Start-up Identity Engines is shutting down. The company and its assets are up for sale, though the man responsible for selling it, or carving it up into saleable components, doesn’t want to say so.

Customers this week began reporting that they had received legal notices that the San Francisco-based company, founded in 2004, was trying to sell its assets. There was no word on how, or whether, the company’s well-regarded Ignition Engine identity management appliance would be supported.

The company had won US$26 million in backing from a trio of Silicon Valley funds: Horizon Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Trinity Ventures. Its identity management appliance has won several awards, was the subject of a generally favorable Network World Clear Choice Test in December 2006, and has an enthusiastic following among higher education IT departments.

Identity Engines’ CTO Sean Convery, formerly with Cisco for seven years where he focused on network security, referred questions to Steven Gerbsman. When called, Gerbsman refused twice to say who he was or what his relationship was with Identity Engines. “No, it wouldn’t be appropriate,” he said. Gerbsman was told what customers had said about the legal notices, and was asked what the company’s story was. “There is no story,” he barked. “There’s no comment.”

“Nice talking to ya,” he said, and hung up.

Chalk it up to venture capitalist humor. The phone number Gerbsman answered is that of Gerbsman Partners, based in tiny, tony Kentfield, Calif., just north of San Francisco. Gerbsman specializes in wringing out every bit of investor value from ‘distressed’ companies through a variety of means, from restructuring balance sheets, to capital access, crisis/turnaround management, and mergers and sales, including the sale of intellectual property.

We don’t have to guess what Gerbsman is doing for Identity Engines, because Gerbsman himself has announced it: on his corporate blog: his firm was “retained by the Board of Directors of Identity Engines to solicit interest for the acquisition of substantially all of IDEngine’s assets, including its intellectual property.”

Ignition server features a number of APIs to tie easily into a range of backend lookup and authentication services. A policy management engine centralizes policy creation and distribution, and other features enforce policies on users, including mobile or remote users, sometimes in conjunction with in-line network access control (NAC) systems.

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