DSML Makes Directories Even More Active

Microsoft's Active Directory, released with Windows 2000, helps IT and network managers get a grip on managing far-flung networks of Windows servers and clients. Large enterprises, however, typically use up to 180 directories from different platforms in their intranets and extranets, according to Forrester Research Inc. (www.forrester.com). This means a redundancy of information and administration beyond what Active Directory can provide.

That's why a new XML-related specification is a promising directory management solution for use across a range of systems tied into the Internet. The language, called Directory Services Markup Language (DSML), helps establish directories as the infrastructure for e-commerce applications, and enables sharing of data and processes within and across company boundaries.

The DSML 1.0 specification was submitted by Bowstreet Software Inc. (www.bowstreet.com) to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS, www.oasis.org), as well as BizTalk (www.biztalk.org) and the World Wide Web Consortium (www.w3.org).

DSML, an extension of XML, enables applications to make calls to directory data in various directory services, including Novell Inc.'s (www.novell.com ) NDS and Microsoft Corp.'s (www.microsoft.com) Active Directory. This helps provide standardization to the way the same data types may be named within a directory service. Applications need to include customized code to access each directory service.

Meta directories employing DSML can enhance communications by combining and synchronizing enterprise resource systems, database applications, messaging systems, and network operating systems into a single repository that can be managed and updated from a single access point with a single sign on and password. For example, says Todd Hay, lead architect of DSML at Bowstreet, a company using DSML-enabled applications could access address information from a partner's customer directory to complete a logistics shipping form. "Account information can be maintained across multiple business partners, regardless of the underlying directory structure on each partner's site," he says.

Remarkably, the standard is supported by major vendors that typically compete in the directory space, including Microsoft, IBM Corp. (www.ibm.com), Novell, Oracle Corp. (www.oracle.com), and the Sun-Netscape Alliance (www.sun.com, www.netscape.com).

"DSML was a no-brainer for the directory vendors because they saw that the Web was a great opportunity for directories to extend their core competence," Hay says. Up to this point, "Netscape was the only vendor already widely known for its directory in the e-commerce space."

DSML enables different vendors' directory services to work together by describing their contents -- including data about people and computing resources -- in XML. DSML-compliant directories can publish schema information as an XML document, which can then be shared by other directories or applications.

"As enterprises move from business to e-business, meta directories are essential for integrating users, applications, and data in the front office, back office and supply chain," says Sara Radicati, CEO of The Radicati Group Inc. (www.radicati.com). "A tightly integrated directory-meta directory solution with support for a wide array of industry standard and popular proprietary directory protocols makes sense for many enterprises."

DSML was originally designed by Bowstreet to increase the functionality of its Web Automation Factory product, its business-to-business, XML-based marketplace system, Hay says. "We saw this movement towards collections of Web services that were going to be proliferated throughout the Internet, and then dynamically assembled into business Webs. "The first question we asked ourselves is, 'how are people going to manage these things?'

"We need to find a way to get information stored in a directory to be useful to our architecture, which is leveraging XML. We created an XML schema --DSML -- that did exactly that. After talking with some of our partners, Novell and Netscape, it became apparent that this was a common problem, getting meta information from a directory out. Everybody and their brother built their own schema, but there was no interoperability," Hay says.

Oracle and Siemens Information and Communication Networks (www.siemens.com) announced a joint development agreement under which they will create an integrated, Internet standards-based meta directory solution that will overcome a "Tower of Babel" of disparate corporate directories that contain information on different parts of a business. The new joint meta directory solution, which takes advantage of DSML, will provide interoperability between Oracle Internet Platform products, e-business applications, and Novell Directory Services and Microsoft Active Directory.

PullQuote: "DSML was a no-brainer for the directory vendors because they saw that the Web was a great opportunity for directories to extend their core competence." --Todd Hay, lead architect of DSML, Bowstreet Software Inc.