Cross-border cooperation in identity management

Research and teaching are impossible without international networks, cross-border cooperation and mobility – both analogue and digital. In the field of identity management, SWITCH has long performed a deci-sive function in the international community.

Testo: Christian Grimm, pubblicato il 13.06.2019

Institutes and institutions, students, researchers and lecturers in and around universities rely on intensive exchange and secure, reliable access to services and resources throughout the world. The GÉANT Association, the operational organisation for the pan-European network backbone for teaching and research, offers a key component for networking national identity federations and EU flagship projects in the form of its interfederation service eduGAIN.

SWITCH, Switzerland’s national research and education network (NREN), made this development a part of its strategic agenda very early on, and played an important pioneering role.

From the beginning, the foundation aimed at international cooperation, using its existing contacts with GÉANT, operator of the European academic network backbone.

Common foundation

In 2003, SWITCH chose Shibboleth as its identity management product. This pilot product from Internet2, the US’s NREN, was only launched recently. To secure its long-term development, SWITCH established the Shibboleth Consortium together with Internet2 and a range of GÉANT partner organisations. And even though GÉANT wasn’t directly involved, the shared GÉANT platform served as an incubator. Shibboleth developed to become the de facto standard package for national identity federations.

In parallel with the actual development work on the identity management service SWITCHaai, SWITCH developed a freely accessible legal and operational framework. This achieved such a high degree of international interest that other NRENs adopted its rules, on a one-to-one basis in some cases, and it was also the inspiration for GÉANT’s interfederation service eduGAIN.

Established infrastructure

Together with other NRENs, SWITCH has helped set a course for a universally applicable infrastructure. Today, GÉANT’s eduGAIN encompasses over 50 participating federations, which connect almost 5,000 identity and service providers with each other. Around 27 million university members in 58 countries, as well as flagship EU projects, are connected to each other through eduGAIN.

Ready for the future

New challenges in data protection and data security require constant ongoing development of identity management. The strong positioning of Shibboleth and intensive international cooperation through GÉANT enable NRENs to approach these challenges with confidence and to develop the right solutions together.

SWITCH is already working on further development of SWITCH edu-ID, a complement to the time-limited university login which will be a lifelong, user-centred identity for anyone connected to Swiss universities. SWITCH has not only sounded out opportunities for collaboration at the national level, such as SuisseID, but has also sought cross-border contact with GÉANT and carried out joint work packages to extend the idea. The seed has been sown.


The GÉANT Association operates the pan-European network backbone for teaching and research, among other services. It brings together 38 NRENs, including the DFN (Germany), ACOnet (Austria) and SWITCH networks, with 10,000 institutions and 50 million users throughout Europe.

SWITCH edu-ID – the way forward

SWITCH edu-ID will replace SWITCHaai. All organisations of the SWITCH community that manage SWITCHaai identities today should therefore migrate to the new solution.

Compatibility with SWITCHaai is guaranteed. Services available via SWITCHaai will be accessible with SWITCH edu-ID without additional effort. An organisational migration to SWITCH edu-ID needs careful planning. This step will provide opportunities to improve processes related to identity management such as registration and verification of identities.


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