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Microsoft and Novell plan mix of standards, open source to link directories

Microsoft and Novell are testing three ways to improve Active Directory and eDirectory interoperability. Novell says more info is forthcoming later this spring.

While Microsoft and Novell Inc. are starting to detail plans regarding their collaboration on virtualization and document formatting, there is still one part of the joint roadmap that could use some clarifying.

Both companies are still mulling over plans for the sorts of bridges they will build between Microsoft's Active Directory and Novell's eDirectory.

There is certainly a need for interoperability between multiple directories, particularly in the largest of enterprises. Most enterprises have applications that are tied to specific directories in the way that Novell's GroupWise collaboration application is tied to eDirectory or in the way Microsoft's Exchange Server is tied to Active Directory, for example.

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One analyst points out that both Microsoft and Novell have cross-directory synchronization products available such as Identity Integration Server and Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) in the case of Microsoft and Novell's iChain federated single sign-on solution.

"These [synchronization products] are widely deployed solutions that deepen integration between Active Directory and eDirectory. So, what else are Microsoft and Novell going to do for customers?" said John Enck, an analyst at Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn. "What are they going to do to go above and beyond that? They are giving no details on what they are doing or how they plan to get there."

Third-party products from companies such as Centeris Corp., Quest Software Inc. and Centrify Corp. address interoperability between Active Directory and eDirectory as well, he said.

Both companies said this week they are "working toward improving directory and identity interoperability" between Active Directory and eDirectory, and the vendors will get there by "using standards-based protocols," such as WSFED and SAML, according to Richard Whitehead, director of product marketing for Novell.

Microsoft and Novell are working on three projects initially and plan to reveal the results of what the vendors are calling these "demonstrations" by the end of this quarter.

One project focuses on standards-based technology that will pass user credentials between standalone applications, such as Novell's Access Manager to Microsoft's SharePoint, without needing third-party applications or individual offerings already available from either vendor.

"This is different from synchronization -- that is not really interoperability," Whitehead said. "This is using standards-based protocols as opposed to, say, a translator or third-party products. The intent is not to replace those products, but bring things together using other technology in an open source environment."

Another initiative would create a Web-based operating environment, again using standards-based protocols, to allow Novell and open source products, such as SUSE Linux and Firefox, to work with Microsoft Vista, XP and Internet Explorer; and open source identity management initiatives Bandit and Higgins to work seamlessly with such Microsoft products as CardSpace, Active Directory, ADFS and SharePoint, Whitehead said.

The third initiative is higher up the stack at the operating system level where all Novell and Microsoft technology talk to each other in a mixed environment, Whitehead said.

He would not specify whether any of the technology demonstration projects underway would result in actual products or become part of the core operating systems developed by either vendor.

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