Bob Bressler, chief scientist for networking at Sun Microsystems, recently met with IDG's Michael Vizard and Matthew Woollacott. Bressler gave his views on how the developing directory and storage markets will affect Sun's concept that "the network is the computer"IDG: The directory market is gaining momentum, and the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, LDAP, is now well established. Why is LDAP so important?
Bressler: The theory is that you can draw a line between what's basically a database below and protocol stacks that sit on top. LDAP's clearly an important one, but on the other hand so is [Novell Directory Services] today.
IDG: LDAP does have shortcomings. Does it need to be enhanced with features such as replication and access control?
Bressler: There's a very lengthy list. LDAP was kind of - I don't want to use any pejorative words - thrown together a little bit and then 'productised'. This is both good and bad. Simple things tend to become very popular, but on the other hand they're simple.
IDG: So will there be a 'middleweight' version that is modular?
Bressler: An example might be [interaction with databases]. LDAP doesn't now deal with certificates, but yet a database on top of which an LDAP [interface] is built could easily have those certificates in it. And so the customer should have a choice whether to use the extension of LDAP or use a different parallel protocol to get to the certificates. As long as it's a common database, it shouldn't matter.
IDG: So will the vendors jointly define the extensions to LDAP?
Bressler: If history teaches us anything, the first thing they will say is, 'We have this proprietary extension that will make us king of the world', and then when it doesn't, they'll [try to] make it a standard.
IDG: What directory support is there in Java?
Bressler: One of the things that we recognised was that it was critically important for the [Java] platform APIs to include a directory-services interface that was as close as you could get to a superset of what people needed. That's what came out as the Java Naming and Directory Interface, and so we made sure that Novell was supporting it, IBM was supporting it, [Hewlett-Packard] was supporting it, because they were the guys that were pushing particular protocol stacks and wanted to ensure that the services they would offer would be supported by those APIs. It becomes part of the standard Java spec, so all Java licensees have access to that API.
IDG: Aside from directories, the storage market is also going through changes. How does Sun view remote-access vendors' plans to push storage out to the edge of the network?
Bressler: If you've got an environment for which caching makes a lot of sense - if you're loading the same thing frequently from the main server - then local-disk caching makes a lot of sense. In a remote application - remote is generally a code word for slow-speed line - caching is even better. I think we understand that.
IDG: So at some point we wind up with all these cached servers throughout the network?
Bressler: Right, but soon we'll have sensible ageing algorithms, so that caching doesn't mean it only gets refreshed once a year.
IDG: Are you building those?
Bressler: Ad hoc. There is a cache file system for NFS [Network File System]; there's an SMP [symmetric multiprocessing] cache file system I've seen. Over speed-challenged lines they help - a lot.