Friday, April 11, 2008

A herring of a different color

You almost had me, Kim. I read your latest entry and was ready to share that olive branch. Right up to the last paragraphs when you say (about me):

"...He keeps saying I propose 'a directory that gathers and holds ALL the data from ALL your other directories.' Dave, this is just untrue and unhelpful. “ALL” was never the goal - or the practice - of metadirectory, and you know it. The goal was to represent the 'object core' - the attributes shared across many applications and that need therefore to be kept consistent and synchronized if stored in multiple places. Our other goal was to maintain the knowledge about what objects 'were called' in different directories and databases (thus the existence of 'connector space').

Basically, the ”ALL” argument is a red herring..."

Not at all. Let's step back a pace or two, or a posting or two, and think about the reasons for having this meta/virtual directory. Yes, it helps to normalize the data and keep it in sync. But if that were all, than a couple of keyboard monkeys could handle the chore and, at least in the case of normalization, could do it more quickly than a semi-automated process.

But the real reason we want to do this is so that identity data is available to applications. Available to them using a single vocabulary and a single protocol. Not that there can't be multiple vocabularies and protocols, but any one application would only need to use one of each - each application programmer would only need to use the vocabulary and protocol she was most familiar with.

But for this to be effective, the programmer needs to know that any identity data they need is available through this mechanism. And the only way any data can be available is if all data is available. The identity data must be pervasive and ubiquitous - available whenever and wherever you need it.

From the application's point of view, it should appear to be a single silo but in reality, the data will be distributed throughout the fabric of the network both within and without the enterprise, the identity provider or other data store.

The promise of the meta/virtual directory is that it can serve up the current, correct data on demand from wherever it resides. And to do that, it has to aim to provide all identity data.

Now, to forestall some people, let me add that the security of this system is a given- there need to be strict and fine-grained access controls for the data. There need to be well designed mechanisms allowing for whoever controls a bit of data to authorize its release. Without these things the system is useless because no one would use it.

But this systems needs to aim to have available all identity data, every conceivable bit of it. Because without that, the application programmer can't be sure that the bit he needs is there and so will set up alternative storage for the bits that that application needs.

We're not there yet, but we need to go that way.

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I have been following the ongoing meta versus virtual directory debate with interest. It seems to me, and has done since I began our identity management research three years ago, that there is a place for both if we are to enable the effective use of identity data in a world of distributed, service-oriented application delivery that crosses trust boundaries.

A variety of factors will influence the relevant mix of technology - ownership; frequency of data update; network latency and availability; application dependencies; privacy and data protection issues; regulatory compliance demands and so forth.

Also, there has to be some degree of centralisation/control for metadata management and semantic interoperability.

The current debate brings back memories of the operational data store versus distributed data warehouse versus datamart versus client-side OLAP cubes debate from my days at Oracle and Sybase in the late 80s early 90s. Ultimately, they were all the right answer - it's the questions that were different.
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