Internet2 staff for the passion that is evident as we move forward with TIER.