In an unusual twist, Microsoft is plotting to beat Novell's popular directory technology - by joining it.
To do so, Microsoft engineers are working on a one-way directory synchronisation product that will let Microsoft's Active Directory Service work with Novell Directory Services (NDS) to manage users across NT and NetWare servers.
But Microsoft, which won't ship this yet-to-be-announced directory synchronisation product until after NT 5.0 ships sometime in the middle of next year, is coming very late into the directory game.
In fact, the revelation is viewed by Novell as a classic case of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). Microsoft will do anything it can to try to delay customers from adopting NDS for NT, claims Michael Simpson, director of marketing at Novell.
"But no matter how much spin they put on it, the fact remains that we have got something on the market that works today, and they've got nothing," he says.
Industry observers seem to agree with Novell that Microsoft is trying to dampen interest in NDS for NT by talking about its own directory synchronisation product almost a full year before it plans to ship Active Directory.
"Microsoft has resigned itself to coexistence with NetWare for the foreseeable future. They are clearly looking for a way to make Active Directory the master and NDS the slave in mixed environments," says Jon Oltsik, an analyst with Forrester Research Group in Massachusetts.
There's been a flurry of NT and NDS directory synchronisation products in the past 18 months, especially because Microsoft has pushed NT 4.0 into most corporate shops where Novell's NetWare has traditionally ruled the roost.
Without these synchronisation tools network managers are forced to maintain duplicate network operating system infrastructures and end users are often required to log on to the NT and NetWare systems separately.
Microsoft's NT 5.0-to-NDS synchronisation product - referred to internally as the Active Directory Connector for NDS - will ship as a stand-alone product sometime after NT 5.0 hits the streets next year, says Peter Houston, NT product manager.
The product will tap into Active Directory databases at intervals defined by the administrator in order to determine what changes, additions and deletions have been made to the directory.
The product will then propagate those changes down to servers hosting NDS.
Houston says Microsoft has no plans to propagate changes made to the NDS database back up to Active Directory. "I fully expect that third-party independent software vendors will provide that add-on feature," Houston says.
The application will have the ability to map attributes across the two directory services. For example, if Active Directory stores a user's first and last name as two attributes but NDS stores it as only one, then the application knows to consolidate the two Active Directory attributes before sending it over the wire.
Microsoft will also ship a graphical user interface administration tool, which will let an administrator define exactly which user and network device attributes need to be synchronised between systems. This granularity is necessary for performance reasons, Houston says.
"Sending information about every single attribute across the wire could be costly in terms of network bandwidth," he says.