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Corporate software giants pitch networks standard

A group of giants in the corporate software market introduce a new standards effort intended to simplify the manner in which companies can access network-based information.

A group of giants in the corporate software market today introduced a new standards effort intended to simplify the manner in which companies can access network-based information.

IBM, Novell, and Oracle head up a team of companies that have formed a new organization, dubbed the Directory Interoperability Forum, that is targeted at providing more software standards so that increasingly important back-end computing services---commonly known as a directory---can communicate with each other.

Notably absent from the announcement was Microsoft, which made some directory-related announcements of its own today. Microsoft said it has acquired meta-directory product developer ZoomIt for an undisclosed amount. The company plans to integrate ZoomIt's technologies with Microsoft Active Directory directory service of the Windows 2000 Server operating system.

Directory services software has become a linchpin in several companies' strategies, perhaps best exemplified by Novell's increasing reliance on its so-called NDS software to drive sales of associated applications. IBM has also embarked on a directory-based strategy, based in large part on its need to tie a wide array of internally-developed software together.

The two companies are accordingly looking to speed development of more advanced interfaces so that directory software can more easily communicate and share information, no matter what company built the program.

"Our customers have been telling us to do this," said Chris Stone, Novell's senior vice president of strategy and corporate development. Businesses are proliferating with multiple directories. "Our customers can't get a hold of this unless there is a common directory standard and schema."

A directory provides a network manager with a central repository, or database, in which a sophisticated set of information about users, computer systems and software, and network-attached devices can be stored. Increasingly this type of software technology is being looked at as a savior as networks of computer users in corporations and across the Internet continue to grow.

"It is in the interest of all parties in the industry to make these standards go forward," said Al Zollar, IBM's general manager of network computing software division.

According to Stone, forum members plan to develop a Software Development Kit (SDK) by the end of the year that will encourage ISVs to build packaged applications to access the directories.

While a standard called the lightweight directory access protocol, or LDAP, has been widely adopted for network interoperability, it thus far lacks sophisticated features such as the ability to replicate a change in directory-stored information across various types of directory software.

In addition to the commitment from Novell and IBM, a bevy of third-party software providers will endorse the organization's intentions.

Among the initial group of software companies participating in the effort are IBM subsidiary Lotus Development, Data Connection Limited, and Isocor.

The effort is intended to build on the work underway in the Distributed Management Task Force. That initiative, commonly referred to as DEN for directory-enabled network, is directed at providing a common format for how information is stored in a directory upon which third-party software developers can build.