Novell, Microsoft Sharpening Metadirectory Tools

FRAMINGHAM (04/19/2000) - IT executives perplexed by the recent flurry of metadirectory news are about to get some solid directions from both Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc.

Microsoft is refining its metadirectory services to more closely link it to Active Directory, incorporate support for XML and simplify its use.

Novell this summer will release its DirXML metadirectory, which employs the company's eDirectory as a hub linked to other directories via XML-based connectors. The technology, previewed last month at Novell's BrainShare user conference and currently in beta testing, surprised many with its sophistication, but there are still some questions that have to be answered.

IT administrators should understand that the tools from both vendors will only help them execute their directory integration strategies. They also require considerable hands-on customization.

Microsoft, for its part, is trying to simplify its metadirectory, which it acquired last year when it bought Zoomit.

This summer, the company will release Microsoft MetaDirectory Services (MMS) 2.2, which will focus on closely tying Active Directory into the core metadirectory, called the Metaverse. Microsoft will introduce an Active Directory Management Agent, which manages the connection of Active Directory to the Metaverse. The agent will feature an autodiscovery mechanism that will recognize directory objects and attributes as well as extensions to directory schema - the language that defines the contents of the directory.

Microsoft plans to incorporate an autodiscovery feature into all MMS management agents, including one under development based on XML. The company also intends to introduce up to five agents for enterprise resource planning systems before year-end.

While Microsoft refines its existing product, Novell is polishing DirXML 1.0.

Users and analysts alike were surprised by DirXML's implementation of a key metadirectory function called the "join," which combines user objects from multiple directories into a logical whole. The Association feature of DirXML creates a join between a user's identity in eDirectory and in other directories. For example, Joe Smith in the eDirectory is associated with JSmith in the human resources directory. This join is a key aspect of creating a metadirectory because user data can be integrated without having to reformat it.

"The join is key, but users still have to write the rules for such functions as what attributes get moved and updated," says Jamie Lewis, president of The Burton Group, a consulting firm in Midvale, Utah. MMS users face the same requirements.

But in DirXML, those rules will have to address the underlying assumption that connections between directories are persistent.

"DirXML will have to have some logic as to the state of the connection," Lewis says. Without that logic, updates made to directories connected to the metadirectory could be dropped if the connection between the directories is down. The eDirectory itself has a queuing mechanism to wait out downed connections. For the connected directories, Novell officials say users can code logic into "shims" that fit between applications and the DirXML connectors, but that will add complexity to deployments.

Microsoft: www.microsoft.com/win dows2000/guide/server/features/ mms.asp; Novell: www.novell.com/ products/nds/dirxml/

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