Last updated on May 17th, 2023 at 1:33pm
Enterprises are facing challenges to scale cloud user provisioning to support growing user bases that come with moving to complex multi-cloud environments. Also, cloud user provisioning is taking on a new level of importance as enterprises face continuously evolving attacks on their cloud infrastructure through account hijacking, identity theft, and insider threats.
What is User Provisioning/Deprovisioning?
Provisioning work focuses on creating accounts for users with the correct permissions, such as the ability to edit code and access specific folders and applications. IAM policy defines permissions for your organization's users, groups, and rules.
While you can manage user provisioning/deprovisioning from the cloud service provider's control panel in a single cloud environment, it becomes too manually intensive in a multi-cloud environment. A cloud management platform (CMP) offers a single platform that governs user provisioning and deprovisioning in complex multi-cloud environments. Using a CMP helps administrators remove complexity and save time working on such a crucial cloud management task that impacts users across onboarding, internal job changes, and offboarding. Only authorized cloud administrators can provision users.
The task of user provisioning involves creating a new user account in your cloud environment, assigning appropriate access privileges and roles to users, and providing necessary credentials such as usernames, passwords, and security tokens.
Here's an overview of a typical user provisioning process in a cloud environment:
- Capture user information
- Validate the user's identity
- Automate user account creation across the multiple cloud services
Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) is a technical foundation of cloud user provisioning because it enables secure and seamless authentication and authorization for cloud-based applications and services. SAML allows for the exchange of identity and access information between the identity provider (IdP) and the service provider (SP), giving users to access multiple applications and services with a single set of credentials.
Deprovisioning – in contrast -- is the process of removing user accounts and access privileges from your cloud environment. The deprovisioning process includes the following:
- Revoking access permissions
- Disabling accounts
- Removing user information and data associated with the account
Deprovisioning accounts made headlines during the recent mass layoffs in the tech industry as laid-off employees found themselves without access to corporate systems.
Why User Provisioning is Important
User provisioning is so essential to cloud management because it manages and secures user access to cloud resources:
- User provisioning helps ensure that your users can access only the resources they require to perform their jobs. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other compliance standards mandate access controls.
- Complex multi-cloud environments require efficiency, and the automation of user provisioning reduces the risk of human error, thus enabling cloud teams to be more efficient.
- Cloud project spending is under increasing scrutiny making manual user provisioning an unnecessary expense and an area of cloud spending where organizations can save personnel costs and reduce costly risks through automation.
What is the Difference between Cloud User Provisioning and On-Prem or Hybrid?
Some marked differences exist between user provisioning in on-premise and hybrid cloud environments.
Typically, enterprises use an internal directory service such as Microsoft Active Directory as their authentication mechanism for on-premises applications. However, a hybrid cloud environment often means multiple authentication mechanisms such as Azure Active Directory or Google Cloud Identity to support the more complex user provisioning requirements to ensure user access across different environments.
Another difference is access control policies. In a hybrid environment, the security team manages the policies centrally, making enforcing policies across all resources easier.
Planning User Provisioning
User provisioning is integral to an overall cloud strategy, particularly a cloud migration strategy. Here's how to plan cloud user provisioning at a high level:
- Evaluate the maturity of your identity access management (IAM) policies.
- Define all user roles and permissions in your cloud environment to ensure users can access the resources required to perform their jobs.
- Analyze user access requirements for each user role in your organization, including the applications, data, and cloud services required to perform their duties to help define the type of user provisioning for each role.
- Select an appropriate user provisioning solution – usually a cloud management platform (CMP) – that meets your organization's requirements.
- Define and document user provisioning processes, including how to add new users, manage user accounts, handle access requests, and deactivate users when they leave your organization.
- Implement user provisioning tools and processes based on your documented processes, including setting access controls and configuring user access to cloud services and applications.
- Initiate continuous user monitoring to ensure user provisioning meets your organization's requirements, including monitoring user activity, user account creation, and user access requests while identifying any issues arising during the user lifecycle.
- Iterate on user provisioning regularly to ensure user provisioning processes and tools continue to meet organizational requirements.
Automating User Provisioning
Automating user provisioning for your cloud services makes business and operational sense because it directly impacts the productivity of your cloud team. Furthermore, automation also improves the team's job satisfaction and the customer experience (CX) you offer users as they onboard and offboard from your organization's cloud services.
You can manage user provisioning and deprovisioning manually or through CMP automation. Choosing automation is the correct answer because it helps ensure consistency, accuracy, and compliance with your organization's security policies and regulations. Even better, automation reduces the risk of errors and speeds up the processes behind managing user accounts in your cloud environment.
Automation enables you to ensure proper access for your cloud users by integrating your existing Identity and Access Management (IAM) tools and policies. Another benefit is that automation solutions control user activity enabling your cloud and security teams to identify and remediate policy and compliance drifts that can knock you into non-compliance.
Getting Started with Cloud User Provisioning
Once you have a user provisioning strategy in place, it's time to put it into action. A cloud user provisioning pilot is a natural first step, especially if your organization is implementing a CMP for the first time. Kion offers a robust cloud management platform with automation and orchestration tools that provide you with the automation, reporting, and other features to scale up your cloud user provisioning activities from pilot to production.
Here's an overview of a cloud user provisioning pilot and rollout:
- Select a small group of user participants representing different roles and departments across your organization because you want to test a diverse set of use cases.
- Define the success criteria for your pilot program. Your success criteria might include the number of successful user creations in a given time period. The time it takes to provision a new user is an important success criteria. The number of errors or issues between your pilot users and the pilot deployment team is another criterion of success to consider.
- Configure the pilot environment separate from your production environment as a test instance or separate cloud environment.
- Configure the pilot environment to meet your organization's cloud user provisioning requirements. Work includes setting up user roles and permissions. You also want to define user provisioning workflows and integrations with backend systems just as you would in a production environment.
- Train your pilot users on how to use your new cloud user provisioning solution. The training should include everyday user and IT tasks such as requesting user access, approving user requests, and managing user accounts.
- Monitor and evaluate your cloud user provisioning pilot from user onboarding through completing your pilot criteria.
- Evaluate your success criteria and identify any areas of improvement. Set priorities for improvements and enact a plan for continuous improvement over your cloud user provisioning solution.
Upon completing your pilot and putting a launch plan in place, it's time to roll out your new cloud user provisioning solution to your broader organization. Roll out the solution department by department so you don't overtax your IT department, especially your service desk. Such a phased approach enables your team to catch any issues before they impact all your users. It also allows you to pay attention to user training support. There's also the opportunity to communicate any changes in processes or policies based on lessons your deployment teams learn.