The Redmond, Washington-based software monolith today released new enhancements to its NT-based remote access and Virtual Private Network (VPN) capabilities that are tailored for commercial Internet and network access providers. The new tools will be available to download by the end of the week as a prerelease portion of version 2.0 of Microsoft's Commercial Internet System (MCIS) software package, which is scheduled to enter beta early next year.
VPN technology allows users to initiate a secure connection across a network based on IP (Internet Protocol) and provides business opportunities for service providers focused on the corporate outsourcing market.
The capability is useful as a cost-cutting measure for companies who do not want to deploy a plethora of dedicated leased lines from remote locations to headquarters. The technology can be used across the public Internet, private intranets, or as a mechanism to tie third parties to corporate networks in an "extranet" arrangement.
The new Internet Connection Services for Microsoft RAS Commercial Edition is being offered as an upgrade and requires Windows NT 4.0 and the recently released Option Pack of added NT functions.
The MCIS package was originally designed to be an all-in-one suite to run an online service. The next version will focus on adding functions to ease a service provider's migration toward offering enhanced outsourcing services to corporations, according to Tony Bawcutt, a marketing manager for Microsoft.
Network service providers have traditionally consisted of telecommunications firms and Internet access providers. But many technology companies now lump large corporate intranets into the same category, due to the similar requirements in those settings.
Various Unix flavors have dominated the service provider industry, but Microsoft executives continue to maintain that Windows NT Server can provide a similar function at less cost than Unix-based systems giants like Sun Micosystems and IBM.
Additions to existing VPN functionality in NT now include Internet Authentication Server Commercial Edition which includes a RADIUS server and a RADIUS Proxy Server. The RADIUS protocol facilitates security during a remote access connection by authenticating users.
Also included in the enhancements is support for a variety of database back-ends, including those offered by competitors to Microsoft's SQL Server like Sybase and Oracle. "It's basically making it fit into an infrastructure that is not necessarily all NT," Bawcutt said.