Overview of FIM 2010 R2

18 min read

The following picture shows a high-level overview of the FIM family and the components relevant to an FIM 2010 R2 implementation:



Within the FIM family, there are some parts that can live by themselves and others that depend on other parts. But, in order to fully utilize the power of FIM 2010 R2, you should have all parts in place.

At the center, we have FIM Service and FIM Synchronization Service (FIM Sync). The key to a successful implementation of FIM 2010 R2 is to understand how these two components work—by themselves as well as together.


The history of FIM 2010 R2

Let us go through a short summary of the versions preceding FIM 2010 R2.

In 1999, Microsoft bought a company called Zoomit. They had a product called VIA —a directory synchronization product. Microsoft incorporated Zoomit VIA into Microsoft Metadirectory Services (MMS). MMS was only available as a Microsoft Consulting Services solution.

In 2003, Microsoft released Microsoft Identity Integration Server (MIIS), and this was the first publicly available version of the synchronization engine today known as FIM 2010 R2 Synchronization Service.

In 2005, Microsoft bought a company called Alacris. They had a product called IdNexus, which was used to manage certificates and smart cards. Microsoft renamed it Certificate Lifecycle Manager (CLM).

In 2007, Microsoft took MIIS (now with Service Pack 2) and CLM and slammed them together into a new product called Identity Lifecycle Manager 2007 (ILM 2007). Despite the name, ILM 2007 was basically a directory synchronization tool with a certificate management side-kicker.

Finally, in 2010, Microsoft released Forefront Identity Manager 2010 (FIM 2010). FIM 2010 was a whole new thing, but as we will see, the old parts from MIIS and CLM are still there. The most fundamental change in FIM 2010 was the addition of the FIM Service component. The most important news was that FIM Service added workflow capability to the synchronization engine. Many identity management operations that used to require a lot of coding were suddenly available without a single line of code.

In FIM 2010 R2, Microsoft added the FIM Reporting component and also made significant improvements to the other components.


FIM Synchronization Service (FIM Sync)

FIM Synchronization Service is the oldest member of the FIM family. Anyone who has worked with MIIS back in 2003 will feel quite at home with it. Visually, the management tools look the same.

FIM Synchronization Service can actually work by itself, without any other component of FIM 2010 R2 being present. We will then basically get the same functionality as MIIS had, back in 2003.

FIM Synchronization Service is the heart of FIM, which pumps the data around, causing information about identities to flow from one system to another.

Let’s look at the pieces that make up the FIM Synchronization Service:



As we can see, there are lots of acronyms and concepts that need a little explaining.

On the right-hand side of FIM Synchronization Service, we have Metaverse (MV). Metaverse is used to collect all the information about all the identities managed by FIM.

On the other side, we have Connected Data Source (CDS). Connected Data Source is the database, directory, and file, among others, that the synchronization service imports information regarding the managed identities from, and/or exports this information to.

To talk to different kinds of Connected Data Sources, FIM Synchronization Service uses adapters that are called Management Agents (MA). In FIM 2010 R2, we will start to use the term Connectors, instead. But, as the user interface in FIM Synchronization Manager still uses the term Management Agent

The Management Agent stores a representation of the objects in the CDS, in its Connector Space (CS). When stored in the Connector Space, we refer to the objects as holograms. If we were to look into this a little deeper, we would find that the holograms (objects) are actually stored in multiple instances so that the Management Agent can keep a track of the changes to the objects in the Connector Space.

In order to synchronize information from/to different Connected Data Sources, we connect the objects in the Connector Space with the corresponding object in the Metaverse. By collecting information from all Connected Data Sources, the synchronization engine aggregates the information about the object from all the Connected Data Sources into the Metaverse object. This way, the Metaverse will only contain one representation of the object (for example, a user).

To describe the data flow within the synchronization service, let’s look at the previous diagram and follow a typical scenario.

The scenario is this—we want information in our Human Resource (HR) system to govern how users appear in Active Directory (AD) and in our e-mail system.

  1. Import users from HR: The bottom CDS could be our HR system. We configure a Management Agent to import users from HR to the corresponding CS.
  2. Projection to Metaverse: As there is no corresponding user in the MV that we can connect to, we tell the MA to create a new object in the MV. The process of creating new objects in the MV is called Projection. To transfer information from the HR CS to the MV, we configure Inbound Synchronization Rules.
  3. Import and join users from AD: The middle CDS could be Active Directory (AD). We configure a Management Agent to import users from AD. Because there are objects in the MV, we can now tell the Management Agent to try to match the user objects from AD to the objects in the MV. Connecting existing objects in a Connector Space, to an existing object in the Metaverse, is called Joining. In order for the synchronization service to know which objects to connect, some kind of unique information must be present, to get a one-to-one mapping between the object in the CS and the object in the Metaverse.
  4. Synchronize information from HR to AD: Once the Metaverse object has a connector to both the HR CS and the AD CS, we can move information from the HR CS to the AD CS. We can, for example, use the employee status information in the HR system to modify the userAccountControl attribute of the AD account. In order to modify the AD CS object, we configure an Outbound Synchronization rule that will tell the synchronization service how to update the CS object based on the information in the MV object. Synchronizing, however, does not modify the user object in AD; it only modifies the hologram representation of the user in the AD Connector Space.
  5. Export information to AD: In order to actually change any information in a Connected Data Source, we need to tell the MA to export the changes. During export, the MA updates the objects in the CDS with the changes it has made to the hologram in the Connector Space.
  6. Provision users to the e-mail system: The top CDS could be our e-mail system. As users are not present in this system, we would like the synchronization service to create new objects in the CS for the e-mail system. The process of creating new objects in a Connector Space is called Provisioning.

Projection, Joining, and Provisioning all create a connector between the Metaverse object and the Connector Space object, making it possible to synchronize identity information between different Connected Data Sources.

A key concept to understand here, is that we do not configure synchronization between Connected Data Sources or between Connector Spaces. We synchronize between each Connector Space and Metaverse. Looking at the previous example, we can see that when information flows from HR to AD, we configure the following:

  • HR MA to Import data to the HR CS
  • Inbound synchronization from the HR CS to the MV
  • Outbound synchronization from the MV to the AD CS
  • AD MA to Export the data to AD


Management Agents

Management Agents, or Connectors as some people call them, are the entities that enable FIM to talk to different kinds of data sources. Basically, we can say that FIM can talk to any type of data source, but it only has built-in Management Agents for some. If the data source is really old, we might even have to use the extensibility platform and write our own Management Agent or buy a Management Agent from a third-party supplier. At http://aka.ms/FIMPartnerMA, we can find a list of Management Agents supplied by Microsoft Partners.

For a complete list of Management Agents built in and available from Microsoft, please look at http://aka.ms/FIMMA.

With R2, a new Management Agent for Extensible Connectivity 2.0 (ECMA 2.0) is released, introducing new ways of making custom Management Agents. We will see updated versions of most third party Management Agents as soon as they are migrated to the new ECMA 2.0 platform. Microsoft will also ship new Management Agents using the new ECMA 2.0 platform.

Writing our own MA is one way of solving problems communicating with odd data sources. But there might be other solutions to the problem that will require less coding.


Non-declarative vs. declarative synchronization

If you are using FIM Synchronization Service the old way, like we did in MIIS or ILM 2007, it is called non-declarative synchronization. We usually call that classic synchronization and will also use that term in this article. If we use the FIM Service logic to control it all, it is called declarative synchronization.

As classic synchronization usually involves writing code, and declarative does not; we will also find references calling declarative synchronization codeless.

In fact, it was quite possible, in some scenarios, to have codeless synchronization— even in the old MIIS or ILM 2007—using classic synchronization. The fact also remains that there are very few FIM 2010 R2 implementations that are indeed code free. In some cases you might even mix the two. This could be due either to migration from MIIS/ILM 2007 to FIM 2010 R2 or to the decision that it is cheaper/ quicker/easier to solve a particular problem using classic synchronization.


Password synchronization

This should be the last resort to achieve some kind of Single Sign On (SSO). Instead of implementing password synchronization, we try to make our customers look at other ways, such as Kerberos or Federation, to get SSO.

There are, however, many cases where password synchronization is the best option to maintain passwords in different systems. Not all environments can utilize Kerberos or Federation and therefore need the FIM password synchronization feature to maintain passwords in different Connected Data Sources.

The use of this feature is to have Active Directory by either installing and configuring Password Change Notification Service (PCNS) on Domain Controllers or using FIM Service as a source for the password change. FIM Synchronization Service then updates the password on the connected object in Connected Data Sources, which are configured as password synchronization targets. In order for FIM to set the password in a target system, the Management Agent used to connect to that specific CDS needs to support this. Most Management Agents available today support password management or can be configured to do so.


FIM Service Management Agent

A very special Management Agent is the one connecting FIM Synchronization Service to FIM Service. Many of the rules we apply to other types of Management Agents do not apply to this one. If you have experience working with classic synchronization in MIIS or ILM 2007, you will find that this Management Agent does not work as the others.


FIM Service

If FIM Synchronization Service is the heart pumping information, FIM Service is the brain (sorry FIM CM, but your brain is not as impressive)

FIM Service plays many roles in FIM, and during the design phase the capabilities of FIM Service is often on focus. FIM Service allows you to enforce the Identity Management policy within your organization and also make sure you are compliant at all times.

FIM Service has its own database, where it stores the information about the identities it manages.


Request pipeline

In order to make any changes to objects in the FIM Service database, we need to work our way through the FIM Service request pipeline. So, let’s look at the following diagram and walk through the request pipeline:



Every request is made to the web service interface, and follows the ensuing flow:

  1. The Request Processor workflow receives the request and evaluates the token (who?) and the request type (what?).
  2. Permission is checked to see if the request is allowed. Management Policy Rules are evaluated.
  3. If Authenticate workflow is required, serialize and run interactive workflow.
  4. If Authorize workflow is required, parallelize and run asynchronous workflow.
  5. Modify the object in FIM Service Database according to the request.
  6. If Action workflow is required, run follow-up workflows.

As we can see, a request to FIM Service may trigger three types of workflows. With the installation of FIM 2001 R2, we will get a few workflows that will cover many basic requirements, but this is one of the situations where custom coding or thirdparty workflows might be required in order to fulfill the identity management policy within the organization.

Authentication workflow (AuthN) is used when the request requires additional authentication. An example of this is when a user tries to reset his password—the AuthN workflow will ask the anonymous user to authenticate using the QA gateway.

Authorization workflow (AuthZ) is used when the request requires authorization from someone else. An example of this is when a user is added to a group, but the policy states that the owner of the group needs to approve the request.

Action workflow is used for many types of follow-up actions—it could be sending a notification email or modifying attributes, among many other things.


FIM Service Management Agent

FIM Service Management Agent , as we discussed earlier, is responsible for synchronizing data between FIM Service and FIM Synchronization Service. We said then that this MA is a bit special, and even from the FIM Service perspective it works a little differently.

A couple of examples of the special relationship between the FIM Service MA and FIM Service are as follows:

  • Any request made by the FIM Service MA will bypass any AuthN and AuthZ workflows
  • As a performance enhancer, the FIM Service MA is allowed to make changes directly to the FIM Service DB in FIM 2010 R2, without using the request pipeline described earlier


Management Policy Rules (MPRs)

The way we control what can be done, or what should happen, is by defining Management Policy Rules (MPRs) within FIM Service.

MPR is our tool to enforce the Identity Management policies within our organization.

There are two types of MPRs—Request and Set Transition.

A Request MPR is used to define how the request pipeline should behave on a particular request. If a request comes in and there is no Request MPR matching the request, it will fail.

A Set Transition MPR is used to detect changes in objects and react upon that change. For example, if my EmployeeStatus is changed to Fired, my Active Directory (AD) account should be disabled.

A Set is used within FIM Service to group objects. We define rules that govern the criteria for an object to be part of a Set. For example, we can create a Set, which contains all users with Fired as EmployeeStatus. As objects satisfy this criteria and transition in to the Set, we can define a Set Transition MPR to make things such as disabling the AD account happen. We can also define an MPR that applies to the transition out from a Set.

The Sets are also used to configure permissions within FIM Service. Using Sets allows us to configure very granular permissions in scenarios where FIM Service is used for user self service.


FIM Portal

FIM Portal is usually the starting point for administrators who will configure FIM Service. The configuration of FIM Service is usually done using FIM Portal, but it may also be configured using Power Shell or even your own custom interface.

FIM Portal can also be used for self-service scenarios, allowing users to manage some aspect of the Identity Management process.

FIM Portal is actually an ASP.NET application using Microsoft Sharepoint as a foundation, and can be modified in many ways.


Self Service Password Reset (SSPR)

The Self Service Password Reset (SSPR) feature of FIM is a special case, where most components used to implement it are built-in.

The default method is using what is called a QA Gate. FIM 2010 R2 also has built-in methods for using a One Time Password (OTP) that can be sent using either SMS, or e-mail services.

In short, the QA Gate works in the following way:

  1. The administrator defines a number of questions.
  2. Users register for SSPR and provide answers to the questions.
  3. Users are presented with the same questions, when a password reset is needed.
  4. Giving the correct answers identifies the user and allows them to reset their password.



Once the FIM administrator has used FIM Portal to configure the password reset feature, the end user can register his answers to QA Gate.

If the organization has deployed FIM Password Reset Extension to the end user’s Windows client, the process of registration and reset can be made directly from the Windows client. If not, the user can register and reset his password using the password registration and reset portals.


FIM Reporting

The Reporting component is brand new in FIM 2010 R2. In earlier versions of FIM, as well as the older MIIS and ILM, reporting was typically achieved by either buying third-party add-ons or developing their own solutions based on SQL Reporting Services.

The purpose of Reporting is to give you a chance to view historical data. There are a few reports built in to FIM 2010 R2, but many organizations will develop their own reports that comply with their Identity Management policies.

The implementation of FIM 2010 R2 will however be a little more complex, if you want the Reporting component. This is because the engine used to generate the reports is the Data Warehouse component of Microsoft System Center Service Manager (SCSM).

There are a number of reasons for using the existing reporting capabilities in SCSM; the main one is that it is easy to extend.


FIM Certificate Management (FIM CM)

Certificate Management is the outcast member of the FIM family. FIM CM can be, and often is, used by itself, without any other parts of FIM being present. It is also the component with the poorest integration with the other components.

If we look at it, we will find that it hasn’t changed much since its predecessor, Certificate Lifecycle Management (CLM), was released.

FIM CM is mainly focused on managing smart cards, but it can also be used to manage and trace any type of certificate requests.



The basic concept of FIM CM is that a smart card is requested using the FIM CM portal. Information regarding all requests is stored in the FIM CM database.

The Certification authority, which handles the issuing of the certificates, is configured to report the status back to the FIM CM database.

FIM CM portal also contains a workflow engine, so that the FIM CM admin can configure features such as e-mail notifications as a part of the policies.


Certificate Management portal

FIM Certificate Management uses a portal to interact with users and administrators. The FIM CM portal is an ASP.Net 2.0 website where, for example:

  • Administrators can configure the policies that govern the processes around certificate management
  • End users can manage their smart cards for purposes such as renewing and changing PIN codes
  • Help desks can use the portal to, for example, request temporary smart cards or reset PINs:




We put this part in here, not to tell you how FIM 2010 R2 is licensed, but rather to tell you that it is complex. Since Microsoft has a habit of changing the way they license their products, we will not put any license details into writing.

Depending on what parts you are using and, in some cases, how you are using them, you need to buy different licenses. FIM 2010 R2 (at the time of my writing) uses both Server licenses as well as Client Access Licenses (CALs).

In almost every FIM project the licensing cost is negligible compared to the gain retrieved by implementing it. But even so, please make sure to contact your Microsoft licensing partner, or your Microsoft contact, to clear any questions you might have around licensing.

If you do not have Microsoft System Center Service Manager (SCSM), it is stated (at the time of my writing) that you can install and use SCSM for FIM Reporting usage without having to buying SCSM licenses.

Read more about FIM Licensing at o http://aka.ms/FIMLicense.



As it can be seen, Microsoft Forefront Identity Manager 2010 R2 is not just one product, but a family of products. In this article, we have given you a short overview of the different components, and we saw how together they can mitigate the challenges that The Company has identified about their identity management.


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