The case for eduGAIN
SURFnet recently joined eduGAIN, a service launched last year for interconnecting federations. SURFfederatie, the Dutch Identity Federation for Higher Education and Research that is operated by SURFnet hopes to extend its scope to an international audience through eduGAIN. The reason why this is important is that although collaborating through federated services works well on a national level, researchers and students are increasingly collaborating in an international context. However, services within SURFfederatie are currently restricted to a Dutch audience.
Better user experience through collaboration
As an extension of SURFfederatie, SURFnet launched a new service called SURFconext, which tries to bring (international) collaboration to the next level. Federated access is a key ingredient, but SURFconext is more than that. The idea is to provide a collaboration infrastructure on top of which services can be integrated to provide a seamless user experience. To achieve this goal, SURFconext has embraced different open standards like SAML for federated access and OpenSocial for identifying group relations between individual users. Users can centralize group management for their own collaborations using a service called SURFteams, and those group relationships can be made available to services. Many group-aware services (like Google Apps, Alfresco Edu share, Liferay Social Office and Sakai) have already been connected to SURFconext, and many provide special mini-applications called Gadgets that can be integrated into a University portal based on OpenSocial technology. But how can users from other countries participate in services offered by SURFconext? One way is to connect all individual Identity Providers of any user participating in any team to SURFconext, but clearly that doesn’t scale very well. We believe that eduGAIN may have an answer.
Lightweight policy for interoperability
The idea behind eduGAIN is that participating federations agree on the way that Identity Providers and Service Providers behave, in order to maximize chances of interoperability. This is reflected in a lightweight policy that participating federations must adhere to, a profile to ensure interoperability on a protocol level (the saml2int profile) and a central metadata repository where metadata for Identity and Service providers that have opt-in to eduGAIN are aggregated. While this doesn’t mean all interfederation problems are solved, it is a step in the right direction from SURFconext’s point of view. It is still too early to say if eduGAIN is going to be a success. We haven’t published many of SURFfederatie’s entities in the eduGAIN metadata service yet, and SURFconext is also only just beginning to gain momentum. Still, we believe eduGAIN and SURFconext will be able to reinforce each other in their efforts to enable users to collaborate on a global scale. Will they succeed? Time will tell. Eerder verschenen op http://blog.eduserv.org.uk/2011/12/01/guest-post-the-case-for-edugain/