Novell Prepares NDS 8 to be More Scalable

Novell Inc. recently released the beta of what could be the most scalable directory service to date: Novell Directory Services (NDS) version 8.

Calling it an "Internet directory," Michael Simpson, director of strategic marketing at Novell, says the product has increased support for Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) features, such as auxiliary classes, and for Internet security standards, such as the Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) version 3.

"It's very impressive," says Laura DiDio, analyst with Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com). "Their scalability is far beyond anything we've seen so far." The product allows administrators to treat directory objects as identities, enabling implementation of hundreds of objects for a single user. Because Novell is focusing more on services rather than operating systems, DiDio says the company is about to reap the rewards of its efforts.

It won’t be easy going, though. Novell will face stringent competition when Microsoft Corp. releases Active Directory with Windows 2000 later this year. But competition has taken on a new meaning in the directory service space. Instead of striving to be the directory service of choice, vendors are competing to become the "meta" directory of choice, the interface through which administrators view all of their directories in a heterogeneous environment.

Recent market moves illustrate this strategic shift. In February, Novell announced NDS’s integration with Oracle's newly released Internet Directory (OID) as well as with Oracle 8. With agreements like this, Paul Corrivau, NDS marketing manager, sees the product as "the center of the universe." Corrivau is counting on Oracle not being its only satellite.

Planting a stake of its own in the meta directory market, Microsoft submitted a specification to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF, www.ietf.org) last month called DirSync. The LDAP-based control enables synchronization of information between heterogeneous directories. In one more step of brinkmanship, Redmond is making the specification freely available, without license, for use by anyone.

Giga's DiDio expects none of these products to have a large effect on the market until next year. First of all, Windows 2000 and Active Directory haven't been released and won't be until later this year. Second of all, NDS 8 is in beta and probably won't be released until later this year as well. DiDio explains that corporations, for the most part, usually implement large solutions in the first half of the year.

So does NDS 8’s tag of being an Internet Directory signal the end for recent start-ups that focus on Internet directory services? DiDio doesn’t think so. She says those services will become an adjunct to NDS through the meta directory movement. Before this happens, however, DiDio points out that Novell needs partners, especially networking partners. "They've (Novell) been invited to the dance," she says. "They just haven't been asked to dance."

It may be that Lucent Technologies has the courage to jitterbug. The company is helping Novell forge ahead with the Directory Enabled Network (DEN) initiative, a plan to produce capabilities such as router management and user account management. A similar arrangement with Cisco Systems Inc. could help spur the movement as well.

DiDio cautions that no matter how strong a product Novell may have, it's Microsoft's relationships with its enterprise customers that Novell needs to emulate. DiDio says Novell's directory services could be three times better than Active Directory, but it doesn't mean a thing if the company can't market it right.