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Microsoft to simplify directories

Microsoft will release an extension to the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol that could speed data replication on networks.

Microsoft (MSFT) and Cisco Systems (CSCO) will release an extension to Lightweight Directory Access Protocol tomorrow that could make it easier and faster for administrators to replicate data across large networks.

The LDAP extension will be handed over for consideration by the Internet Engineering Task Force. The LDAP Multimaster Replication Protocol will essentially make it easier for administrators to build enterprise network-based directories.

"All of the new information that gets stored in an LDAP directory does not have to be stored on one master and replicated to a bunch of slaves," said Enzo Schiano, group product manager for Windows NT Server at Microsoft. "It gives you dramatically better scalability."

A network-based directory service provides a central repository for user address information and a single point of control for administrators overseeing access to applications. Directory software rests on one or several servers that must be updated any time there are changes within a directory.

With a replication protocol, all of these servers could act as "masters," speeding the process. The product could be equally as useful in small networks by cutting directory administration time.

The protocol will also allow replication to occur across directories from multiple vendors, including Microsoft rivals Netscape Communications and Novell, if those vendors choose to support the extension.

Microsoft representatives said the extension would be incorporated in its next-generation Active Directory that will ship as part of Windows NT Server 5.0. That beta is due in the second half of this year with a release date scheduled sometime in the first half of 1998. Cisco has said it is looking at development and support of directory protocols, but that work is in its early stages.

Introduction of the protocol is the latest in a flurry of activity by Microsoft in the directory space. The company recently announced the Active Directory Service Interface for developers to write to; it then augmented that application programming interface with support for Java a week later.

Both Novell and Netscape support the base LDAP protocol in their directories and other applications.

Netscape representatives said they welcomed Microsoft and Cisco's input but would not commit to supporting the extension. "It's hard to say without seeing the protocol," said Tim Howes, directory server architect for Netscape. "We look forward to seeing it and evaluating it."

Howes also works on IETF directory issues, serving on the Access and Searching of Internet Directories Working Group. "This is exactly where they should do the work," he noted.