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Bull pens pact with Netscape

The giant French computer firm is entering the U.S. network security market through a partnership with Netscape.

    Giant French computer firm Bull is entering the U.S. network security market through a partnership with Netscape Communications.

    BullSoft will license Netscape server and security software, and Netscape will resell Bull's firewall--the only one on Netscape's price list, beating out other firewall vendors like Check Point and Secure Computing.

    "Rather than being late to the firewall market, we are early to the enterprise security market," said Gerry Crow, director of marketing for Bull's security products in the United States.

    Bull, with $4 billion-plus in annual revenues, sees the Netscape announcement as its wedge into the U.S. network security arena.

    "They are providers to be reckoned with in Europe," said Ted Julian, security analyst at Forrester Research. "They are a player, and in a broad sense, not just as a supplier of systems." A push into the United States is a significant Bull initiative.

    "It was critical to line up someone of Netscape's caliber to form a conduit of our products," Bull spokesman Bill Bradley said. Additional announcements of security software in Bull's SecurWare suite is due by year's end.

    Netscape will resell Bull's NetWall firewall, but Netscape insists it will maintain current relationships with other firewall vendors. Netscape declined to specify which server software Bull is licensing.

    Frank Chen, group product manager in Netscape's security group, said Bull came shopping for security technology to improve its firewall, but specific details on what was licensed are not being released.

    Netscape's security offerings include primarily its directory and certificate servers as well as some software libraries to help developers create secure applications. Bull said it will integrate Netscape's directory server in future releases. The first integration is believed to be with Netscape's server to issue digital certificates or electronic IDs.

    "This relationship is a little unusual for us," Chen said. "We are picking a partner in this space but will try to interoperate with a large variety of vendors."

    Bull, which offers a broad line of computing and smart card products and service, is targeting the large enterprises with its security software--a market Netscape also pursues.

    "Our design point is the enterprise. You need very robust technologies, and these are barriers for our competitors," Crow said.

    BullSoft's SecurWare is an integrated, modular suite of Net-based security software for high-end enterprise customers. In addition to the NetWall firewall, the suite includes SecurWare VPN, a strong virtual private network encryption product; SecurWare ID, a smart card authentication solution; AccessMaster security management software; and SecurWare Cluster, a software clustering product.

    The SecurWare suite was formally launched in May, but many elements had been marketed separately for longer than that. The full U.S. rollout is planned by the end of year.

    Crow said Bull's broad technology agreement with Netscape will give Netscape access to increasing levels of security and to integration with LDAP directory server, x509 digital certificates, and smart cards, a key Bull competency.

    Bull's security suite is modular, so customers can add elements like virus scanning or content control from a single vendor. Crow argues that although other vendors such as Network Associates and Security Dynamics have similar offerings, they were built through acquisitions and thus require integration.

    But Rudy Batties, director of product marketing for Secure Computing, questions what kind of reach Bull will get with Netscape.

    "Netscape is not big in distribution," said Batties, whose firm offers a family of security products including a firewall. Bull has not showed up as a competitor in the United States or Asia, he added. Secure uses Netscape's certificate server for handling digital certificates in its product line.

    Nor does Batties think today's announcement is the final word on the Netscape-Bull partnership. "There's absolutely another shoe to drop here."