Product review: Netscape bolsters solid LDAP server

When many people think of directory services, they still think of the NOS-embedded directories such as Banyan's StreetTalk, Novell Directory Services, or a telco-based directory. But directories have taken on a much greater role over the past few years, and Netscape's Directory Server has been at the centre of the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) and application-based directory revolution. With Directory Server 4.0, Netscape adds numerous enhancements to the product, making it easier to extend, manage, and administer, while also raising performance a notch.

Among the most obvious improvements is Netscape's new administration console. Although I am not very fond of Java-based administration tools, Netscape Console is one of the best. More important, however, the new Console significantly improves Directory Server management tasks. If you are already running Directory Server, you might upgrade solely for this. Still, as with other Java-based administrative tools, Console's performance could be improved.

Previous versions of Directory Server have not provided very strong management tools. I was able to import users, just as with prior versions, from a typical LDIF file or add users via Netscape's Web-based gateway interface. However, Directory Server's new management console does make it easier to add new users through the administration interface.

Two of Netscape's goals for this release were to improve the product's performance and its scalability. I feel Directory Server has had pretty good performance in the past, and my informal tests showed a noticeable performance improvement. Netscape expects that Directory Server 4.0 will improve scalability from 20 million users per server to 50 million, and that performance is up from roughly 3,000 queries per second to 7,000 on a four-CPU Intel Xeon-based server.

Netscape has also made a number of other improvements to the product, such as making it really easy to set up and employ directory replication among other LDAP Version 3-compliant directories. I like the product's new integrated automatic backup features. Netscape has also added an SNMP Management Information Base. However, I found that after installing Directory Server, the SNMP service on my Windows NT-based server failed to load correctly.

Overall, Directory Server 4.0 is a pretty solid product, and it offers some definite improvements over the prior release. But Netscape is also planning to release some variants, one of which should improve the integration with Netscape's Certificate Server, providing more cohesive public-key security with an LDAP-based directory. You might want to consider these options before making a decision.

Write to Senior Analyst Jeff Symoens at jeff_symoens@infoworld.com.

THE BOTTOM LINE: VERY GOOD

Netscape Directory Server 4.0

This release of Netscape's directory service provides strong enhancements and should bolster Netscape's lead as an application directory provider.

Pros: Lightweight Directory Access Protocol; much improved management and performance; SNMP Management Information Base; provides automatic integrated back-up; Directory Import process much improved.

Cons: A few problems implementing SNMP; Java-based administration needs some performance improvements.

Price: $US10 per user.

Platforms: Windows NT 4.0, Sun Solaris 2.5.1, 2.6, HP/UX 11.0, IBM AIX 4.21, SGI Irix 6.2, Digital Unix 4.0d.

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