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Net gear maker turns to NT

Start-up Berkeley Networks will use the network services in Microsoft's Windows NT Server operating system for a new line of switching equipment.

    Start-up Berkeley Networks will utilize the ever-increasing amount of network services found in Microsoft's Windows NT Server operating system for a new line of switching equipment for networks.

    By taking advantage of Windows NT, Berkeley executives said they hope to make a case for a more application-centric approach to a network's infrastructure, since there is a groundswell of developer support around NT. All networking equipment uses some type of underlying operating system (OS) to provide the intelligence necessary to send data packets to their appropriate destination.

    The San Jose, California-based firm will ship two new lines of Ethernet-based switches in March, hoping to carve a unique niche in what has become a glut of companies championing the benefits of multilayer switching. Berkeley executives boast their equipment can speed data at rates of up to 70 million packets per second.

    By using NT as the base OS and augmenting it with support for more functions, Berkeley has bypassed one of the most time-consuming aspects of entry into the networking market: network-aware software. Using NT, Berkeley's gear can easily tap into useful tools such as the forthcoming Active Directory technology that will arrive with the next version of the OS.

    "The operating system that the switches use is essentially the same that is running on the clients and servers," said Donal Byrne, vice president of product marketing and development at Berkeley. "The true value of an NT-based networking platform is the total package."

    Windows NT server is rapidly gaining a foothold in corporate America. According to most analyst expectations, Windows NT server will out-ship server software from its closest competitor, Novell, for the just-completed year. The OS has already out-distanced all Unix variations as well as IBM's OS/2, according to market researcher International Data Corporation.

    "Clearly, the Windows NT Server climate is becoming more and more favorable," observed John Armstrong, an analyst with market researcher Dataquest.

    Armstrong likened Microsoft's strategic relationship with Berkeley to the arrangement that has resulted in the "Wintel" colossus in the PC arena, where software giant has teamed with chip powerhouse Intel to effectively control the desktop.

    "If that synergy is any example, Berkeley probably has a very bright future," Armstrong said.

    But Microsoft could also throw a wrench in Berkeley's aspirations due to the perception that the PC software giant has never been that great at networking enhancements. "You can't really say networking is their strength," Armstrong noted. "One can only hope that Microsoft can improve their record in this area."

    But Berkeley executives said the perception that NT is "not ready for prime time" in some cases has not been a hindrance with customers. "I thought we would face a lot more push-back," Byrne said.

    The two initial models--dubbed the e4 and e8?-are targeted at corporate enterprise networks, with the former positioned for mid-sized locales and the latter intended for back-end duty. Both support Gigabit Ethernet, the latest speed for the classic networking technology.

    Berkeley has added specialized Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) hardware to add fail-over redundancy to its switch line, which takes advantage of Intel processors. The company also plans to augment Microsoft's work in network services with new software features like multicasting support, quality of service, and policy-based routing.

    Pricing for the devices starts at $30,000.