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Best-of-breed or one-stop shop?

Vendors are opting to either do one thing well, the so-called "best of breed" approach, or to offer an end-to-end solution, where technology buyers can get everything they need from one company.

Best-of-breed or one-stop shop?

Those divergent strategies are emerging in the security and e-commerce software markets, as vendors opt either to do one thing well, the so-called "best of breed" approach, or to offer an end-to-end solution, where technology buyers can get everything they need from one company.

Microsoft, a prototypical end-to-ender, last week unveiled its software for ISPs and telcos to run an Internet access and hosting business.

It's Microsoft through and through: Windows NT 4.0, Internet Information Server 4.0, its Microsoft Commercial Internet System, the ISP software. Version 2.0 adds Microsoft's e-commerce tools, reflecting many hosting outfits' desires to host Web storefronts too.

"It's a very comprehensive platform--nobody else, on Unix or Windows NT--has tied it all together," contended Anthony Bay, general manager of Microsoft's commercial systems business.

Sun Microsystems and other Unix bigots immediately and predictably began carping that NT isn't up to the task. But as NT makes inroads in the enterprise, the ISPs who want to run outsourced applications for corporate customers must follow, at least in part, the move to NT.

In the security market, Network Associates, Axent, and Secure Computing are pursuing their own variants of the end-to-end strategy, mostly growing by acquisition. Microsoft grew much of its ISP technology at home, though acquisitions like eShop, NetCarta, and Interse contributed key pieces too.

Network Associates, which started as antivirus firm McAfee Associates, aims to become a one-stop shop for both network security and network management software. That's the logic behind CEO Bill Larson's acquisition binge, since last fall swallowing Network General, firewall firm Trusted Information Systems, encryption outfit Pretty Good Privacy, Helix Software, and Magic Solutions.

But Secure Computing demonstrates the perils of growth by acquisition--it suffered through most of 1997 putting its house in order after doing three acquisitions in a six-month period in 1996.

Creating a single end-to-end security suite sounds sensible, but wedding the disparate pieces assembled by acquisitions can be a challenge. Listen up, Mr. Larson.

Internet Security Systems best illustrates the best-of- breed approach. ISS is zeroed in on what it calls "adaptive network security," which basically means keeping bad guys and snoopers off private networks. ISS has software for both network probes, scanning to detect security weakness before hackers do, and intrusion detection, which monitors networks or specific computers for break-ins.

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