executives have disclosed that they may release elements of the company's Novell Directory Services' software code to the Internet Engineering Task Force
before the end of the year.
"We're definitely looking into it," said Michael Simpson, director of marketing for Novell's network services division. He said an August or end of the year standards body meeting were opportunities to raise the issue.
"It's something we're interested in," he continued. "The industry as a whole needs to stop fighting about directories."
A directory provides a central repository for all network
resources--including systems and applications--for managers to use when configuring a system. Thus, an administrator only has one place to go when users need to be changed or access rights need to be augmented.
Directory services are characterized as plumbing because--from a user's
perspective--it is a tool that allows them to access
applications more efficiently. But that simplicity belies a complex set of
rules that are determined by the IT department.
The IETF is a standards body made up of technologists
that takes prospective standards and hashes out the particulars in
focused working groups.
The directory space has heated up recently due to a succession of bundling
announcements from Novell. Just yesterday Novell announced IBM as yet
another convert to its flagship software, Novell Directory Services. In May, internetworking giant Cisco Systems and software powerhouse Microsoft announced another eyebrow-raising
partnership. The Redmond,
Washington-based company also is working on an initial version of its own
directory scheme called the Active Directory. That enhancement is expected
to ship with Windows NT Server 5.0, due sometime next year.
The move by Novell to offer up NDS as a potential standard may be a
proactive move to combat the growing popularity of Windows NT. Once Active
Directory ships within NT next year, adoption of Microsoft's directory
technology is likely to mushroom.
By offering a subset of the NDS code to the IETF, Novell could trump
Microsoft's efforts to gain a foothold in the directory space by opening up
the platform to third parties. Novell already plans to offer a version of
NDS for Windows NT by
the end of the summer, a date that has stretched beyond original company
Novell officials said any code released into the public domain would not
compromise the security and authentication features of the NDS platform, a
key part of the software that allows users to sign on once at their desktop
for access to applications.
The move is in part intended to let developers make use of NDS's
capabilities for free, making systems that bundle the full version of NDS
more likely to be adopted on a widescale basis.
Currently, the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) for directory communication is most useful at the desktop level, leaving room for server-based communications specifications in the directory space. "The weakness right now with LDAP is that it's a client access protocol," noted Jon Oltsik, analyst with the Forrester Research consultancy.
"Anything Novell can do to accelerate that development for server to server communication is beneficial," he continued. "The question is does Novell have enough clout to get it done? The answer to that, I think, is no."
Critics of Novell's moves claim the struggling networking software player
is late with their strategy and should have opened up NDS to the industry through
partnerships and platform support earlier in the game. They also question
whether offering third parties the option of bundling NDS with their
systems and equating that with an increased user base offers an accurate
assessment of NDS's position within the industry.
Under terms of the Novell/IBM pact, Big Blue will offer NDS code for free
with its RS/6000 and mainframe S/390 systems. Other services, such as
replication capabilities and file and print functionality, will be sold on
top of the base platform. The RS/6000 bundling will roll out within 90
days, according to Novell officials, while the mainframe systems will offer
NDS sometime next year.
This follows agreements between Novell and Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Santa Cruz Operation, and Fujitsu. The agreements call for the
companies to bundle NDS with their various flavors of Unix. Novell
officials now boast that over 75 percent of the Unix market will offer NDS.
Novell's Simpson said the next step for the company was to try and work
with third parties to pull NDS code into the operating system rather than
layer it on the base software environment. That would offer security
and password benefits for users on an NDS-enabled system from a third party
such as IBM.
According to Jim Hurley, director of operating environments for the Aberdeen Group, offering elements of
NDS to the public could help the company make the platform the de facto standard directory for the industry.
Aberdeen research has shown that Novell users are pleased with the way the
company has attempted to disseminate NDS, Hurley
said. But questions remain. "Novell is going to have to provide some
striking reasons for the non-Novell universe to adopt their platform,"