FRAMINGHAM (04/05/2000) - Before IT executives can realize the benefits of an enterprise directory infrastructure, they will have to clean up their glut of directories and devise a plan to integrate what remains into a logical whole.
Those conclusions were reached as part of Network World's recent eight-city "Making Sense of Directories" seminar series.
The bright side is the effort will foster cost savings, streamline user and application management, and provide a foundation for e-commerce, as well as a set of fine-tuned controls over network infrastructure and bandwidth.
In short, many observers said it is the best shot IT executives have for restoring order to the chaos of their distributed networks.
"The directory is critical for distributed computing," said Gary Rowe, president of The Burton Group, a consulting firm in Midvale, Utah.
"The directory will become increasingly integrated with security and internetworking. We are going to see an infrastructure that includes applications, policies and network management all supported by the directory," Rowe told a gathering of IT managers at the seminar in San Francisco.
Personalization is also the long-term goal of directory integration, Rowe said.
It will mean businesses can serve tailored applications and data to each unique user on both intranets and extranets based on data stored in the directory.
But there are plenty of hurdles before reaching nirvana.
"Right now, the directory is not a panacea. There is a lot of work to do," said Charles Haynes, software development architect for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online.
"We see the potential. We want the directory to support policy management and workflow management, and we want it for security management on the Web," Haynes said. "We also want to support PKI [public-key infrastructure] and single sign-on."
Those are lofty goals given that the average large company has more than 150 directories, according to Rowe. Consolidation and integration of directories, which are often full of outdated or incorrect data, is no easy task.
The vendor panelists at the seminar, including representatives from Banyan Worldwide, Bindview, FastLane Technologies, Microsoft, Novell and Process Software, agreed that directory integration is the next key for large organizations.
A major push is coming from Microsoft Corp. and Novell Inc., both of which are touting metadirectories for integration.
"The metadirectory will be critical because application-specific directories won't be going away anytime soon, so there is no choice in the matter besides integration," said Samm DiStasio, director of marketing for directory products at Novell, which will release its DirXML metadirectory this summer.
"The only proven way to manage multiple directories is through advanced synchronization technologies," said Peter Houston, Microsoft's group product manager for Active Directory.
While Novell and Microsoft agree on integration, they are taking different approaches. Novell is concentrating its efforts on XML for synchronizing directories and pushing changes to a set of interconnected directories.
Microsoft is using technology acquired from Zoomit last year to create a central repository of directory data to keep directories in sync.
Integration will be a requirement for nearly 95 percent of large companies, according to Patrick O'Kane, director of integration products at Banyan.
"There won't just be a single killer application," said O'Kane. "It will be hundreds of killer applications that all take advantage of the power of the directory."
And along with those killer applications will come other benefits. Users will be able to deploy Directory Enabled Networks, which use the directory to automatically configure routers and switches to set policies on bandwidth usage and prioritize traffic. The directory also will allow companies to create a PKI for securing extranets and e-commerce.
Those types of efficiencies and services are the tremendous opportunities that will come from unifying directories, Rowe said. But he added it won't come without a lot of foresight.
"For organizations considering an investment in a directory infrastructure, the focus should be on planning upfront," he said. "I have never been involved in a directory project where the company said they did too much upfront planning.
Planning pays incredible dividends down the road."