Novell detailed a plan today to combat Microsoft's Windows NT network operating system by proliferating what is widely considered NetWare's greatest strength: Novell Directory Services.
Novell plans to license the directory services to Unix operating system vendors and infiltrate the NT camp itself by porting NDS to the rival operating system. The company will disclose all of its licensing plans over the coming weeks, but the company is already planning ports to two of the most popular Unix variants, Sun Microsystems' Solaris operating system and IBM's AIX platform. The company will deliver the native NT version of NDS by early next year and will help start preparing developers to take advantage of the new services by the end of this year.
A directory service is basically an address book for every user on a network. Directory services allow users to communicate over a network without having to know complicated user addresses and prevent unauthorized users from gaining access to network resources. While it sounds simple enough, when that network encompasses thousands of users in hundreds of locations, maintaining that address book is a complicated task. The upcoming version 5.0 version of NT will add Microsoft's own version of directory services, but corporate users have already spent a lot of time setting up NDS and would like to be able to keep that investment.
Though Novell maintains a huge installed base for its NetWare network operating system, which includes NDS, the company has lost its technological edge as Microsoft has ramped up Windows NT to handle the needs of large networks. With today's announcement, Novell is recognizing that NDS is its most potent weapon in fighting its battle against NT on workgroup servers.
Analysts said Novell still has reason to worry. Windows NT 5.0, due in beta form late next year, will include a new directory service called Active Directory that many believe will match or best NDS in terms of technology. The Active Directory will offer enterprise-class features like a hierarchical view of network resources and a single log-on to the network for users.
"When the Active Directory finally does ship, that's the last nail in the coffin for Novell," said Michael Goulde, vice president and senior consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group.
Novell executives also said they would encourage third parties to build applications on top of NDS by licensing the source code for the service for free. Netscape Communications, for example, is also getting into the directory service market, but Novell hopes it preempt them from becoming a direct competitor by simply licensing the NDS source code.
"We are removing every barrier to adoption of our directory," said Michael Simpson, Novell's director of marketing for Novell's Internet infrastructure division.
How will Novell make money giving its principle technology advantage away for free? The company itself hopes to take advantage of what it expects to become a huge market for services and applications running on top of NDS. For example, Novell said it would offer by the fall of 1997 a $1,000 package that would let administrators replicate data across multiple servers.
To make NDS even more appealing, Novell is also planning to add support for the new Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). The protocol has attracted the support of Netscape and 40 other companies, including all the major messaging players that deal with directory access.
Created by researchers at the University of Michigan and adopted by the Internet Engineering Task Force, LDAP can be used to help users easily locate email addresses across the Net and corporate intranets. LDAP is an extension of the X.500 directory standard that defines the way a client can access directory servers that store list of clients and the associated email addresses. These servers can either be on the Internet or within a corporate network supporting X.500 or non-X.500 directories.
Novell said it hoped support for LDAP as well as Java would spur NDS and make it the pervasive network directory for the industry, not just NetWare.
Novell will deliver LDAP support by the end of this year. It will continue to enhance NDS through 1997 with features such as native Internet Protocol support. By the fall of next year, Novell will offer a set of services running on top of NDS such as the replication feature and certification components.