NetWeaver Identity Management 7.1 Implementation Challenges

Challenge 1:  Self Service is Not Intuitive for Unsophisticated Users
Companies deploying NetWeaver Identity Management will find that that the interface for self service for the least technical employees will require training.   Clicking a self service task to request a privilege or business role will result in a standard WebDynPro interface that will show them two search boxes. The one on the left will be for searching for what they want (Available) and the one on the right what they already have had assigned.    Experience has shown that this interface can cause confusion with unsophisticated users. Companies will want to make judicious use of access controls to limit what choices are presented to the self service client.  This requires that logic be established in advance based upon some set to which they are a member.  Additionally, companies will want to train employees in advance of deployment to reduce help desk calls.

Challenge 2:  Fragmented Documentation
The documentation for accomplishing end to end workflows is scattered across many different documents.  There are few scenario based use case “how-to” documents.  Companies deploying NetWeaver IdM 7.1 will want to permit sufficient time for their deployment team to work with the product in order to gain a full understanding, before undertaking a deployment.  Alternatively, companies can bring in outside experts to assist, and train personnel.

Challenge 3:  Limitations in the Staging Environment
NetWeaver IdM 7.1 uses an xml export file to move from development to Test and Test to Production.    The file is exported using a built in utility.  The file is created within the identity center by selecting export.  Many settings between environments are not exported for example, repositories, event agents, provisioning/deprovisioning tasks on privileges must be done manually.  There are some bugs, for example, complex linking between tasks are sometimes broken during import.   These limitations can be mitigated with manual adjustments but the process is lengthy.
Challenge 4:   Job Customization Frequently Requires Custom JavaScript
Under NetWeaver IdM 7.1 the imported “SAP Provisioning Framework” has greatly simplified system deployment, however, there are simple functions, for example, E-Mail notifications which still must be done entirely in JavaScript.  This also applies to any non-simple data modification.   This slows down deployment.  The alternatives are to custom development Java templates or wait for the product to mature.

Challenge 5:  Few Useful Reports Available in Default Installation

Most of the default reports available lack the simplicity of being able to easily show standard audit information like “who did what to whom and when”.  Although extensive audit information is stored the database, it is not always easy to extract the data without extensive SQL queries.  The documentation itself does not clearly explain the complex relationship between the data in the tables.  There are no shortcuts available , careful analysis of the underlying tables and proper query writing must be done.


NB: Since I am on a project and can’t go to Tech Ed watch Matt Pollicove’s blog for updates on whether these challenges are being addressed.

How Many Problems with Persistent Data Does a Unique Identifier Solve?

The answer is zero.  A unique identifier adds nothing to any logical problem we have with our data.  Let’s see why this is true.  I have two sets of data from different systems, which represent information or attributes about a real world user.  Those data elements are indistinguishable from each other.  Perhaps they are first name, last name, city and state.  They are identical as far as I can tell.  If I add a unique identifier do I know anything more about them?  I just know they are no longer identical and yet they may be in the real world the same person. By adding a unique identifier I may have made a distinction, which is false.  It’s impact will only be deleterious never beneficial.  The unique identifier becomes ornamental.  Metaphorically it is like placing a medallion around the neck of the famous twins and still not knowing if it’s Tweedledee or Tweedledum.  At least in this case I could re-name them to something like Dee and Notdee, which would be meaningful to an observer.  However, in the foregoing example, we are dealing already with a representation of an entity and it adds nothing. Now let’s add several more attributes, for example, title and department.  If I can now distinguish easily whether they are the same person or not I have accomplished my goal and I still have not added a unique identifier.  The smallest subset of elements that distinguishes one set from another is a suitable key if the data is in a database and I still haven’t added a unique identifier.  So then how are unique identifier’s useful?  They are useful within a context in which we are programmatically creating many closely similar but not identical objects whose existence is ephemeral.  When we are combining data from many different contexts, they solve nothing; they are just another attribute.

Thoughts on Oracle Identity Manager

I was reading through the architecture for Oracle’s Identity Manager “Best in Class” software.  And while I never gave it much thought, you would have to be blind not to notice its popularity in the United States.  The job offerings too have  jumped after Gartner declared it the best.  It was time for me to look into its architecture.  And while I have no hands on experience with product a couple of predictions come to mind after reading the whitepaper.    One it must be difficult and slow to install, and while it is infinitely extensible, it appears to be very complex and hence development time for custom work would be slow.  Any regular Oracle IdM users out there please correct me if I’m wrong.   Finally, I realized why SAP bought Maxware.  Its relative simplicity allowed for faster integration into the SAP application stack.

Importing the SAP Provisioning Framework

One of the main reasons that one goes with SAP NetWeaver Identity Management is for the integration with other SAP modules.  The main way that this is done is through something called the SAP Provisioning Framework which comes bundled with the product.

There are a couple of challenges to accessing the framework.  The first is how to load it.  By default, the Framework exsists as an import file which needs to be located. By default the import file exists in “C:Program FilesSAPIdMIdentity CenterTemplatesIdentity CenterSAP Provisioning frameworkSAP Provisioning Framework_Folder.mcc”

Now that we know where the Framework is located, we can load the import/export from the NW IDM MMC console. However when loading the Framework you might get the following Error Message: “Could not import global script ’67/custom_generateHRID’ to identity center” I could not find any setting in import/export that allowed me to prevent the script from being processed.

After some research and poking around, I remembered that the SAP Provisioning Framework_Folder.mcc file is actually XML code.  So I went through and searched on the phrase “custom_generateHRID” and found exactly one reference (Highlight added):

         <SCRIPTLASTCHANGE>2007-10-04 12:52:52.7</SCRIPTLASTCHANGE>
So being the intrepid guy that I am, I deleted the highlighted line and tried the import again.  It worked like a charm!  Not sure what to take away from this, but I’m glad I solved the problem.  Has anyone else seen this problem and solved it a different way?

MSKEYs and MSKEYVALUEs, Views and Tables

It does not take long before the NW IDM Administrator starts peeking under the hood to see what sits in the database. This is not a bad thing since there is a lot of good information that one can gain here, especially in the way of analytics and audit data. Understanding the database structure is also important in terms of developing and troubleshooting access rules and other Identity Store SELECT criteria. This posting will talk about a couple of key characteristics of the NW IDM Identity Store database. One of the great things about NW IDM is that there are virtually no differences between the Oracle and MS SQL database schemas so this article works for both environments.

This article will be one of several in a series covering the NW IDM Database structure.  We would be very interested in hearing about other areas of the back end that should be discussed.

When looking at these tables one of the first things that people notice is that there is seemingly no direct reference to the MSKEYVALUE attribute and that there is a value for something called an MSKEY. Consider this extract from a sample Identity Store regarding the user Johnny Scooter:

mskey attr_id aValue SearchValue
187 2 JScooter JSCOOTER
187 4 Johnny Scooter JOHNNY SCOOTER
187 36 Johnny JOHNNY
187 37 732 123 4567 732 123 4567
187 39 Scooter SCOOTER
187 40 Information Systems INFORMATION SYSTEMS
187 41 732 765 4321 732 765 4321
187 42 Systems Engineer SYSTEMS ENGINEER
187 49 Johnny.Scooter@nwidm.local JOHNNY.SCOOTER@NWIDM.LOCAL

This is a snapshot from the MXI_VALUES table listing four columns, mskey, attr_id, aValue and SearchValue. (For a complete listing of the NW IDM Identity store schema take a look at this document.) The aValue and SearchValue show the attributes’ values in the form that they were entered into the system and a globally consistent format for easy searching respectively. So going back to our question from above, where’s the MSKEYVALUE. If we look in MXI_ATTRIBUTES we’ll find:

Attr_ID AttrName
49 AD_DN

So this answers the first question, how do you match up those Attr_ID’s anyway as there is a direct link between the two tables via the attr_id column. The second and more important question is that a value of “2” for Attr_ID corresponds to MSKEYVALUE. So what is going on here, anyway? To begin; let us look at an excerpt from the view MXIV_SENTRIES about our friend Johnny Scooter, which is a separate, friendlier representation of MXI_VALUES since there’s more name information rather than value references.

mskey AttrName aValue SearchValue
187 MX_PHONE_ADDITIONAL 732 123 4567 732 123 4567
187 MX_PHONE_PRIMARY 732 765 4321 732 765 4321

Basically, there are two identifiers that are in use by NW IDM, the first is the more publicly known MSKEYVALUE. This unique identifier is exposed via the Workflow User Interface and is easily seen in MXIV_SENTRIES. However when we look at MXI_VALUES we see that the references to MSKEYVALUE are harder to root out as we need to go through the Attributes table. We also see a reference to the MSKEY field, which appears to be an identifier in both the MXIV_SENTRIES view and in the MXI_VALUES table. This tells us that NW IDM uses the MSKEY field as an internal unique Identifier. Why is this? I would say that the most basic reason is that the MSKEYVALUE is subject to change and would thus be ineligible for use as a link between tables. Even though we have only spoken about user identities, all entries in the Identity store (users, roles, privileges, entry types) have both MSKEYs and MSKEYVALUES. Therefore, if the MSKEYVALUE were the only identifier it would be a poor choice for linking between tables as a foreign key link as referential integrity issues would soon arise.

So to wrap up, what can we conclude from all of this?

  • MSKEYVALUE is the unique identifier used by NW IDM at the workflow layer and is changeable
  • MSKEY is the internal unique identifier and is not changeable. It is also used as a foreign key link between various NW IDM tables
  • MXI_VALUES is an NW IDM table holding information about all of the objects in NW IDM
  • MXIV_SENTRIES is a NW IDM View that holds a “friendlier” representation of MXI_VALUES

VDS Logging

The astute observer will notice that the most recent releases of SAP’s NetWeaver Virtual Directory Server are missing the logging control buttons. There is a  very good reason for this seemingly missing functionality.  Much like NetWeaver Identity Management, VDS is also merging into the NetWeaver, specifically NetWeaver’s logging framework.  This means that there is not a need to have VDS offer internal logging.

However, VDS also offers the ability to run in a “Standalone mode” which allows for VDS to run independently of NetWeaver.  If you plan on running in this mode you’ll need to take advantage of the following configuration tweak in order to access the logs:

Update the file standalonelog.prop that can be found in the Configurations folder.  If you do not have this file, information can be found in the SAP NetWeaver Idenity Management Operations Guide. This document can be found on SDN. The file is a basic text file that includes setting the log level and desired location of the log file.

Once this file is configured it needs to be placed in the Work Area folder (typically underneath the Configurations folder.  Note that creating this file will not bring the buttons back, it will only create the logs in the paths specified in standalonelog.prop.

From what I understand the internal log viewer will be back in the next Service Pack for VDS.  It will be good to have it back.

IDM Scripting – tip

When creating scripts (Javascript or VB Script) to be used within Netweaver Identity Management, make it a point to create and refer to global Constants/Variables rather than direct references to values that might change with time or an environment. This simple tip just makes it easier to manage and maintain scripts within your IDM configuration. Without global constants/variables, you would have to comb through each and every script that might possibly use or directly refer to a value that needs to be modified and then change it accordingly within each script. Instead, when you start using a global constant/variable that’s referenced within multiple scripts, you will be able to make the necessary modifications to just one central location and be done with the change; It greatly simplifies script maintenance.

Netweaver Identity Manager 7.1

Now that Netweaver Identity Manager 7.1 is in ramp up, the single biggest change is at the presentation layer.  PHP is gone and Webdynpro is in.  The inexorable march away from its open source foundation is well under way.  When we first started showing the product to customers they would inevitably say, “This doesn’t look like an SAP product” and they were right.  This lack of familiarity made companies hesitant to purchase the product.  The same thing happened with master data management.  The other issue was PHP.  In meetings with infosec managers, they would make comments like, “PHP is not a core competency here.  We don’t have anyone familiar with PHP.”    Normally, I found out this wasn’t true, it’s just that the developers who knew PHP well were doing projects with it for friends and small businesses.  Long term this change is positive.  The better the product integrates with SAP, the more satisfied the enterprise will be and they can leverage existing competencies.