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external web portal to authenticate against Salesforce SSP or CP users

Sorry in advance for my SSO ignorance.


I need some direction on connecting an external web portal for a membership organization to either Salesforce Self Service Portal Users or Customer Portal users, not full SFDC users.  Customers will be logging in, not employees.  In another words, the user/member credentials will be in SFDC and the external web portal needs to be able to authenticate against SFDC.


- Can I "query" against (free) Self Service Portal users, or are Customer Portal Users required?

- Can SFDC serve as the indentity provider directly for this scenario, or do I need to involve someone like Ping Identity?


Thanks in advance for any direction or advice you can offer!