Networking

The future of network administration is here, and it's called a metadirectory

Metadirectories are more than just another buzzword. Learn why Mark Kaelin thinks directory-enabled networks are the future of network administration.

More than just the latest buzz-word, the concept encompassed by the phrase "directory-enabled network" is fundamentally sound—and inevitable. Information technology professionals should take heed and prepare for the future of network administration.
In part 2 of this series, I will explain the advantages and disadvantages of the various implementations of this technology. I will also try to indicate the decisions that network administrators will have to make when installing one of these systems.
In the past 20 years, the world, especially the business world, has moved from a system where single computers do their own individual work to a massive system of computing networks where work is integrated into the whole. Just look at industry jargon: local area networks, wide area networks, the Internet, extranets, enterprise-wide computing systems, network directories.

For any IT professional, this is an obvious, if not understated, declaration of fact. However, the enormity of this networking system has created a management nightmare. The questions of how to tie these various networks together, to reconcile conflicting network operating systems, and to satisfy the myriad of end users’ needs drains resources and produces inefficiencies throughout the network and across organizations.

This is where the concepts of policy-based network management, network directories, directory-enabled networks, and metadirectory middleware come into play. These concepts are the latest technologies available in the increasingly complicated field of network administration, especially when the administration is across the Internet. With the explosion of e-commerce as a viable business-to-business tool, the need for better network management tools has again taken a leap ahead of currently deployed administrative technology.

Every network administrator, every chief information officer, and every IT professional should familiarize themselves with these concepts. Why? Because, at some point these technologies will become part of your organization's networking systems.

First, I will take a few moments to define the concepts and the corresponding terminology. Later, I will set out the advantages, disadvantages, and caveats for each implementation of the technology. I will also provide a breakdown of the major players pushing these technologies, and the impact of standards conflicts. (You didn't think a network administration technology would be introduced without standards conflicts, did you?)

The terminology
Policy-Based Management:Technology that allows network administrators to prioritize networking resources, such as bandwidth, application access, and security clearance, based on individual users. Policy-based management cuts costs by optimizing network usage and automating network management.

Directories:The location on a network of all the information necessary to properly implement policy-based network management. Directories are repositories or databases containing information on users, data used for security, access rights to applications, and information on network devices.

The most common directory systems include Novell Directory Services (NDS), Netscape's Directory Server, and Microsoft's Active Directory.

Directory-Enabled Networks:The process of expanding and leveraging directory technology to manage relationships between all network resources. The goal is to establish a common management interface for all resources in an enterprise, including applications, systems, services and users.

Metadirectories:As part of a directory-enabled network system, metadirectories tap into directory information across the entire organization and beyond. The metadirectory provides a central interface for accessing, modifying, and relating directory information.

Lightweight Directory Access Protocols:A standard that allows applications to obtain directory information such as e-mail addresses and public encryption keys.

Directory Integration Forum:A group formed to help develop standards for the interoperability of directory applications and to certify software that simplifies the management of directories from different vendors. The forum was created by a coalition of Data Connection, IBM, Isocor, Lotus.

Development, Novell, and Oracle
Directory-Enabled Networking (DEN) Initiative:Conducted by the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF), the goal of DEN is to establish common standards for directory-enabled networks. DEN was originally started by Microsoft and Cisco Systems in 1997 and then passed off to the DMTF. The specification developed under DEN will become part of the DMTF's Common Information Model standard, a broader schema targeted toward uniform management of elements in an enterprise.

Distributed Management Task Force:Formerly the Desktop Management Task Force, the DMTF is "the industry organization that is leading the development, adoption, and unification of management standards and initiatives for desktop, enterprise, and Internet environments. Working with key technology vendors and affiliated standards groups, the DMTF is enabling a more integrated, cost effective, and less crisis-driven approach to management through interoperable management solutions."

Active Directory:The metadirectory solution being developed by Microsoft, it will incorporate the technology found in VIA 2.0, a metadirectory tool from Zoomit, which Microsoft acquired in July 1999.

Other terminology requiring definition will undoubtedly reveal itself in our discussion, but these are the primary points.

Management decisions
While the concept of directory-enabled networking is straightforward, the devil is in the implementation of this technology (to coin a phrase). The decision to move to a directory-enabled network with a metadirectory structure should not be taken lightly. It is essential that managers and administrators determine the amount of time, money, and effort required to ensure a smooth transition and integration of multiple directories. The process will require extensive analysis before implementation and dogged persistence in maintaining the technology once implementation is complete.

In one form or another, all organizations will have to adopt some form of policy-based management and some form of directory-enabled network. Your vendors, your suppliers, your expatriate employees, your traveling sales force, your marketing department, your accounting department, and your executive management will all be vying for network services. Network administrators are expected to provide those resources, efficiently and seamlessly.

In part 2 of this series, I’ll examine how network admins should make this leap.

A business consultant, Mark Kaelin also writes for TechRepublic and Louisville Computer News. For a diversion, he spends time on the softball field or the golf course and listens to rock 'n' roll.

If you'd like to share your opinion, please post a comment below.

About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

0 comments