March 17, 1997

Net Value
Resolving the directory debacle
By Jamie Lewis

  To date, the lack of good directory-enabled applications has prevented customers from implementing directories, and the lack of an installed base of directories has prevented developers from directory-enabling their applications.

Novell has attempted to break that catch-22 by tightly integrating GroupWise 5 with NDS. GroupWise 5, then, provides an opportunity to examine just what the words directory-enabled mean for customers.

Overall, Novell has done a good job of directory-enabling GroupWise 5. By relying on NDS for many functions, GroupWise 5 can prevent the duplication of systems infrastructure and administrative effort that have plagued systems administrators for years. However, GroupWise 5, like Exchange, is tightly coupled with the NOS infrastructure provided by its vendor. Consequently, GroupWise 5 demonstrates the degree to which NOS and intranet platform decisions are driving messaging/groupware decisions.

In general, GroupWise 5 relies on NDS for two basic functions. First, GroupWise uses NDS for all administration and management functions. Second, GroupWise creates an address book based on the contents of one or more NDS trees. This address book contains only the subset of information relevant to messaging, and GroupWise synchronizes it with NDS and replicates it among the GroupWise post offices on a network. Thus, organizations that have made a commitment to NDS can integrate directory administration functions for both NOS and messaging administrative systems, saving time and effort.

However, it's that commitment to NDS that raises some interesting issues. In designing GroupWise 5, Novell couldn't assume that everyone is using NDS, even within its own customer base. Many Novell customers are still using NetWare 3.x and are in the process of migrating to NetWare 4.x. Others have yet to make a commitment to NDS. Novell also wanted customers that don't even use NetWare to be able to use GroupWise. Therefore, Novell had to build GroupWise 5 to handle a large number of contingencies. For that reason, GroupWise does not rely on NDS for user log-in and authentication functions. It handles those functions itself to ensure the ability to operate on any network.

While GroupWise is directory-enabled to a large degree if you have committed to NDS, it poses the duplication-of-effort problems all messaging and groupware systems have posed if you haven't. In other words, it provides its own directory and security services, duplicating the services provided by an NOS.

Novell is not alone in facing these issues. Microsoft will face many of the same contingency issues when it comes to future versions of Exchange and the upcoming directory in Windows NT 5.0, for example. Ideally, application developers would be able to assume first that most customers have a directory, and second that any given directory would be usable via standard mechanisms such as LDAP. Today, however, that ideal isn't a reality. Most customers don't have a general-purpose directory, and LDAP has yet to support universal connectivity.

I hope Novell and other vendors will solve these implementation problems through standards support. In the meantime, however, it's clear that directory enablement is as much a function of the NOS you choose as it is the messaging system you buy.

Jamie Lewis is president of The Burton Group, a research company specializing in emerging network computing technologies. He can be reached at jlewis@tbg.com.

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