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Directory standards see renewed vendor action

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Directory heavyweights Novell and Microsoft are matching wits again, this time with competing proposals to the same standards body for creating an XML-based protocol that promises to foster integration between disparate enterprise directories.

Last week, Novell formally submitted DirXML, its XML-based directory integration technology released last year, to the Directory Services Markup Language (DSML) working group. The group is part of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, an international consortium that creates interoperable specifications based on standards such as XML.

In the next two months, Microsoft plans to submit a proposal that will in essence create an XML version of the familiar Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).

Progress toward XML-based standards for directory interoperability has been near dormant for more than a year, as the DSML working group wrestles with Version 2.0 of the DSML specification. The specification is envisioned to be an access protocol that will standardize basic directory functions such as query and update.

DSML 2.0 could be of great importance to enterprise users who want to create a standard communications layer that lets disparate directories talk to one another. It would also create standard interfaces that could be built in to applications.

The DSML working group has accepted Novell's submission and will likely evaluate it as the foundation of DSML 2.0. The group is anticipating Microsoft's submission.

"Much of what Novell has submitted is what 2.0 has lacked," says Jamie Lewis, president of consulting firm The Burton Group. "It's the basic requirements for describing directory operations in XML such as read, write, modify and query."

Novell developed DirXML as a metadirectory that would synchronize corporate directories, including its eDirectory.

"With all the work Novell has done with XML, it makes sense to use it as the basis for DSML 2.0," says Winston Bumpus, director of open technologies and standards for Novell. Bumpus says Novell is submitting all the Document Type Definitions (DTD) associated with DirXML. DTD is a language that can describe the contents of a document. "It is how you describe all the objects in the directory, how you represent add, modify, delete in XML. It's the semantics you need to use the directory."

Microsoft is developing an XML version of the IETF's RFC 2251. The request for comment describes a directory access protocol that provides read and update access, but doesn't address authentication.

"We are enabling core functions over XML that equate to some things that are already established with LDAP," says Peter Houston, group program manager for Microsoft's Active Directory. "But to be valuable it has to be supported across vendors."

The Novell and Microsoft proposals are likely to stimulate activity in the DSML working group.

"One concern is the DSML effort is slowing down," says Daniel Blum, research director with The Burton Group. "We would like to see them get into query and updates and move into mapping, which is a hard problem."

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