Among the most rapidly evolving niches in the Linux enterprise market is integration with Microsoft Active Directory.  We last visited this area back in July 2010, but a lot has changed since then, with new partnerships announced and new software released.  Here are some of the highlights of these developments, with a focus on their relationship to the latest Ubuntu release, 10.10.

Unless you prefer the do-it-yourself approach to AD integration via Winbind and Samba, there are only two major players in this niche: Centrify and Likewise.  The two companies offer a suite of similar products, available in both free-to-use and licensed versions, that "automagically" join Unix-based hosts to a Windows domain and share its resources.

The software behind Centrify and Likewise hasn't changed too much since we last compared the products in the summer, when both had recently pushed out new releases.  Their channel, however, has evolved in important ways.

Centrify-Canonical partnership

For one, Centrify last week announced a partnership with Canonical that puts its software in the Ubuntu partner repository on Ubuntu 10.04 and 10.10.  That may not be the most exciting happening in the Ubuntu world this year, but its importance shouldn't be underestimated: Centrify is one of only nine applications in the partner repository, and as such enjoys an opportunity to stand out within the Ubuntu Software Center.

Centrify's move into the partner repository is also remarkable given the fact that a few months ago it was not available from any Ubuntu repository.  The change means that Centrify has now placed itself on a more even keel with Likewise, which could be installed from the Ubuntu Software Center (and its predecessors) since the time of Ubuntu 8.04.  It also highlights Centrify's focus on ensuring compatibility with Ubuntu, an area which involved some embarrassing bugginess for Likewise immediately following the Ubuntu 10.10. release.

Likewise and the cloud

Likewise's strategy, meanwhile, has diverged from that of Centrify in certain respects over the last few months, as the former increasingly focuses on the cloud.  The company announced a new virtual appliance in August, and was full of enthusiasm for the cloud-centric features of Ubuntu 10.10 Server Edition when it debuted last month.  Note, in particular, Likewise's emphasis on its blog on interoperability between the cloud and other parts of the network:
Gone are the days when it was one server box talking to another server box on the same rack or somewhere across the room. Now physical servers and virtual servers may share the same physical space or are located thousands of miles apart, while still being treated as part of the same network topology.

That’s a huge challenge for systems administrators. How do you coordinate security over that kind of layout? Application communication? User authentication? It was difficult enough when just dealing with different operating systems. Now sysadmins have to manage virtual and cloud-based machines as well.
We've yet to see any publicly announced collaboration between Canonical and Likewise in the cloud arena, but it seems a safe bet that this is an area to watch as a new year approaches.  My money is on Likewise unveiling technology to help share resources and authenticate users across a geographically dispersed network involving a variety of different operating systems and hosts.

Whichever directions Likewise and Centrify follow in the future, however, Ubuntu server administrators can take comfort in the fact that the software already available provides a comprehensive solution to AD integration, and represents a huge improvement over the era when hacking Samba configuration files was the only way to make Linux and AD get along.

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