I've spent the last couple of days at the Netpro Directory Experts Conference in Vancouver. I'm not sure if the sessions will be made available as podcasts but I hope so. It's an ultra-focussed conference dealing with Active Directory (AD), Microsoft Identity Integration Services (MIIS) and Active Directory Federation Services (ADFS) – as well as the set of interesting products that live in the same ecology, offered by independent vendors.
The main buzz at the conference was about the MIIS Alliance – a consortium of independent vendors who are building and marketing a synergistic suite of products and solutions that use MIIS as their underlying identity management engine and glue. It is another important milestone in metadirectory's transition from being a kind of “specialty product for the rich and complex” to one of the key underlying technologies of distributed computing. I am impressed by the vision of the Alliance and very encouraged by the things they are doing. Currently the Alliance consists of NetPro, Oblix, Oxford Computer Group, PointBridge, and Vintela. There are many other top drawer vendors building on MIIS as well. For example, Centrify showed a demo of their Linux product, which includes management agents for Linux/Unix, and does WS-Federation with ADFS – incredible.
Most of the sessions were detailed technical ones given by people with lots of hands-on experience and savvy. As a product architect I tend to see software architecture as being about how things are built. This includes decomposing the functional and structural elements to produce a layered or modular design with clean interfaces allowing for extensibility, maximum reuse and simplicity, the proper operational characteristics, usability and provable quality. But the Netpro conference is clearly for people who inhabit our products. Products really are environments and as architects we had better look at them that way. I'm not sure we do a good enough job at that.
There was an analyst session with a distinguished panel: we heard from Thomas Mendel of Forester Research, Earl Perkins of the Meta Group and Nick Nikols and Dan Beckett from the Burton Group. Thomas had interesting things to say about what it means for AD to have passed what he called “the 50% threshhold” on an international level. It is pretty clear that there is a kind of “tipping point” phenomenon happening. A lot of the discussion turned on ways of leveraging the AD information asset for immediate business value. Earl put it this way: “Active Directory is playing a more and more important role in identity management, becoming above all an enabler.”
Thomas mentioned a study of twenty-five companies who had put password self-management in place – achieving on average a 3 month return on investment… Nick talked about the impact ADFS would have by making it easy and inexpensive to leverage directory information to drive federation and single-signon. He said it will put federation within easy reach of pretty well any enterprise. Earl pointed to the paradox that network administrators are so focussed on their day-to-day work that they don't see (or can't influence) the big picture – so that in many cases, enterprises don't understand the information asset that they have. Dan Beckett gave many good examples
One interesting exchaege was between Thomas, who characterized enterprises as still being in “incident management” mode, and Nick Nichols who argued many had crossed over into “proactive solutions” mode. The market obviously consists of both groups, and the discussion was about what comprises the mainstream. Whatever the current situation, this evolution in understanding will be crucial to the future of identity management technologies like MIIS, and developments like the emergence of MIIS Alliance show that ISVs think the market is there.
There was a lot of talk about the effect compliance legislation will have in improving infrastrcture practices. But Earl cautioned we had to be careful to see there would be no silver bullet – that any attempts to put policy into practice would run smack into the problem that policies and reality need to have some relation to each other – and that this will initially not be the case!
I also saw Dave Kearns at the conference – back from his “leave of absence” – and we had some good times. His quill really does sharpen the discussion, and I'm grateful for it. So on to the next item.