NDS eDirectory: The Directory of Directories?

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In the article
Exploring Novell’s One Net Vision
, I wrote about how the company was translating this vision into a productive reality. As I discussed, at the heart of Novell’s strategy is Novell Directory Services (NDS). In this article, I will look at what NDS is and the role it plays in one Net.

NDS Primer

Novell Directory Services (NDS) is a database system that holds information on network objects such as users, groups and servers. The database can be divided up into partitions, which can then be replicated across the network to foster fault tolerance and accessibility.

DirXML is a directory-based XML infrastructure that allows developers to produce applications that pull data from–and port data to–a directory system via XML.

NDS’s origins can be traced back to 1994, when Novell introduced NetWare 4.0. The system it replaced (the Bindery) was a server-centric model that made it difficult to manage large numbers of users on multiple servers. The benefits that NDS offered over Bindery were significant, and it was adopted widely. Today’s NDS looks very similar to that first version, although improvements have been made in both flexibility and reliability.

Possibly the biggest challenge facing those new to Novell’s directory services offerings is determining what versions are available, and which purpose they’re designed for. To start at the beginning, let’s clarify one thing. Novell produces only one version of directory services: NDS eDirectory. If you’ve heard of another product called NDS eDirectory Corporate Edition and wonder where it went, its short life ended when it was renamed Account Management. The reason behind the renaming is unclear, and serves to further muddy the NDS eDirectory waters. One possible reason behind the renaming may have been to stress the differences between eDirectory and eDirectory Corporate edition.

NDS eDirectory is an LDAP and DirXML compliant data repository designed to provide organizations with the ability to store and manage information on objects. What happens to the information after that is the responsibility of the application using it. NDS eDirectory is available for Solaris, Linux, Microsoft Windows NT/2000, and (of course) NetWare. On its own, NDS eDirectory offers little functionality beyond that of a data storage system; but its standard compliance and flexibility make it a strong solution for those business, such as e-tailers, who need to store and manage large amounts of information on many objects. NDS eDirectory certainly seems to be hitting the right notes–it was recently awarded the Network World Readers Choice Award for best LDAP server system.

Account Management, on the other hand, is an example of the functionality that NDS eDirectory can provide. Account Management gives the ability to manage user accounts across NetWare, Windows NT/2000, Linux, and Solaris systems. Administration of objects in the directory can be performed through the Java-based utility Console One, or on a Windows platform through NetWare administrator. By providing cross-enterprise ability, Account Management addresses one of the most complex challenges facing IT designers. Rather than selecting a network operating system that fulfills one role excellently and others adequately, selection can be based on the simple criteria of the best OS for the job. If you want a Linux firewall solution, a Windows 2000 system to act as an application server, and a NetWare server for file and print services, then Account Management provides the ability to manage users and other network objects transparently across the enterprise.

Not wanting to make the NDS naming story any more complicated than it is already, Account Management on NetWare platforms is called NDS. Why? Well, because it always has been–and the success Novell has had with NetWare and NDS is one of its biggest victories. Renaming NDS to Account Management for NetWare could lead some to believe that NDS is dead. As the saying goes, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

NDS and Account Management

Pricing and Evaluation

The relative functions, abilities, and applications of each product are reflected in the cost. Pricing for NDS eDirectory is a very reasonable $2 per user–a figure that some financial analysts feel is too low to rescue Novell’s ailing finances. That may be, but when you consider the intended purpose of NDS eDirectory and the potential market, you can see how things could work out in Novell’s favor. The target market for Account Management is a little more (excuse the pun) corporate, and so the price tag of $26 per user seems very reasonable.

If the desire grabs you, you can evaluate the latest version of NDS eDirectory, but with one very odd quirk. For some reason, and I’m sure it’s a good one, evaluation licenses for NDS eDirectory have a waiting period–of up to two days! This little feature not only prevented me from installing NDS eDirectory on a Linux server to see how it shaped up, it also got me thinking about whether Novell really understands how to get people to try products. To add a further twist to the evaluation tale, there is currently no evaluation offering for Account Management.



NDS eDirectory and Account Management are core to Novell’s one Net vision, and they make it easy to manage information about objects–whether inside or outside the corporate boundary. The management tools are easy to use and, in some cases, offer distinct advantages over their native counterparts. Novell, it seems, has all the elements in place for NDS eDirectory to be a huge success, except one thing: that old marketing problem again! //

Drew Bird (MCT, MCNI) is a freelance instructor and technical writer. He has been working in the IT industry for 12 years and currently lives in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can e-mail Drew at drew.bird@tecmetrix.com.

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