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From Static Directories to Context Servers

Bonjour and welcome to the Radiant Logic blog!

My team and I will use this as a place to share ideas with you on directory virtualization, data services abstraction, and other topics, with a particular emphasis on identity and context. Now, you may have heard me talk about context before. You may have even thought to yourself, “context, context, it’s always context with this guy Michel.”

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.

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 keep reinventing them!?
  • What is the role of data service virtualization, and why is it 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.

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