Axiomatics seeks serious contender – impressions of Gartner Catalyst 2011 (#CAT11) 30,000 ft up.

I had the opportunity to fly with Axiomatics CEO, Babak Sadighi, on our trip back from San Diego to Stockholm. During the 15-hour journey, Babak and I shared our experience and impressions of the conference.

Gearing up to Catalyst 2011

The week of the 23rd of July turned out to be a pretty busy one at Axiomatics. As solutions architect, I flew over to San Diego for the much anticipated Catalyst Conference. I was keen on getting the dial tone in the Identity and Access Management space. Catalyst was to be the perfect place to catch up with Gartner analysts as well as colleagues from partner companies.
As a vendor of XACML solutions and pioneers of the XACML technology, my colleagues and I were keen on getting the opinions of analysts and end users to take those back home and enhance our offering.
In the 12 months since #CAT10, we have seen a surge in sales activities: an increased number of new leads, new contracts, and repeated interactions with prospect customers. Along with the increased frequency came more breadth. 2009 / 2010 was more about a handful of verticals. Today, requirements come from twice as many verticals from health and finance to media and manufacturing. And it brings us pride to see wider-spread adoption. Traffic on our website spiked; traffic on Gerry’s blog and mine also increased phenomenally.
And it’s not only customers: the company struck new partnerships with leading IAM system integrators such as First Point Global in APAC or Mycroft in the USA. New technical partnerships were announced with best-in-class vendors such as Radiant Logic (virtual directories).
We saw this intense activity as a sign of market readiness. As such, we had very high expectations in San Diego. We were eager to learn about customer experiences – your experiences – as well as competitors’ experiences and lastly analysts’ views on the coming twelve months.

New use cases, new opportunities

In a sense, our expectations were exceeded: XACML was all over the conference (at least in the identity track). Bob Blakley and his team repeatedly mentioned the technology, its now proven maturity, the use cases, and the existing vendors such as ourselves but also promising open source alternatives such as WS02 or PicketBox.
One end-user organization, Fidelity, came to talk about their deployment using XACML and how they meet with regulatory compliance. (more details on the track here)
In a separate track, Ian Glazer talked about the importance of high-quality data for IAM (How IAM Depends On Hi-Fi Data… And Doesn’t Know It Yet). This is what we call making smart decisions with trustworthy attributes.
Axiomatics was also in the headlines as its CEO signed a new partnership agreement with IDMWorks to strengthen the brand’s presence in the cloud.
And speaking of cloud, Axiomatics partnered with Radiant Logic to implement a cloud-based demonstrator using the Axiomatics Policy Server combined with RadiantOne VDS Context Edition to deliver fine-grained access control on a sales application.
In another instance, Axiomatics partnered with Layer 7 Tech to deliver fast, secure, and context-aware SOA security for any type of applications again hosted inside an Amazon instance.
It really felt like we were on par and that 2011 was year 1 of widespread XACML adoption. There was even a lunch session entirely dedicated to XACML.
This leads me to conclude that to those skeptics, XACML is now a reality.

Where’s the competition?

In a thriving market, one would expect a wide range of competitors to react and strengthen their offering; to act responsibly and deliver better products. In that sense, we were a bit led down. It’s a well-known fact that the driving forces behind the XACML standard are IBM, Oracle, and Axiomatics. I would like to stress that Axiomatics in particular has fueled the efforts in the last 6 years with its CTO, Erik Rissanen, taking the editorial responsibility for XACML 3.0. But the larger organizations, as often, are now lagging behind a handful of smaller, faster players such as Axiomatics.
In fact there was a single other small vendor at Catalyst 2011 with a XACML offering but they have yet to take part in the innovation effort.
For instance, we would love to see more industry engagement in the XACML technical committee. It’s not just about engagement. It’s also about endorsement: the reason XACML 3.0 has not become a standard is because it has not been attested by 3 different vendors and/or end-users. Axiomatics has attested to the latest implementation of the standard and several other profiles. We are still waiting for other vendors to follow suit. It would do the standard good if more enterprise-ready implementations stood up to the challenge.

Axiomatics involvement in the XACML TC: CTO Erik Rissanen is the 2nd most prolific contributor.
Axiomatics involvement in the XACML TC: CTO Erik Rissanen is the 2nd most prolific contributor.

If you want to know more about contributions, the history of the XACML TC, and the current work, check out the TC mailing list and the XACML dev list.

Fact or fiction?

When I look at the offering in the security space, my head almost always ends up spinning. There are many different vendors to choose from (quite a few were at Catalyst) and they offer many different standards-based solutions. Some of my customers struggle to understand the difference between authentication and authorization. The messaging we give out is of critical importance and we should make sure we state verifiable facts.
In the XACML space, many vendors claim some level of implementation. How complete is their implementation? Others claim to be the fastest. Are they really? Have they compared? I wrote a post on this very topic pointing readers to areas that need serious investigation. Caution is the key word here.
This is where we would need a serious report from the analyst community – a health check if you like – on the state of fine-grained access control today. A magic quadrant perhaps?


We are pretty excited at Axiomatics about the future. New customers are knocking on our doors and our teams are expanding (sales; engineering; drop me a line if you are keen on joining us). Yet we want to make sure that the one standard we believe in, the reference for fine-grained access control doesn’t get tarnished by false marketing claims. We want the competition to rise to the challenge of XACML 3.0. We can only grow through a healthy debate between vendors that offer comparable products. And we want you, the customer, to reap the benefits.