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Cabletron taps Netscape for software

The struggling network equipment provider is hoping software from Netscape can help it navigate the market for network and systems management, according to sources close to the company.

Cabletron Systems is hoping software from Netscape Communications can help it navigate the market for network and systems management, according to sources close to the company.

The struggling provider of networking equipment plans to unveil a licensing pact with Netscape near the end of May. The deal will include use of the Web software provider's Directory Server and Certificate Management System with Cabletron's line of switching devices and accompanying management tools, sources said.

Industry observers say Cabletron is hoping to gain greater access to Internet service providers' networks by using Netscape's Directory Server, a tool that serves as a central database for network, user, and computer systems information. The company also aims to boost its strategy for secure Internet connections, or virtual private networks (VPNs), by using Netscape's Public Key Infrastructure (PKI)-based certificate system, they said.

The two companies plan to showcase the results of their work at next month's Networld+Interop networking trade show, according to sources.

Cabletron executives have already made it clear they want to form alliances with third-party providers of directory services software so it can offer better management hooks between its own software and other technologies.

"Cabletron has a tough road to hoe, but this is good news for them," said Laura DiDio, an analyst with Giga Information Group. ""They'll have to continue making deals like this to thrive."

Cabletron's forthcoming deal with Netscape is the latest tactical step in a busy battleground for networking companies. Firms like Cabletron want to make sure that the management software keeping tabs on their switches and routers is fed as much information as possible from third-party sources, like directories.

Cabletron has already licensed Novell's directory services, or NDS, and continues to work with Active Directory, a component of Microsoft's forthcoming Windows 2000 Server upgrade, formerly known as NT 5.0.

Competitors such as Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, and Lucent Technologies have made similar moves in recent months to shore up their management software strategies.

Cisco's thrust, however, is largely tied to the fortunes of the Windows 2000 Server release. Although the release of the OS has been delayed, most analysts peg final delivery in early 2000.

Cabletron has struggled financially in recent quarters, and analysts said the directory services software thrust is unlikely to affect its bottom line. But the move does show that the firm has a clear strategy for its management software and line of switching hardware, they said.

"This is really going to come down to a game of whoever owns the networking already," said Eddie Hold, an analyst with market watcher Current Analysis. "That's more Cisco than Cabletron at this time.

"Cabletron really isn't going to come along and persuade people not to use Cisco products or Nortel products," Hold said. "It's more a case of giving users choice."

Netscape's Directory Server will ship with forthcoming management tools from Cabletron's Spectrum division, according to sources. The new applications are focused on providing a network manager with policy-based network views so they can choose which users can gain access to what information, for example. The new applications are scheduled to ship in the third quarter of this year, according to the company.

The Spectrum software will support Cabletron's SmartSwitch and SmartSwitch Router hardware lines. Netscape's certificate system will ship with Cabletron's small office routing devices.