The competition to set the agenda for managing the directory services of heterogeneous networks heated up yesterday as Novell, IBM, Lotus, Oracle, Data Connection Limited, and ISOCOR jointly announced the creation of the Directory Interoperability Forum (DIF). Other members of the group that will develop products based on DIF's work are Allot Communications, Alteon WebSystems, Altiris, AT&T, Aventail, AXENT Technologies, Bow Street, Cisco Systems, Citrix Systems, DASCOM, enCommerce, Entrust Technologies, Evergreen, Food.com, HAHT Software, Lucent, Netegrity, NetPro, NetObjects, NetVision, Network Associates, Oblix, Orbital Software, Process Software, Proginet, Protek, Protocom Development Systems, Red Hat, The Open Group, Triangulum Software, VeriSign and webMethods. The industry group plans to merge the various directory services found in messaging, database, and network OS products into a standard based on the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). By creating one standard, DIF will greatly reduce the number of directory services that independent software vendors (ISVs) have to write products for. Directories are a critical and developing component of any serious network enterprise planning. They let a business store demographics, security, network and device configuration, messaging infrastructure, and many other kinds of information. And because directory services are extensible, the technology might become extremely pervasive. DIF quoted a study by Forrester Research that said, "Fortune 500 companies typically maintain as many as 190 separate directories, making interoperability among the applications that use them critical." By creating a standard directory for applications and services, a network manager's job would be a lot easier and would make writing enterprise software less complicated, especially in heterogeneous networks. A standard directory would also provide significant benefits in the areas of security, e-commerce, and information interchange. DIF will emphasize the creation of open standards so that software developers can write their applications to these standards without having to redesign network infrastructure. DIF's goal is to provide tools for developers such as a software development kit (SDK) to help incorporate the standard directory functionality into their applications. The group will work with industry standard associations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Open Group and the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF) to create and codify these standards worldwide. The DIF initiative has been in the works for several months, and the group has tested several major applications to ensure that they conform to the standard LDAP protocols that the group is proposing. Current LDAP-enabled directory services products include IBM SecureWay Directory, Novell Directory Services (NDS), Lotus Domino Directory, and Netscape Directory. Applications that the group has tested with these directory services include IBM WebSphere, IBM Blue Pages, Lotus Domino, Lotus Notes, Tivoli Management products, Novell GroupWise, and Novell Net Publisher. Microsoft and Netscape were both conspicuously absent from the list of original DIF members. Both companies are close to introducing major new directory services products of their own--Active Directory in Windows 2000 and Netscape Directory Server. By extension, also absent were America Online (AOL) and Sun Microsystems (both companies are carving up Netscape's technology base). Although DIF approached both AOL and Sun Microsystems, each company declined to join the initial group. Because DIF is building its directory services model, API, and SDK around the industry LDAP standard that these other directory services products are based on, Microsoft and Netscape might eventually join the group or make their products compatible with the upcoming DIF standard. For more information about DIF, visit their Web site at http://www.directoryforum.com.