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Pilot Provides First Step Toward Interfederation

Sep 22, 2014, by Dean Woodbeck
Tags: Identity Federation, InCommon Federation, U.S. Education and Research Identity Federation

One of the problems facing virtual organizations—any research organization, really—is providing access to collaboration tools and other resources with a minimum of administrative effort. One of the main benefits of federated identity and access management is providing for such access, without every VO having to issue and manage credentials, and every scientist adding more and more IDs and passwords to a desktop cheat sheet. In an ideal world, everyone uses the credentials from their home organizations, federation magic happens, access is granted, and all is well on the space-time continuum.

For the past 10 years, InCommon has provided such convenience to research and higher education in the United States. Those that offer collaboration tools and other services enjoy this ease and convenience, but the world continues to shrink, information-wise, and collaboration is increasingly international.

Enter the international eduGAIN service, a federation for federations operated by GÉANT. Essentially, eduGAIN enables identity providers and service providers from any of its member federations to interact with one another and take advantage of secure and trustworthy single sign-on convenience.

InCommon joined eduGAIN in April 2014 and has now embarked on a pilot to work out the policy and technical details, in partnership with the Leonard E. Parker Center for Gravitation, Cosmology and Astrophysics (CGCA) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The pilot will enable astronomers worldwide to use their local campus credentials to log into three UWM-based services, including astronomers from Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO), a project to detect and study gravitational waves from astrophysical objects such as black holes and supernovae. The CGCA plays a key role in LIGO, which was the impetus for creating these collaboration services for gravitational wave and other astronomers.

By participating in the pilot, CGCA identity management staff are streamlining the process for accessing these important tools, saving time and effort by not having to create and maintain separate (duplicate) user IDs and passwords for hundreds of international researchers. This approach will enable scientists to gain immediate access to these resources by simply logging in with the home campus-issued credentials they already have in place.

InCommon has previously partnered with CGCA and LIGO to provide secure federated access for researchers at U.S. institutions. By joining the international eduGAIN service, InCommon extends this benefit to researchers in other parts of the world.

While the process is not traveling at warp speed yet, this is an important step in removing a barrier to a more weightless international collaboration.