Network devices: Get ready to Sumba

A start-up company called Flat Connections will unveil a communications card that uses Java-based software running on an x86 processor to do secure email, real-time virus checking, and data encryption.

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A start-up company called Flat Connections said today it will unveil a communications card that uses Java-based software running on an x86 processor to do secure email, real-time virus checking, and data encryption.

Flat Connections says the card is less like a traditional PC modem card and more like a network computer (NC) with specialized communciations capabilities that form a "personal firewall." The company says the card, called Sumba, will find its initial uses in settings such as financial brokerages, medical records, and e-commerce.

"We're delivering the NC specialized for communciations, storage, imaging, and printing. We said 'Let's use network computing to make intelligent devices on the network," said Jeff Stern, vice president of marketing.

Sumba will include the Java OS embedded on National Semiconductor's NS486SXF processor running at 25 MHz, a 33.6 kbps DSVD fax-modem, "Flatware" application programming interface (API), and communications applets. Data is stored in 4MB of dynamic random access memory (DRAM), and secure authentication keys can be stored in 1MB of flash ROM.

Flat Connections says that Sumba's software splits the security and antivirus processing tasks between the main CPU and the Java coprocessor. This allows for faster communications while scanning incoming data for viruses in real time. Using MS Exchange mail, for instance, users will be able to choose the level of encryption up to 1024 bits, with Sumba transparently processing incoming and outgoing information.

It isn't neccesary for users at both ends of the connection to have a Sumba card, although those without the card will find the processing of encrypted messages slowed. Essentially, anyone using a product with support for Microsoft's cryptographic API will be able to receive and decipher information using public key cyptography algorithms licensed from RSA Data Security.

Sumba is the first in a series of products that Flat Connection will be introducing in the coming weeks. Soon, the company expects to introduce a PC Card modem with the same capabilities as Sumba. The company envisions many other printers, scanners, and storage devices as recipients of their own Java processor with technolgoy licensed from them.

"The way computers are organized today is that you have a big processor at the middle with a bunch of dumb devices hanging off of it. Now we can eliminate that hierarchy if every device has an intelligent connection to the network," says Stern.

For instance, a printer with Flat Connect's technology would have its own IP address that would allow someone to send a document directly to a printer anywhere on the Internet without being first processed by a host computer.

"We're trying to put intelligence at point of connection," said Stern.

No pricing for Sumba was announced, but is expected to be somewhat higher than other modem cards "but less than an NC," Stern said. Although the company will sell the product directly, it is looking to license the technology to OEM manufacturers and mostly sell the product through value added resellers.