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Red Hat Delivers Directory Services

New directory servers offer large and small customers the convenience of dealing with a single vendor for more than just an operating system.

Red Hat on Wednesday followed through on last year's acquisition of directory-server software from America Online's former Netscape Security Solutions unit with the unveiling of its new Red Hat Directory and Fedora Directory servers. Both open-source technologies are licensed under the General Public License and deliver integrated directory services that Red Hat Enterprise Linux customers previously had to acquire from third-party vendors.

For Red Hat customers, whether they're small companies or large corporations, the new directory servers are about convenience and vendor consolidation. "Getting [a directory server] from one vendor offers Red Hat users a better deal than going independently through Novell or IBM," says Forrester Research analyst Jonathan Penn.

Red Hat spent about $23 million in September to acquire Netscape Directory Server and Netscape Certificate Management System with the goal of integrating them into the company's Open Source Architecture product road map. Red Hat by the end of the month will offer the Red Hat Directory Server packaged with versions 3 and 4 of its Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system. The company also is making the directory server available to run with the HP-UX 11i and Sun Solaris Unix operating systems. Red Hat offers paid support for each release of Red Hat Directory Server for five years and provides access to updates and upgrades via the Red Hat Network.

Fedora Directory Server will follow more of a grassroots path, with Red Hat likewise making the technology available for free via the Web, but instead relying on the open-source community itself to provide additional development and support. Both directory servers are compliant with Lightweight Directory Access Protocol, or LDAP, and are designed to centralize application settings, user profiles, group data, policies, and access control information in a network-based directory.

Beyond basic directory features, the new technology offers Red Hat an entrée to delivering even more services and moving well beyond the basic operating-system level, Penn says. "That's what it's all about--being able to offer the entire platform and not just the OS," Penn says. "This also positions Red Hat to better integrate with technology such as identity-management software."

The move to add directory services to its product lineup signifies that Red Hat recognizes that security and identity-management are important threads that run through any system. "From a security standpoint, a lot of the attention has gone beyond providing the basic directory to capabilities such as provisioning across multiple systems and offering unified sign-on to multiple applications," Penn says.

Although open-source users have had access to Kerberos network authentication protocol and Open LDAP technology, Red Hat pounced on Netscape's technology when it became available on the market in an effort to deliver directory services that could scale to meet the needs of large companies.

Since 1999, Red Hat rival Novell has offered directory services for Linux users, including Red Hat customers. Since closing its acquisition of SuSE Linux in January 2004, Novell has offered integrated directory services for its SuSE users through the company's eDirectory LDAP-enabled, directory-based identity-management system.

Regardless of whether they come prepackaged with the operating system, directory services lie at the heart of a network and play a crucial role in creating a secure environment, says Gloria Stephenson, assistant directory of network services for Columbia Public Schools in Missouri, which runs Novell's eDirectory to manage its Web portal and LAN. Says Stephenson, "Directory services build a secure network from the ground up."

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