As someone actively covering directory services and virtual directories, several innovations have caught my attention. The players within the virtual directory space are (in alphabetical order) Optimal IDM, Oracle, SAP, Radiant Logic, Red Hat, and Symlabs. When it comes to product development and innovation within the last year, you can split those vendors right down the middle. - Optimal IDM, Radiant Logic and Symlabs have been actively developing their product and churning out new features in new versions. The others have not been adding any features, but instead spent time changing logos, product names, default file locations and otherwise integrating the virtual directory products into the respective Oracle/RedHat/SAP identity management ecosystems. In fact, in some of the latter cases I ask myself whether it is likely to expect any virtual directory product innovations anymore.

So what's new? Where's the innovation happening?

Optimal IDM: New connectors have been added for Microsoft SQL Server 2008, eDirectory. A special version for Microsoft Sharepoint integration has also been released, as well as "automated compliance features" that monitor for changes that violate definable rules and alert administrators.

Radiant Logic: Its flagship product, formerly Radiant VDS (Virtual Directory Server) has been split up into to new products: The VDS Proxy Edition and the VDS Context Edition. The former is a classical virtual directory product that falls into the same category than Oracle VDS and the Symlabs Virtual Directory products. The latter is a mix of meta-directory and virtual directory features. Radiant Logic has rewritten major parts of the virtual directory core to make it more efficient in order to overcome performance problems that used to be a weak point in the product.

Symlabs: A full virtual tree functionality has been added. This makes the product easier to configure. In the past, a virtual tree had to be constructed by manually configuring plugins to filter and route requests. This had made configuration more difficult compared to other virtual directory products. This used to be a weak point in their products, like the performance used to be a negative point in Radiant Logic's virtual directory server. Symlabs has also added a complete web-based remote administration interface that can be used instead of, or side-by-side with the local Java configuration interface.

What else is new? The latest piece of news comes from Symlabs who have released a competitive benchmark paper that contains the results of a comprehensive benchmark of the virtual directory servers from Oracle, Radiant Logic and Symlabs. The numbers speak for themselves. Of course, comparative tests by vendors must always be taken with a grain of salt. In the report, Symlabs encourages companies to do their own benchmarks to verify the results in the Symlabs study. However, the numbers are credible and document what has already been known for some time. The Symlabs product comes out as the fastest virtual directory. This is unsurprising, due to a very efficient internal design and a small footprint that this translates to a level of efficiency that surpasses other virtual directory servers.

At second place in the competitive benchmark comes Radiant Logic's VDS Proxy Edition server, which is also interesting. Until end of last year, Radiant Logic's virtual directory product was at the tail end of all performance benchmarks, beaten by both Oracle and Symlabs by - at least - a scale of magnitude. Radiant Logic has done some hard work last year to catch up, and it shows by surpassing the Oracle product in the benchmarks and coming in second place.

The virtual directory segment continues to be innovative. This is good for customers that are increasingly adopting virtual directories as simple point solutions to solve integration issues between applications and directory servers. However, innovation does not happen everywhere. It has been very quiet around Red Hat's, SAP's and Oracle's virtual directory products for a long time - up to now, little has happened with those products. Optimal IDM, Radiant Logic and Symlabs have done some serious enhancements to their products and compete head-on in the virtual directory arena. Remember the old stereotype that smaller companies tend to be much more innovative than the larger ones?