Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quest Acquires Symlabs Virtual Directory - And what EVERYONE missed about this acquisition!

Quest recently announced the acquisition of Symlabs, a virtual directory vendor. There are several things that are interesting about the acquisition and I will explore some of them in this blog.

First and foremost is what Quest says in their press release, as well as what they don't say. As they state in the press release, the major reason for the acquisition is to embed the technology into the existing products that Quest sells. In fact, they had already done this integration for their Defender application, allowing them to not extend the Active Directory schema by virtualizing this in the virtual directory. As many of you all know, a virtual directory can be used to solve a myriad of problems and this was just one of them. Of course this was not the only application that Quest has that will benefit from the virtual directory technology. Quest has a host of products and that is one of the reasons that this acquisition was so compelling for them, as it is not a one trick pony.

Something that is specifically not said in the press release is any mention of Quest selling the virtual directory independently. All accounts are that Quest will not be selling the product independently. This is not a real surprise either since selling a virtual directory solution is a pretty technical sale and not one suited too well for an organization like Quest.

Here is perhaps the most interesting thing about the acquisition that I believe EVERYONE has completely missed. It is no secret that Quest's Jackson Shaw was the primary influencer behind this acquisition. But now let's start with some history to see why this is so darn interesting (at least to me). Once upon a time (1999-to 2005) Jackson was a product manager for a fairly well known company called Microsoft. He was specifically in the Active Directory group. I even had the pleasure of working with him while working at a different Microsoft partner at the time, OpenNetwork.

Now we are getting to the interesting part. How did Jackson come to find himself at Microsoft? The same way that Kim Cameron (recently resigned from Microsoft) landed there. A little old company that they were a part of called ZOOMIT. Yes, the company that basically invented the metadirectory. Of course this product has gone through many name changes over the years at Microsoft but the core is still there. It was MMS, MIIS, ILM and now it is called FIM.

Jackson was a VP of sales at ZOOMIT, but as with many small companies that was just one hat he wore at the company. Suffice it to say that Jackson was very involved in the architecture and design of the worlds first metadirectory. I can tell you first hand that when you are involved in developing a product like this, you tend to be passionate about your product and technology. I know I sure am passionate when it comes to our Virtual Identity Server product and virtual directories in general.

So why is this history lesson so important? Well, let's take a look at what Jackson thinks now. A little more than 10 years later and one of the fathers of the metadirectory is quoted by Dave Kearns as saying "Let's be honest. The metadirectory is dead. Approaches that look like a metadirectory are dead".

Wow! That is a pretty big about face if you ask me!
Insert your favorite analogy here... Such as the vegetarian who suddenly switches to meat only.

The point of this is not to debate whether the metadirectory is dead. In my opinion, the bigger point is how this demonstrates that Jackson kept an open mind to new technologies. It would have been really easy for him to keep "blinders" on and to attack all problems with the same answer (synchronization). Instead, Jackson has seen that there is more than just synchronization and that virtual directory technologies often complement a synch process. I know many great technical people who are of the opinion that synchronization is ALWAYS the answer.

Back in 2009, his blog had a pretty interesting quote as well.

"Are meta-directory and virtual directory products melding – blurring the lines between themselves? Yes, and it’s high time that they did.

Generally speaking, I think a customer can benefit from both of these technologies so why not use one product for that? Simple is always better. A virtual directory is the perfect veneer to stick on top of your directory infrastructure(s) because it allows you to swap underlying directory pieces in and out as your business changes."

I think he pretty much nailed it with this quote and I believe every customer that is using a virtual directory would whole heartily agree with his statement.