Burton Group report slams Sun Directory Services

Analyst calls Sun directory strategy confusing

By Stephanie Steenbergen

November  1997
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San Francisco (November 1, 1997) -- Analyst firm the Burton Group has released a report criticizing Sun's directory services strategy as confusing and not well suited for the heavyweight directory market that Sun hopes to sell into. The report's author, analyst Larry Gauthier, chronicles the emergence of Sun Directory Services, Sun's entry product into the LDAP Directory Market.

On September 15, 1997, Sun released Sun Directory Services (Sun DS). This is not Sun's first leap into the Internet directory services arena. However, it may be its most important. Sun DS is to become the core technology for WebTone, Sun's vision for providing reliable Internet, extranet, and intranet connectivity. Sun says that Sun DS will be the core directory technology for a variety of workgroup, collaboration, and enterprise applications, which include e-mail, calendaring, shared files, management, inventory control, user profiling, and authorization.

Despite this explanation from Sun, The Burton Group believes Sun DS is inherently flawed. Burton's Network Strategy Report claims that Sun DS lacks the attributes of an "enterprise-ready, production-quality product." What leads to this indictment? The Burton Group contends that Sun's Directory Service is flawed because it is confusing on a number of levels.

First, The Burton Group is confused about Sun's late entry in the market. "With Sun DS, Sun is acknowledging the need for global directory services and support of emerging Internet directory services.," said the report, which also dinged Sun for basing Sun DS on the three-year-old Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) Version 2 rather than the newer version 3 LDAP specification.

Why did Sun choose version 2 instead of version 3? "The whole purpose of following [LDAP] protocol is interoperability. Version 3 is still a draft. It's not totally stable, and it's not a done deal. It's the wrong idea to do it at this time," said Jean Pierre Baudouin of Sun Microsystems in Grenoble, France. "V3 will be a slight improvement of what you see today. It's just refinement," he continued.

The Burton Group also finds Sun's directory strategy to be puzzling. "There is no heir-apparent to leadership in this emerging directory market. The leader will be the vendor(s) who can clearly articulate a directory vision and deliver product based on that vision," said the report. When asked what Sun's vision ought to be, Larry Gauthier, Burton Group analyst and the report's author, described what Sun ought not do: "If they [Sun] aspire to leadership in the Internet directory space, their strategy cannot be to provide `a variety of solutions to a variety of customers on a variety of platforms;' nor can it accommodate four products (X.500, NIS, NIS+, and Sun DS) all of which are described with precisely the same adjectives; nor can it tolerate loosely coupled commitments to Novell and Netscape."

Sun wants to offer a variety of solutions for it's customers, but Gauthier points out that Sun presently provides no less than six directory products for Solaris. "Four of these are produced by Sun itself, and two are sold or bundled through special arrangements with strategic partners," he writes, adding, "The four Sun products include this new Sun Directory Services, Network Information System (NIS) and Network Information System Plus (NIS+), and Sun's Solstice X.500 Directory Server product. NIS and NIS+ are bundled with each shipment of Sun's Solaris operating system. Sun's X.500 directory, sold as a separate product, now includes an LDAP gateway for access from LDAP-enabled clients."

Sun, however, sees little room for confusion on the part of customers regarding it's WebTone directory service strategy. "We'll continue to see this directory gain momentum within Sun. It's embedded within the core technology of Sun's mail server. Its technology is being adopted and gaining momentum within Sun. The more directories that we roll out, more and more the markets will see that it's an Internet-based directory," said Mary Camarada, a Sun spokesperson.


Collaboration or competition?
The Network Strategy Report also points out that Sun's directory strategy is confusing because of its well-known partnerships with Netscape and Novell -- two companies Sun now appears to be competing with. Sun, for example now ships either the Netscape SuiteSpot Standard Edition or the New Messaging Provisioning Starter Pack with its Ultra Enterprise 450 servers, but "Sun has made it clear, however, that these packaging arrangements do not constitute a strategic commitment to the Netscape directory," according to the report.

Sun DS is also bound to strain, confuse, or muddle Sun's relationship with Novell. "Novell has long referred to Sun's agreement to bundle NDS (Novell Directory Service) with Solaris as a key indicator of NDS's market penetration beyond traditional NetWare sites, and evidence of a working cross-platform strategy," writes Gauthier.

Anything good?
Though the report criticizes Sun DS, it does quietly point out some positive features of the new directory service like its journaling capabilities, which give Sun DS some unique disaster recovery features. Sun is also praised for its having a server-to-server replication scheme that propagates only changes to the directory, not the entire database.

In areas of performance and scalability, the Burton Group is also kind:

Nevertheless, the decibel of The Burton Group's criticism is far higher than its praise for Sun DS. Due to what he calls the product's technical shortcomings and sparse feature set and coupled with Sun's confusing directory strategy, Gauthier thinks Sun Directory Services "has little chance of taking a leadership role in the directory market" until such issues are resolved.


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