Search Engines and LDAP Servers

This week I was plagued by several small irritating problems, the kind of problems that makes you think that, despite the billions of pages on the web, you alone are afflicted with a particular technical difficulty. What I hate most about these problems is that they become so time consuming, partly because it becomes a battle of wills between you and the machine and mainly because information is so difficult to query..

What search engines need

The problem with search engines is that they are only effective when you already have an idea where to look. Basically once you narrow a problem down, based on your existing knowledge, you are able to interactively work with the search engine to find the solution to your problem. This guided dialog you have with say, google, helps you quickly find the solution. When, however, you have exhausted all your deductive reasoning about the problem you are at a loss. What do you ask the search engine? Maybe one day we will have our information indexed in such a manner that just descibing the symptoms will leads to a solution.

Centralised user authentication

When assessing an open source applications for use internally one of the things we look at is user management. For us this means "does it integrate with an ldap server"? A centralised,redunant ldap solution eases the burden of account maintenance. Even when you are using only a handful of applications, adding and deleting users can become very time consuming when every application has its own user database. Not only is this time consuming but also a security risk as it is easy to forget to remove a user from all applications. The answer to this is a centralised ldap server.

Until recently the only viable open source ldap server was openldap. OpenLdap, although powerful and robust, is difficult to configure and setup. Just to add a new user requires someone with a degree of knowledge and skill. Luckily for us thougt there is now an alternative on the market -Fedora's Directory Server. It is Java based and has a really nice looking GUI interface. I have been watching the project for a while and it went into its first release some time ago. I just haven't had the chance to play around with it yet. I intend to evaluate it and move our office off openldap if it goes well.

This week we are installing our Asterisk server. I can't wait :) I will let you know how it goes