The goal of directory-enabled networking is to establish a common management interface for all network resources in an enterprise. The final part of this series will concentrate on the major players in the burgeoning market and the services each brings to the table. We’ll also discuss the establishment of standards for this technology and the increasing need for metadirectory solutions.
For an introduction to metadirectory technologies, check out Mark Kaelin’s first article in this series, “The future of network administration is here, and it’s called a metadirectory.” The second installment, “Metadirectory anyone? What’s best for your firm?,” deals with specifying the goals of this technology and examines some of the hurdles that must be overcome in its implementation.
Not surprisingly, the main players in this budding industry are also the prominent players in network operating systems. Microsoft, Cisco Systems, Oracle, IBM, and Novell are all vying for your support of their proprietary directory-enabled networking software. Although many products are being developed, there is no single superior solution. However, in a recently discovered sense of cooperation, several cross-platform standards are being ironed out.

Microsoft Corporation is staking its directory-enabled future on Active Directory, which shipped with Windows 2000 on February 17. To help organizations transition to Active Directory, Microsoft has acquired a pair of technologies: a domain-migration tool from Mission Critical Software and metadirectory application-integration software from Zoomit Corp.

Among the early adopters of Active Directory technology are Compaq Computer Corp. and Merrill Lynch & Co. Compaq is using the technology to complete a process that will combine all its resources, including those stemming from the acquisition of Tandem and Digital Equipment, as objects in a single directory. Merrill Lynch is using Windows 2000 and Active Directory to administer network policy over its computer network, including its IP telephony system.

Once on the Active Directory bandwagon, Cisco Systems Inc. is quietly backing away from Microsoft-centric exclusivity. Cisco will now integrate a variety of directory services into its switches, routers, and policy-management products. The CiscoAssure Policy Networking architecture is based upon four building blocks: Intelligent Network, Policy Services, Registration and Directory Services, and Policy Administration. CiscoAssure Policy Networking enables business users and applications to use the intelligence that is embedded in a computer network as a basis for efficient management.

Oracle Corp. and Siemens have announced that they are co-developing metadirectory software. Products resulting from the joint venture will be based on Siemens’ DirXmetahub metadirectory technology and Oracle’s Internet Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) software. Shipping sometime this summer, the software is expected to provide interoperability between Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange, Oracle 8i and other database products, and various network operating systems and their corresponding directories.

IBM Corp.’s network directory plans pivot around its e-business marketing campaign. Part of the company’s SecureWay Software, the unimaginatively named Directory will provide a common directory for customers to address the proliferation of application-specific directories, a major driver of high costs. The Directory software supports LDAP and is scaleable.

Novell Inc.’s Directory Services (NDS) has built-in native LDAP support, multi-master replication, and a distributed database and hierarchical namespace structure. NDS also supports Microsoft’s Active Directory and the Java Naming and Directory Interface, a tool for constructing Java applications that access multiple standard naming and directory services. The technology included with NDS makes it possible to manage a mixed network as if it were one platform.

At one time, the question of directory-enabled networking standards spawned a raging debate. Now, however, the major industry players have taken steps to establish a single standard for the technology. This newly found sense of cooperation is most likely attributable to the realization that efficiently managed business-to-business commerce is a moneymaker.

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) was introduced several years ago as a solution to the problems posed by environments that support more than one directory service. LDAP-enabled directory services, which currently include all the major vendors, provide access to rights information across platforms. Now under the control of the World Wide Web Consortium, LDAP is in its third version and is generally praised for its relative simplicity, standardization, and close correlation with the Internet.

LDAP Duplication/Replication/Update Protocol (LDUP) is a standard that’s being developed by a working group of The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). With LDAP becoming widely deployed, replication of data across servers running different implementations becomes an important part of providing a distributed directory service. This group will standardize master-slave and multi-master LDAPv3 replication as defined below:

  1. Multi-master replication—A replication model where entries can be written and updated on any of several replica copies without requiring communication with other masters before the write or update is performed.
  2. Master-slave, or single-master replication—A replication model that assumes only one server, the master, allows write access to the replicated data. Note that master-slave replication can be considered a subset of multi-master replication.

Details of the standards and their current status are available at the IETF Web site.

In July 1999, Novell announced a new metadirectory product, DirXML, which would use the eXtensible Markup Language (XML) as its core format for directory schema publishing, data interchange, and query. This announcement provided a glimpse into how XML will be integrated into metadirectory environments as an enterprise standard.

The promise of XML as a metadirectory standard is now encompassed in the Directory Services Markup Language (DSML) Initiative that was founded by Microsoft, Novell, Sun, Bowstreet, AOL/Netscape, IBM, and Oracle. Like XML, DSML has a platform-independent syntax, which separates the context-specific semantics of document contents from the platform-specific semantics. This means that an entry understood in one directory is understood in all directories. More information on the DSML standard can be found at its Web site.

Is it destiny?
The Internet and business-to-business e-commerce have forced organizations to reconsider their computer networks as strategic assets rather than mere pieces of a functional infrastructure. As their impact on the bottom line becomes more crucial, the once mundane directory and metadirectory systems have become sexy. Issues of network security, policy administration, and directory scalability have become of paramount importance to boardroom decision makers. Technologies such as XML and DSML, which establish common standards throughout the industry, bode well for the future of directories and metadirectories. The implementation of these enterprise-wide directory-enabled networks is inevitable.

A business consultant, Mark Kaelin 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.

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