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@CloudExpo: Blog Post

The Challenge of Herding Cats: Your SaaS Portfolio and Security

As SaaS portfolios grow, the cloud-based SSO offers a centralizing alternative

It’s obvious the rise of SaaS (software-as-a-service) has changed the game. The benefits of subscribing to a cloud-based application service are already well-known and documented: cost-efficiencies, speed, hands-off maintenance, etc… It’s no longer an emerging practice and, for most IT managers, has become an inextricable component of any go-forward IT network strategy. What this means is now there are dozens of new sign-ons per user from a variety of endpoints (including mobile and tablet). And if we are talking enterprise-wide deployments, this is can be as challenging as herding cats.

And since it is highly likely, a SaaS portfolio will continue to grow, so will the challenges and the need to centralize authorization and control of all these new applications. Many organizations have considered single-sign on, but during recent needs for economic belt-tightening, see it more as a potential future expense.

I have seen estimates of upwards of $300,000 dollars (Montclair Advisors) to deploy and manage (just Year 1 alone) SSO on-premise, which is why I understand the reticence to actively move forward on this initiative. (Estimates amortized over 5 years put the figure at more than $2 million) However the cloud alternative can provide nearly a 75% savings. This makes deployment affordable for most modest-sized organizations looking to maximize the efficiencies of cloud-based applications. These figures include the software, set-up, infrastructure modifications, hardware purchase, service, maintenance, but also the ongoing administration of the solution.

There are those that realize the significant savings, instant scalability and accelerated time to value is enticing, but simply don’t trust security from the cloud. Most articles I come across regarding cloud-based applications revolve around the security debate. But these articles question the security of the applications themselves, not security-as-a-service. The issue persists just how secure is the cloud? Well, very secure if you have battened down the hatches on your own security initiatives, If you deploy a strong SSO program that not only creates a single authorized entry to these applications that also uses federated interoperability so you can expand protection beyond employee users to subsidiaries, trusted partners and other collaborative business partners.

Let’s look at the benefits of cloud-based security SSO another way. So you have all these apps (salesforce.com, GoogleDocs, ADP, Sharepoint, Webex/GoToMeeting, etc…) that your 500, 1000, 10,000 employees and other authorized users need to access regularly. How many sign-ons are that? How many potential open doors from however many endpoints are that? How many passwords? Before you faint from the overwhelming gravity of the issue, what if you could funnel and channel into a single sign on? And, what if you didn’t have to spend a significant portion of your day administering logins or forgotten passwords? How much easier has your day become? Or more to the point, how many internal resources have just been freed up to attend to high value tasks?

The SaaS genie is out of the bottle and the reliance on cloud-based applications outside your direct control is only going to increase. The efficiencies are showing to outweigh some security concerns. However, by applying the same cloud-based thinking to a cloud-based problem, you are able to manage the best of both worlds. But obvious cloud bias aside, the best way to maintain control is to deploy a policy that spells out what are permissible applications for any endpoint that touches your network, and distributes access to applications that pass your smell test through the single-sign on channeling process.

I have previously written about Identity Management managed from the cloud. Single-sign on is a component of that overall strategy considering that your sign-on credentialing can be customized to individual roles and responsibilities. For instance when a sales person sign on, they get the authorized access to CRM, sales reports, etc… What they don’t get is access to payroll or HR or R&D applications unless their responsibilities require it. If someone can’t get access to data that they really should not touch, your risk of data loss/theft or breach is diminished.

The central tenets of deciding whether SSO security-as-a-service is a positive addition to your arsenal must be based on a combination of three things: functionality, cost, and control. Does your solution handle the applications you depend on? Can it leverage and incorporate those you have previously invested in and live on your servers? Have you weighed the Total Cost of Ownership and calculated the ROI? And lastly, does centralization improve risk mitigation, IT resource deployment and maintain compliance requirements.

The cloud-based security solution I am familiar with says yes. It provides you with a large and powerful lasso to help start reigning in those pesky cats!

More Stories By Kevin Nikkhoo

With more than 32 years of experience in information technology, and an extensive and successful entrepreneurial background, Kevin Nikkhoo is the CEO of the dynamic security-as-a-service startup Cloud Access. CloudAccess is at the forefront of the latest evolution of IT asset protection--the cloud.

Kevin holds a Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering from McGill University, Master of Computer Engineering at California State University, Los Angeles, and an MBA from the University of Southern California with emphasis in entrepreneurial studies.

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