Earlier this year, Microsoft laid out an ambitious plan to unify its myriad directory services and policies into a single directory and policy model.
Heading up the effort is Peter Houston, Microsoft's senior director of identity and access management. The role is something of a homecoming for Houston, who was Microsoft's first Active Directory product manager.
IT managers will see the first fruits of Houston's labor when Longhorn Server becomes available sometime in 2007, according to the most recent estimates. Microsoft expects to complete the unification of the policy models around the Longhorn R2 time frame.
"In five years, we want to see unified administration models that will perform user and group management and policy management in a consistent way." Houston said. "I don't want these identities to live in a different place."
The driving force behind Microsoft's push to develop a single identity infrastructure is the company's desire to help solve difficult IT issues prompted by new government regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA.
Houston says Microsoft is counting on partners to fill in areas such as monitoring the directory infrastructure or the creation of auditing and change control logs. That will allow IT administrators to use the identity management structure to track things like which end user is in which group. Other partners are enabling Linux and Unix so they can use Active Directory to store their users too.
Microsoft will make existing services a feature set of Active Directory rather than ancillary products that leverage Active Directory, observed Jonathan Penn, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass.
"The notion is to [unify] Active Directory, which is about as ubiquitous as it gets, and use it more strategically," Penn said. "It will spur use of [these features]."
Since he assumed this recent role, Houston has been speaking to some of Microsoft's larger customers and taking stock of what's happened with Active Directory since his first go-around with the technology. "Back then [the discussion] was about buying directory services," he said. "We've moved on to a different set of business problems that are driven by Sarbanes-Oxley."
In recent years, the industry has also undergone a bit of consolidation. Netegrity Inc. was bought by Computer Associates International, Oblix Inc. was bought by Oracle Corp., and Aelita Software Corp. was acquired by Quest Software Inc., just to cite a few examples.
"[Years ago] people were really waiting for others to do the hard learning," Houston said. "Today, you rarely see people without an Active Directory deployment."