From Static Directories to Context Servers

Michel Prompt is CEO of Radiant Logic. Over the next several weeks, Michel will look at the emerging issues with digital identity, directory virtualization, data services abstraction and a host of other topics.

Back from break (Inside the Cardboard Server)

Bonjour! My name is Michel Prompt and I am the founder and CEO of Radiant Logic. When my company announced the first-ever virtual directory server nearly ten years ago, we knew we had a cost-effective way to solve the challenges of user-directory integration—and enterprises all over the world have benefited from this technology. Now I’m excited to explore where virtual directories are headed next—something we’re calling identity and context virtualization.

Thanks to Tek-Tips for the opportunity to share ideas with you on directory virtualization, data services abstraction, and other topics, with a particular emphasis on identity and context. So what does digital identity have to do with context? And what does context have to do with directory virtualization? Well, if you’ll bear with me for a little detour through the world of directories, I think it will all begin to come into focus.

Directories: Plateau, Legacy…and Renaissance?

After a period of high excitement and fast adoption, directories (by that I mean essentially LDAP directories or their equivalent) have reached a plateau phase. Technically, there’s not much happening and to some extent they’re now legacy. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom would have you believe.

In fact, it’s the issues facing the current directories (and the whole data service layer, really)—things like difficult integrations and lack of flexibility—that have driven the trend toward virtualization. I’d compare it to the evolution of OS virtualization. In the beginning, IBM virtualization on mainframe and then VMware and other virtualization layers, was just about abstracting the low level hardware/devices, so that one legacy operating system would coexist with another. As progress was made, better understanding of this virtualization layer brought about the current craze of server abstraction and the move toward “elastic” and cloud computing.

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Linking Identity and Context
I believe that data services virtualization, particularly directory virtualization, will provide another layer of abstraction, a key service that enables a common representation of not only objects, but also their relationships. Not only objects as isolated nouns, but objects forming sentences, organized in relevant context describing the business processes, the myriad of contexts buried in our applications and data silos. The impact in terms of security and identity management would be immediate, but I believe the scope could be a lot larger. It’s about linking identities with the vital context surrounding them.

This is a big topic, and one I’ll be developing here over more posts. I’ll also be considering other questions relevant to the future of identity, security, and data integration, such as:

• Why do we need directories in the first place?
• What can we still learn from the directories, or any supposedly “outmoded” hierarchical structure (XML, XML databases, file system, etc…)? Why do we keeping reinventing them!?
• What is the role of data service virtualization, and why it is a lot larger than the current narrow definition of a virtual directory? Why do we need a context layer, a service that could be a key requirement for an efficient smart, and secure service-oriented architecture?  
• And of course, we’ll have to address the usual suspects: speed, scalability, flexibility, and security.
Thanks for reading, and please feel free to join the conversation.

Michel Prompt

About Michel Prompt

Michel is a world-renowned developer, researcher and entrepreneur who most recently founded Radiant Logic, a software company focused on integrating Directory Services (LDAP), XML and databases to enable companies to easily locate and combine information housed in disparate databases and better manage e-business. Prior to founding Radiant Logic in 1995, Prompt served as Senior Vice President of Client/Server Technology at Knowledgeware, now known as Sterling Software. In 1986, Prompt founded Matesys SA in France, a company dedicated to providing services and database support. Matesys introduced the first "file-manager," duplicating the "Apple Macintosh finder" under Windows 2.1 and sold 500,000 copies to IBM for academic bundles. Prompt founded Matesys Corp., in the U.S., in 1991, becoming one of the pioneer companies in client/server technology. Matesys introduced one of the first visual programming tools under Windows 3.0 for the client/server market (Object View). Prompt successfully sold the company to Knowledgeware in 1993. Prior to Matesys, Prompt was a core developer in the database group of the GCOS 7.0 Operating System for Bull Systems. He also served as a consultant to Cap Sogeti Gemini, one of the largest IT service companies in Europe. Prompt received his diploma from Institut Politiques de Paris (Political Sciences Institute of Paris). He has a Masters degree in applied mathematics from Paris Dauphine University and received a diploma of advanced studies in computer science from Paris Dauphine University.

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