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Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost for a publisher or service provider to use OpenAthens?

The annual subscription cost depends on the number of organisations accessing a publisher’s content via OpenAthens software and/or services. There is a one-off setup fee, which is payable only in the first year. We can provide a tailored quote based on your specific requirements.

Other access management federations are free to join – why do I have to pay to join the OpenAthens Federation?

The initial setup and ongoing support of all other access management federations was made possible through the allocation of public funds because academic and research funding bodies in many countries saw the benefits of enabling the adoption of standards such as SAML and Shibboleth. OpenAthens does not receive any such funding, and is therefore the only access management federation available for commercial organizations to join. This simplifies a publisher’s options for enabling access: why not route users from commercial organizations to the same access point used by your academic, research and healthcare customers?

What role do access management federations play?

An access management federation underpins provides (among other benefits):

i. a technical framework where service providers (publishers) and identity providers (institutions) agree to pass and receive (as appropriate) attribute data in specific formats, thus simplifying technical deployments through a significant reduction in customer testing.

ii. a trust authority which gives service providers appropriate assurances that a user passing an institutional identifier can reasonably be considered a valid and current member of that institution.

We already use SAML products; can we use these to join the OpenAthens Federation?

Possibly. Despite being commonly described as a standard, there are variations in the SAML protocol which means it is not ‘plug’n’play’ technology. In common with every other access management federation, the OpenAthens Federation supports the Interoperable SAML 2.0 Web Browser SSO Deployment Profile.

I’ve got existing users registered with my platform. If their organization uses federated access management and they start connecting via that route, how can I match these user records?

If your existing records include the user’s organization, you can add a step to the login user journey so that when a user logs in with their existing record, you can prompt them to login via their federated access management route. When they are returned to your platform post-login, a persistent and unique identifier for that user will be passed in the background which you can use to map to that user’s existing record. The same process can work in the reverse direction, e.g. if a user logs in via their federated access management route, you can choose to display a prompt such as “already have a MyProduct account? Click here to link the records.”

What is the difference between Shibboleth and OpenAthens?

Shibboleth is an extension of SAML which provides a single sign-on infrastructure and reference implementation. It is not a product and therefore no support service is available with the code. OpenAthens provides a suite of supported software and services which allow publishers and institutions to connect to each other via SAML/Shibboleth.

Our content is hosted on WordPress/GoDaddy/another lightweight hosting provider. Will OpenAthens software work on these platforms?

OpenAthens software is unlikely to work in shared environments because it depends upon having access to system files which are typically not made available.

Can we capture information about users, such as their name and email address?

Yes, but only with the consent of your customers. Attribute release policies are becoming more common and can be configured on a global or per-publisher basis. This is typically discussed during the subscription sales cycle, so speak to your customers to see what their views are.

We have a single subscription record for a customer, but OpenAthens says the customer consists of multiple organisations. Why is this?

Our clients decide how they are represented in the OpenAthens service. Some customers are represented as consortium-type organizations because each of the constituent parts has its own subscriptions. Publishers need to be able to distinguish between users from different entities within a consortium so the appropriate entitlements can be authorised. This also helps your customers adhere to their licence conditions.

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