Novell Forges Ahead with NDS

In the game of chicken, the winner usually turns out to be the one who flinches last. In the game of directory services, the winner isn't always so clearly defined. Back in June, analysts and developers concluded that Novell Inc.'s Novell Directory Services (NDS) for Windows NT was at risk because Microsoft Corp. planned to release Service Pack 4 for NT and NT 5.0, which could entail functionality conflicts for users of NDS for NT.

While the industry has been patiently waiting for the release of either product from Microsoft, Novell has moved ahead with its plans for version 2 of NDS for NT, which is expected to ship by December. Michael Simpson, Novell director of marketing, says the new release wasn't about increased interoperability, but about new features the company felt NDS for NT should include.

Most important, the new version does not require a local network server. NDS-integrated applications can run from any office with the NDS server located at one central office. Administrators can create a local replica of the directory services so that the branch office doesn't need to communicate over a LAN link. This also reduces the failure rate because there's no single point of failure. The product now controls file shares as well as users and groups, and the user and file manager is all one utility. Simpson also boasts the increased scale of the product. "We tested it with 35,000 user objects, and we've migrated successfully," he says.

Simpson insists that there will be no interoperability problems when NT 5.0 and Service Pack 4 are released. "We've run NDS with the beta versions of Service Pack 4 and NT 5.0, and there haven't been any problems," he says.

Paul Zagaesky, senior industry analyst for the Giga Information Group Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.), says it is highly unlikely that NDS will be inoperable with NT, unless Microsoft and Novell aren't working together. "There is a sense of cooperation that has traditionally been observed at a technological level," says Zagaesky. "I think it would be very short-sighted for Microsoft to do anything to make it more difficult to integrate the NT environment. It just doesn't sit well with a lot of customers out there with Novell licenses."

Gartner Group Inc. (Stamford Conn.) analyst Neal MacDonald agrees. "I believe the vendors have it completely in their power to work together and make sure there are no vulnerabilities or incompatibilities," MacDonald says.

"Microsoft could very well do it [make their products inoperable with NDS for NT] if they think it's in their best interest, but it doesn't make much sense to me," says Giga's Zagaesky.

Gartner's MacDonald comments, "Service Pack 4 and potential incompatibility is still an open issue since now it's been delayed indefinitely." MacDonald was one of the analysts who, in June, expressed concern that Microsoft would introduce certain functions in Service Pack 4 that would interfere with NDS for NT.

Another concern is that Microsoft's Active Directory Services, a major component of the upcoming version of NT, will produce further compatibility problems as it bumps heads with NDS. Novell's Simpson says NDS for NT 2.0 provides the back-end capabilities for those servers running Active Directory.

Microsoft is also doing its part to make the transition between Active Directory and NDS a smooth one. So says Kathryn Musgrave, president of the IT consulting firm Gryphon Group (San Antonio). "Although I don't think it will be completely smooth, Microsoft has said that when Active Directory comes out, you'll be able to move information back and forth between NDS and NT using LDAP," says Musgrave. "The most important thing both Microsoft and Novell must understand is to put the customer first. If they don't do that, then those customers will go somewhere else."

Meanwhile, Novell's Simpson believes that flinching first was the right decision for Novell: "We would want to be ahead of time. We worked on our product and shipped it when it was ready, and we're not going to wait for a product that's going to be 2 years late." Simpson says, however, that a more convenient situation would be for both products to come out at the same time. He explains, "It's easier for customers to compare products to products, not products to promises. We don't want to make people make an either/or decision."