DSML: An Rx for Directory Service Interoperability?

Analysts at two respected analyst firms, Forrester Research and Giga Group, recently spoke out in favor of Directory Service Markup Language. DSML is an extension of Extensible Markup Language (XML) that lets applications make generic calls to directory data, letting the applications interoperate with a large number of directory services, including Novell Directory Services (NDS) and Microsoft’s Active Directory (AD). DSML is the brainchild of start-up (Bowstreet with the cooperation of the directory world heavyweights: Novell, Microsoft, the Sun-Netscape Alliance, Oracle, and IBM. Small differences in how different directory services refer to data attributes make interoperability difficult. For example, Thi’s Directory Service might store my name under attributes called LastName and FirstName, while Barrie’s Directory Service might store his name as SurName and GivenName. This lack of standardization requires extensive customization so that the directories can interoperate. Currently, any application that supports different directory services must specifically code for each directory service. DSML will eliminate the need for customization. Giga Group’s Jonathan Penn issued a brief analysis to Giga Group clients. “Applications written in DSML would be able to understand and use any directory that publishes XML documents describing schema in terms of standard XML metatags,” he explained. “This use of DSML also makes it possible for directories to understand each other’s content, facilitating synchronization and metadirectory capabilities.” Penn added, “DSML-compliant directories would publish schema information in the form of an XML document, to be shared by applications and other directories, not only Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP), but also other native Internet protocols, such as HTTP and SMTP.” According to Penn, “From a directory-vendor perspective, support for DSML will be a ‘must have’ feature.” He added that ISVs building directory-enabled applications should definitely use DSML. At Forrester Research, Analyst Charles Rutstein issued a criticism of directory services in general. He argued that lack of standardization would hamper many potential uses. He urged Forrester clients to look for DSML in future purchases. “Although the technology won’t appear in a material way until mid-2001,” wrote Rutstein, “users should press vendors for DSML-compliance and make DSML a check-box item on future purchases.” Bowstreet is working on a DSML standard and submitted a first version of the specifications to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) on December 7. (OASIS is the main XML standards organization.) DSML specifications were also submitted to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for Microsoft’s BizTalk. For more information about DSML, see the DSML Web site.

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