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Cisco jumps on directory train

Cisco Systems will build new support for software services on top of Microsoft's forthcoming Active Directory administration tools.

LAS VEGAS--Cisco Systems is taking advantage of its relationship with Microsoft to build new support for software services on top of the software giant's forthcoming Active Directory administration tools.

Though directory services is largely viewed as an esoteric portion of an organization's software infrastructure, the technology has gained more and more significance as a central point of control for vast networks with attached resources, such as devices, applications, and systems.

Boosting the technology is the fact that Microsoft is attempting to supply an enterprise-class directory in the next version of its Windows NT server operating system package. Others, such as Novell and Netscape Communications, are also among the myriad of firms who are finding increasing acceptance of directory services.

Cisco plans to deliver new technology called Cisco Network Services for Active Directory in beta form in the third quarter of this year, with the final release pegged for the first quarter of next year. Versions of the technology for Active Directory on Hewlett-Packard's UX and Sun Microsystems' Solaris flavors of Unix will make it to beta in the fourth quarter, with final delivery in the first quarter of next year.

The new Cisco software essentially allows networking services to be integrated into a directory. For example, a quality of service policy could be centrally stored in the directory database, providing a single point for allocating bandwidth to certain applications.

Cisco's software is the first product fruits of a partnership with Microsoft that began with joint work on Directory-Enabled Networks (DEN), a standard specification for the inclusion of networking devices into a directory services system. Active Directory will ship as part of Windows NT server 5.0, due to ship early next year.

Since that time, a plethora of third party acceptance has followed for DEN after a cry from the industry to open up the work to third parties. "What we've seen recently is a big jump in industry support for DEN," said Jonathan Perera, a Windows NT product manager at Microsoft.

Cisco executives said the Cisco Network Services push is part of an effort at the firm to expose more of its software programming interfaces to corporate developers and allow its Internetworking Operating System software to tie into a directory structure.

"While mostly marketing at this time, this is exactly where the world needs to go," said Craig Johnson, an independent consultant with the PITA Group. "Cisco is going to kick Bay Networks', 3Com's, and Cabletron Systems' butt here if they don't find a unique perspective."

Not to be left out, Netscape announced earlier this week that it would offer the source code for its directory technology to third party developers.

Separately, Novell announced its intentions to provide IP-based management in its NetWare 5.0 operating system via use of Novell Directory Services, Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol integration, and DEN. The directory integration with Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol will be offered to standards organizations as part of the DEN specification.

"Any questions about this being a Cisco/Microsoft-only thing are gone now," said Michael Simpson, director of marketing for Novell's network services division. "It becomes a foot race at this point."