It's not just a network anymore.
Bay Networks (BAY) will place its stake in the ground as a provider of network-based software services for enterprise business applications based on IP, the dominant communications protocol for the Net.
The next battleground for inter-networking companies such as Cisco Systems, 3Com, Cabletron Systems, and Bay will not be based solely on a pure speed argument about how fast a particular piece of hardware can zip data packets to their destination.
More likely customers will be won over by the package of software a company can offer to allow users, network segments, third parties, and older systems to inter-communicate in a secure fashion across wide geographic areas.
Expanding on a strategy originally announced in May, Bay will offer software that initially gives administrators and users a set of services covering policy and directories, traffic management, security, and virtual private networks (VPN). Other areas of focus Bay will address in the coming months include services for applications such as multimedia and voice over IP, as well as technologies that tie old environments such as IBM SNA (systems network architecture) to IP (Internet protocol).
"You don't have to have all the pieces of it," said Kelly McGovern, vice president of Internet/telecommunications marketing for Bay. "You just have to look at what you need on your network today."
Analysts say Bay is heading down the right path, but it's a path that's becoming heavily tred. "I think IP is a really good thing to hang your hat on, the problem is everyone is hanging their hat on it," said Maribel Lopez, an analyst with Forrester Research.
Lopez said Bay has hit on the right theme by calling for the end of protocols and services targeted at different "layers" of the network. This approach has governed networking for some time, she said, but Bay is right to focus all their efforts on IP. "What they're really trying to say is the user shouldn't care how they get their services," Lopez said.
Analysts also said that Bay's key to moving forward is execution, given the large shadow that networking monolith Cisco Systems casts over the industry.
A portion of the technology Bay will use to fulfill its strategy comes from its April acquisition of Isotro Network Management for $11 million. Isotro specializes in software that can manage addresses sent via prominent communications protocols such as IP, DNS (domain name service), and DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol). It also supports the LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol) specification that is supported by most directories.
"I think they finally get it," noted Craig Johnson, principal analyst with Current Analysis. "I should allow them to make a lot of noise in the marketing area. The battles [for these services] will really be when you get into new accounts.
"I don't think anybody's in a leadership position overall," he said.
Bay is also expected to announce partnerships with prominent companies that make directory technology. Though Bay officials would not elaborate, likely suspects include Microsoft's Active Directory and Novell's Directory Services. This will allow Bay gear and software to be incorporated when an administrator uses a central directory to set access rights for networked users.
The company also announced an upgrade to its routing software. New features include support for the latest version of IP, version 6, as well as address translation. Support for protocols such as RSVP (resource reservation protocol) allow the routing code to allocate bandwidth for a particular network segment that may be doing network-intensive tasks.
Bay has also enlisted San Jose, California-based VPNet Technologies to help them augment their current dial VPN technology. A VPN allows a user to set up a secure connection to a corporate network via tunneling technology. The technology is quickly gaining steam in the networking industry as companies search for cost-effective methods to connect users across geographically dispersed sites without expensive leased lines or private wide area pipes. The VPN services will be available next month.
Other elements of the plan, including support for directory services platforms, is due in the first half of 1998.