Salesforce Identity Connect

Over the recent years I’ve spent focused on the Salesforce architecture domain I’ve designed and implemented federated single sign-on (SSO) schemes many times (and the proprietary Delegated Authentication on rare occasions). Whilst each implementation has its nuances in terms of specific access use cases (mobile, composite app, public internet versus corporate network only etc.) and infrastructure deployment topology, there is typically a high degree of commonality. For instance, most corporate environments utilise Active Directory as the primary enterprise identity store, this is inarguable. Equally common in such environments, at least in my experience, is the absence of Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS), or any federated identity service (Ping Identity, Okta etc.). As such the introduction of SSO for Salesforce typically means introducing the infrastructure to support federated SSO as a generic service. Notable exceptions to this are corporates that have transitioned to the Office365 cloud productivity suite, where federated SSO is highly desirable for the same good reasons as those for Salesforce SSO, namely security, support and end-user experience.

Following the idea that Active Directory is pervasive in today’s corporate infrastructure environments and that Salesforce SSO implementations typically conform to a set of patterns and related technology solutions, implementing SSO becomes a question of mapping a specific set of identity management requirements appropriately.

Example patterns (illustrative and not exhaustive)

SAML Service Provider initiated flow with optional automated user provisioning.
Solution Option – ADFS (possible with AD groups and conditional custom claims rules) with SAML based JIT user provisioning.
Rationale – Simple, cost-effective solution using standardised technology. If the IT department supports AD, ADFS shouldn’t cause any alarm.

SAML Service Provider initiated flow with bi-directional identity synchronisation.
Solution Options – ADFS with middleware-based data synchronisation between Salesforce User records and AD User Principals. Or, 3rd party identity management service offering user synchronisation capability. For a simple one app, point solution Okta Cloud Connect is a free service to be evaluated alongside equivalent competitor offerings.
Rationale – ADFS has no native identity synchronisation capability. Users can be provisioned into Salesforce, and updates applied to certain fields, via SAML JIT provisioning at the time of access, however there are no background updates and perhaps most crucially there is not automated de-activation of users.

SAML Identity Provider initiated flow with bi-directional identity synchronisation.
Solution Option – 3rd party identity management service.
Rationale – ADFS offers no native user-facing IdP capability, 3rd party services offer great flexibility in this area. Salesforce itself can be used as an IdP – a subject beyond the scope of this post.

As the example patterns show, there are a number of factors to consider and a multitude of enabling technologies, each with different levels of capability (at a reflective price point). Given the complexity of a federated SSO solution, and accepting that an enterprise-wide solution should be considered over a point solution, it is key to understand the solution options available and to consider some degree of future proofing.

A relatively recent arrival in the market is Salesforce Identity Connect (October 2013), an add-on component to Salesforce Identity, providing connection to on-premise identity directories, namely Active Directory. The rest of this post outlines the result of a high-level investigation into the capabilities of Salesforce Identity connect.

Salesforce Identity Connect
Salesforce Identity Connect, hereafter referred to as SIC, is built on the ForgeRock Bridge Service Provider Edition (SPE) technology and falls into the category of 3rd identity service.

What is it?
Informal notes in no order.

On-premise identity service with a browser-based admin UI.
Supports Windows, OSX and Linux hosts.
Can be installed on Windows as a service.
Install, configure, run service. Quick to get up and running.
No ADFS proxy equivalent.
An org must be activated for Salesforce identity, this adds a download link to the setup menu and feature licenses.
One SIC instance can support multiple orgs (with different configurations). Sandboxes are supported.
Setup steps; create connections (SF and AD, define mappings, set schedule, configure SSO)
No local storage of users and passwords, user associations are held in a local MySQL db.
Connects to a SF org via OAuth 2.0
Multiple direct AD Domain Controller connections are not supported, instead a connection should be made to the Global Catalogue where multiple domains must be spanned. Note this approach requires manual modification of the AD schema.
User licenses are managed via Permission Set Licensing, not feature licensing.
Org must have Multiple SAML Configurations enabled.

What does it do?

User Authentication – Federated user authentication is supported via SAML 2.0 Service Provider Initiated and Identity Provider Initiated flows. SPI is the common case, where users access the SF My Domain and are redirected to the IdP (SIC, Identity Connect) for either seamless integrated authentication (IWA) or prompted AD login. For IWA to work there are a number of complex Kerberos authentication related setup steps to be applied to the SIC host, this can be a challenge as technical expertise in this subject area is limited. There are also end-user browser configuration changes to be applied, for IE users a GPO would cover this, for Firefox a manual configuration would be necessary. Not ideal.

User Synchronisation – Automated background synchronisation, not JIT. Mapping can be attribute-based (AD User attribute to Salesforce User field), AD Group membership to User Profile or AD Group membership to Permission Set. In the attribute case, direct mappings, transformations via JavaScript or default static values can be applied. Where transformations are applied ternary expressions are a useful convention where only populated field values are transformed to provide the target value. In the Group to Profile case, a list of AD groups are mapped to specific profiles, such mappings are defined with a precedence order such that the result is always a single profile, regardless of how many groups a user is a member of. A default profile must be defined as a catch-all. Tracking of users provisioned into Salesforce occurs via Permission Set Licenses for the Identity Connect Permission Set. User associations established by the SIC Reconciliation Report can be manually edited via the web interface. The applied association rules can also be modified where necessary. Synchronisation can be configured to run in Live Update or Scheduled Update mode. The former being more timely, but more prone to inconsistency the latter being more comprehensive approach with the typical periodic scheduling frequencies. It would be nice to have the option to combine live updates with a scheduled daily synchronisation – this doesn’t appear to be possible.

Salesforce Identity Connect is licensed as an add-on to Salesforce Identity at £1 per-user, per-month regardless of Edition. Current pricing can be found via this link.

Salesforce Identity Connect provides a capable user authentication and synchronisation service. Good points being the ease of configuration of the Salesforce side of things plus the multiple org support, the attribute and group mapping functionality is also very nice. The two downsides being the cost, although it’s an expensive area of technology, and the complexity of configuring Integrated Windows Authentication (IWA). The SSO aspect to the service is only meaningful if the SSO is seamless. Coming back to the cost, ADFS is free-of-charge but provides no user synchronisation (other than via SAML JIT). I believe many people will take this route regardless, simply to avoid any cost whatsoever, although £1 per user/month does represent a significant outlay for larger installs and could be hard to justify for performance edition customers particularly. In addition to the run cost there is also the technical complexity of establishing IWA to consider; many IT departments will look nervously at the long list of Kerberos configuration tasks and may resist the approach in terms of the effort, expertise and deployment cost involved.

To be compelling services such as SIC need to be simple and reasonably non-technical to install and run. SIC achieves this nicely for the run aspect, for the install aspect there’s some room for improvement. For many organisations the installation experience will not be an issue, the focus will be on the end-user experience and the administrative functionality, in these areas Salesforce Identity Connect looks a solid offering.

Really good, short walk through video on YouTube

Implementation Guide PDF

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