Apereo Foundation Fast Interview with CAS Chairman, Misagh Moayyed

Apereo Foundation Fast is an interview series that gives a "behind the scenes" peek at the Apereo community. This installment is an interview with the Chairman of the Apereo CAS project, Misagh Moayyed.

Misagh Moayyed

Misagh Moayyed is the Chairman of the Apereo CAS PMC and an ex-contributor to a host of other Apereo projects such as uPortal. He has been part of the Apereo Foundation community for 14+ years! He also handles infrastructural-related matters such as the administration of mailing lists, CI build environments and facilitation of CAS developer calls, and plays an active role in setting the project’s future direction, vision and its technical leadership. 

About CAS:
CAS (Central Authentication Service) is an enterprise multilingual identity provider and single sign-on solution and attempts to be a comprehensive platform for authentication and authorization needs. 


AFF: Misagh, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us at Apereo Foundation Fast.

MM: My pleasure. Happy to be here!

AFF: You have been part of the Apereo Community for a long time, wearing many hats in multiple projects, how did you get started with Apereo software projects and what has kept you part of the community?

MM: I started out as a solo user and/or contributor to the uPortal project, around 2006/2007 I believe, as part of my undergraduate studies. I was then asked to join the developer/volunteer community and to look after various portlets, and slowly but surely started to look into and experiment with other projects in the then-JASIG portfolio. CAS was used as the main identity provider and login strategy for uPortal and possibly a few others, and so naturally I got involved with CAS as an extension of the work I was doing with uPortal, and the rest is history.

AFF: You hold an interesting position in the Apereo Foundation as the Chairman of the Apereo CAS PMC. Could you tell our readers about what you do in that role? How does the Chairman role interplay with the CAS Management Committee and Apereo leadership?

MM: I suppose it sounds a lot fancier than it really is! A project Chairman, at least in the context of CAS, is someone who’s voted on, unanimously, by the project management committee to act as the group’s liaison to the Apereo board. Generally speaking, this person provides project updates, health and activity status and progress reports to Apereo, and communicates the project’s needs and concerns as discussed by the management committee. There is also a bit of marketing and advocacy to prepare content, and deliver presentations, as necessary and from time to time, the Chairman may receive updates on the project’s financials. No special votes, vetos or superpowers are granted, but it is plenty!

AFF: Apereo CAS has a fabulous tagline on GitHub: “Enterprise Single Sign On for all earthlings and beyond.” Could you tell our non-technical Earthling readers what CAS is, what it does and why they should adopt it? 

MM: Suppose you have signed up for various accounts for your favorite services on the web; email, calendar, etc. Each service, from time to time, will ask you to login and present a different form of credential (typically username/password). Not only is it annoying to have to login into each individual service, it’s also risky to keep track of many types of credentials and reset them from time to time. CAS allows you to login once, preferably using a single account, and it will then share your information securely with your favorite services as necessary to get you access. On the surface, one could see it as no more than a pretty login screen in the browser, but as almost all “middleware” goes, there is a ton that happens behind the scenes.

AFF: CAS is the most searched for Apereo project with thousands of people visiting Apereo.org for more information on the project every month. What are a few elements that you think contribute to the world wide appeal of Apereo CAS?

MM: In the identity and access management domain, CAS provides a solution that does not belong to a particular type of industry, organization, company, etc. It’s a universal solution, because the problems it addresses are universal and apply to any entity of reasonably-significant size in any sector. Government, finance, healthcare, gaming, education, etc. It also presents a rich and comprehensive portfolio of features and capabilities that make it attractive for a small startup all the way to very large enterprises and organizations. Of course, it’s completely free and open-source under a permissive license and demonstrates a healthy amount of activity and progress.

AFF: Could you tell us about one or two projects that the CAS groups are working on in 2022? 

MM: There are no commitments yet of course, but I suppose one major theme is the ability to produce what is referred to as a “native image” using the likes of Graal VM. This is the process where the CAS solution is built to a native executable for a specific operating system and architecture, making it much faster to start-up with less-required memory. We are also looking to keep pace with the Java community, to make sure CAS can continue to build and run against JDK 17 and beyond, possibly in a timeline aligned with the release of CAS 7.

AFF: The Apereo CAS community is very busy! How can someone new to the community become involved? Where do they start? What special skills might they need to help?

MM: The CAS project presents contribution guidelines that would be a good starting point, as well as rather active mailing lists and forums for folks to discuss and share ideas. Once you get a feel for how the community as a whole operates, accepts ideas, matches expectations and builds solutions, then it would be easy to discover areas that need special attention. Java development skills would be a major plus, but not immediately required.

AFF: Are there any groups within the CAS community that especially need volunteers right now? What types of volunteers are you looking for in 2022? Do folks need any special qualifications to volunteer?

MM: I suppose, as is with almost any other open-source project, we are looking for people who can improve the CAS documentation in a way that is maintainable and automatable long-term, write tutorials, blog posts and technical walkthroughs, etc and those that can assist with designing and validating tests and use cases. The ability to take a seemingly-simple use case from descriptive plain language and translate it into a running, automated, maintainable test case for months and years to come is a very handy skill. We are also very interested in folks from the enterprise space to start building integrations with services and applications that are attractive and popular in their own domain, which we may not be able to do so freely without the proper access or a paid subscription level.

AFF: We are approaching Open Apereo 2022 (June 14 & 15 - Online) which will focus on “The Value of Open Source Software.” What is your interpretation of the value of Open Source Software?

MM: Open source software has truly transformed the software industry in the past few years. In many areas and industries open source has become the first and foremost go-to option, or the de-facto reference implementation of a particular approach or solution. It is amazing and heartwarming to see how many open-source solutions are now used to run and support mission-critical systems from the humble likes of CAS all the way to the software that runs the Mars rover. The core traits and characteristics of free and open source software, organized and managed by a community of peers focused and geared towards a common goal, free of vendor lock-in and able to customize, build, and deploy everywhere and anywhere all without massive licensing costs are things that make it attractive, not to mention cost-effective for all institutions and companies. 

In my view, a most important aspect of open source software where its true value may be observed is the give and receive; the back-and-forth collaborations and contributions; the ability of a seemingly-solo user to discuss ideas openly with other like-minded individuals, find support and collaborate to build something and have the result be accepted and welcomed back into the original solution and shipped to be used by hundreds and thousands of others, who in turn might be encouraged to do exactly the same. No expectations, no commitments and no strings attached; only the willingness, spirit of collaboration and skill to first and foremost show up with a “I must do something” attitude, and then work with others to do it well. The Apereo CAS project is a very modest demonstration of this principle; In GitHub speech, it’s been bookmarked approx. 10K times, forked 4K times and we are proud to have received contributions from roughly 360 individuals. Of course, these only count code-level contributions and there are many other forms of contributions and lots of other individuals who have, over the years, supported the software by assisting with writing documentation, delivering presentations, providing support and helping others on various lists or those who have enlisted a contributor’s time and skill to deliver a fix or enhancement. In the Apereo space, these numbers are impressively high, and I would like to take the opportunity here and thank everyone involved in building, supporting and promoting this solution.

I also think that it’s important for any open source software to continue to sustain its value, by making sure the avenue of contributions is a two-way channel between those that build and maintain the software and those that wish to use and run it; like any other healthy relationship, open communication and setting clear expectations are key abiding principals long-term. The foundations of this relationship in many ways can be seen in the project’s license file. Whether developer, maintainer, user or casual observer, it’s important for all parties to review the rules of the game and understand what is expected of whom, when and how. I think this framework, as a small metric can help any institution determine the worth and the value of the software stack based on how important a role it plays in the viability of their business relative to other alternatives and price tags, and then evaluate what they actually put into its development effort, and what they hope or expect to receive from it.

AFF: Misagh, thank you for your time and insights. We appreciate you being with us here on Apereo Foundation Fast.

For more information on the CAS software community and how you can become involved please reach out to Misagh via email misagh.moayyed[at]apereo[dot]org or visit the CAS GitHub https://apereo.github.io/cas


Have someone in the Apereo community you'd love us to interview on Apereo Foundation Fast? Drop me a line michelle.hall[at]apereo[dot]org