Azure B2B First Look
This is a companion piece to the Azure B2C First Look I published last week. This post is some first thoughts around the new Azure B2B features that were recently announced. The goal of Azure B2B is to reduce the complexity and rigidity of managing business to business relationships and sharing data. The announcement around the B2B feature correctly characterizes this problem as typically being solved either by federating between two companies, or creating a directory (or OU or whatever) in your own internal directory for external users. Both solutions have pros and cons to them. The Azure B2B solution is what I would consider something of a hybrid approach between the two. External users continue to use their one and only external account for authentication so they don’t have to remember multiple account names and passwords. However, they also get added (maybe “linked” is a better way to describe it) within the Azure AD tenant into which they are “added” (a process I’ll explain below). Overall though, even in preview it’s a pretty painless and easy way to connect people up from different organizations.
As with the Azure B2C post, I’m not going to try and explain every bit of the feature and how to configure it – Microsoft has a team of writers tasked with just that. Instead I’ll give you a few links to get started and then share some real world experience now with how it looks and works. So…to get started I would recommend taking a look at this content:
- Blog post announcing and describing the B2B feature: http://blogs.technet.com/b/ad/archive/2015/09/15/learn-all-about-the-azure-ad-b2b-collaboration-preview.aspx
- Short article describing CSV file format and sample: https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/articles/active-directory-b2b-collaboration-overview/
- Short video with lead PM for the feature describing and demoing it (only about 11 minutes long): https://channel9.msdn.com/Series/Azure-AD-Identity/AzureADB2B
The process for getting started is a little peculiar, but there is a certain logic to it. In short, when you want to allow users from other companies to access your resources, you have to create a CSV file with information about them and import that into Azure AD, which you can do via the portal. In fact PowerShell support for doing this is not there at this time, but I’ll be a little surprised if it doesn’t show up by RTM. This is where the second link above will be useful to you – it explains the format of the CSV file you need to create and provides an example of what it looks like.
In my case, for my first test I started with my SamlMan.Com tenant and built out a simple ASP.NET MVC application secured with Azure AD. I got that all working and then invited my Office365Mon.Com account. The CSV for it looked something like this:
The main things worth pointing out in this simple CSV is the display name I gave – Office365Mon Steve – because that’s how it’s going to show up in the SamlMan.Com AD tenant. Also the GUID that starts with 65b11… is the Client ID of my MVC application that I described above. Once you import the CSV file Azure sends an email to everyone in it, and then each person has to open the email, click a link and accept the invitation. You can see a report in Azure of the status of each person you invited.
Here’s what the report looks like:
When you get your invitation email it looks something like this (some additional customization options are available, but for testing I’m waaaaay to lazy to make it look pretty):
You’ll notice the email is addressed to the display name I put into the CSV file. I’ll show the invite pages in Azure a little later. Now, once that the person has accepted the invitation, as I noted above, they show up in the Azure AD tenant from which the invitation was sent. Here’s what my SamlMan.Com directory looks like after the invite was accepted:
Now with the invitation accepted I can log into the ASP.NET application as firstname.lastname@example.org and it works just perfectly. Here’s yet another screenshot of my favorite home page, with all of the current user’s claims enumerated on the page:
You can see again that display name of “Office365Mon Steve” getting carried throughout, so make sure you use something that won’t require constant tinkering.
Using it with Other Cloud Applications
One of the things I thought was nice was the integration with other cloud applications. Obviously the images above illustrate integrating with my own custom apps, but what about the apps people frequently use in the cloud, like Office 365? Well, it works pretty slick for that as well. To work through this scenario I flipped things around and used my Office365Mon tenant and invited my account at SamlMan.Com. In the SharePoint spirit of things…I started out by creating a new group in my Azure AD tenant, like this:
Next I went to my SharePoint Online site and added this Azure AD group to the SharePoint Viewers group:
Next I got the object ID of the Azure AD group by running this bit of PoweShell: Get-MsolGroup | fl DisplayName, ObjectId. With that in hand, I created a new CSV file to invite my SamlMan.Com user. The CSV file looked like this:
The most interesting part of this CSV is the GUID that starts with 95419… It’s the object ID of my SharePoint Readers group. Now when my invited user accepts his invitation he or she will get added to that group. I get the standard email invite that I showed above. When I click on the link to accept it, I am treated to a page in Azure that looks like this (you can also customize the appearance of this, which I chose not to do):
Now after I go through the process to accept the invitation, I went back to the Office365Mon SharePoint Online team site and was able to successfully authenticate and get in with Viewer rights:
Overall everything with the B2B feature went incredibly smoothly with no hiccups or glitches of any kind; most of the Azure guys really seem to have their act together these days. J Honestly, it’s impressive and I know a lot of teams at Microsoft that could really take a lesson from how engaged the Azure team is with the community, taking feedback, and delivering great products. I think the biggest challenge I’m imagining after my first look is just the long-term user management; for example, when an invited user’s account is deleted from its home Azure AD tenant it would be nice to have it trigger deletes in all of the other AD tenants where it’s been invited. Stuff like that…but I think it will come in time. This is very good start however.