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Microsoft vs. Novell misses the point

Susan Fogarty, Site Editor

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SALT LAKE CITY -- There has been no shortage of extra-curricular activities at Novell's BrainShare conference. There's been skiing, snowmobiling, NBA basketball, and, of course, the highly popular pastime of Microsoft bashing. The disparaging jokes are as plentiful as free pens, and hardly a technical session goes by without a comparison between NetWare and Windows or eDirectory and Active Directory. But some analysts say that, in the area of directory services at least, all that antagonism is missing the point.

Directory services has emerged as an important piece of network and systems integration in today's enterprises. Information about a network's users, applications and data is stored in a central directory, giving administrators greater control with less maintenance. The most popular products in this area are Microsoft's Active Directory, Novell's eDirectory and Sun Microsystems' iPlanet Directory Server. The vendors are quick to tell you why their product is better than the competition. However, customers may not realize that the "best" product is not necessarily in the best interest of their organizations.

"Users think that they can deploy one directory and it will work across all their systems," said John Enck, vice president and research director, server and directory technologies, Gartner Inc. "The reality is that we can't get there today. There is no one product that is broad-based enough to accomplish that, and only a few have proven high-end scalability. In the real world, people are deploying multiple directories for their platforms. Because the directory is tied to a platform, you don't have a choice."

Without an understanding of what directory services will and will not do, most directory services projects will fail, said Enck. "The directory is just the tip of the iceberg. People are focusing on the wrong issue." First, enterprises need to identify the business needs that the directory will fulfill. "You should not be focusing on which directory you want, you should focus on the software stacks and applications that are strategic to you," Enck said.

Choosing one directory is not realistic, and it doesn't make sense, according to Enck. Unless your network has no Windows servers, dealing with Active Directory will be unavoidable. Network managers need to pick the appropriate directories for their applications, and then focus on integrating and synchronizing those directories for the most harmonious environment possible.

Burton Group senior analyst Gary Hein points out that up-and-coming metadirectories make choosing your products even more complex. Metadirectories such as Critical Path's InJoin, iPlanet's MetaDirectory, Microsoft's MSS, and Novell's DirXML consolidate information in multiple directories and can also manage the relationships between existing directories, allowing data to flow between connected directories.

But Hein agrees that even with metadirectories, "no single technology provides a full solution. Products will continue to evolve and will converge to integrate more security features and be more useful for workflow and business policies."

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