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foreword - Volume 9 Number 2

CURRENT ISSUE - Volume 9 Number 2

Paul J. Cormier
Director of Engineering, AltaVista

In this issue, we focus on Internet software products that are part of the AltaVista portfolio. These particular products are notable because of the fashion in which they have been developed and brought to market.

With the commercial Internet software industry moving quickly from nonexistence to the most competitive and fast-moving industry in existence, engineers have recognized the need for innovation at all stages of product life. To succeed in Internet software, engineers must be innovators both in technology and in product development. Innovation begins with the concept and continues through product development and on to delivery to the end user; and the cycle continues.

From the beginning of the Internet revolution, DIGITAL has been a significant player in Internet software and solutions development. The company’s success is attributable to the many diverse and technically talented groups that are focusing their resources on developing software and solutions for Internet users.

The products presented in this issue are good examples of the results that can be achieved in extremely short periods of time-six to nine months-when research, product development, and services groups work together to bring world-class products to market.

In the case of the Firewall product, research took the lead early, while the Internet was still used almost exclusively by the scientific and technical community. As one of the first Fortune 500 companies to connect to the Internet, DIGITAL quickly saw the threat to the security of its network and, in response, members of its research group developed the initial firewall technology. As with many innovations, this technology was recognized by DIGITAL’s customers as state-of-the-art and was in turn demanded by them for their own uses. While this complex technology was still in its infancy, DIGITAL Services was able to deliver high-end security solutions to companies that desired to connect to the Internet.

Not surprisingly, these companies also needed to address the same network security issues that DIGITAL faced as a consequence of connecting to the public infrastructure. Starting with the firewall technology, the SEAL Firewall Service was born, and DIGITAL became one of the very first Internet security software providers.

As more and more enterprises connected to the Internet and experienced the same security issues DIGITAL had been facing, it became evident that both firewall technology and the market were beginning to mature. These factors quickly led to the DIGITAL AltaVista Firewall product.

DIGITAL responded to this market demand quickly, initially moving the SEAL technology to a standalone product on DIGITAL UNIX platforms. The same engineering group that developed the SEAL technology for the Services group seamlessly moved to product engineering, first in the Internet Business Group and later to the AltaVista Group. This smooth transfer of experience allowed DIGITAL to go to market after a short, six-month development cycle and to be one of the first vendors to offer a standalone, commercial firewall product.

Engineering has learned from research and carried that knowledge and experience through services and directly to the product engineering community. Moreover, engineering has adapted its process to stay competitive within the Internet market, enabling DIGITAL to be a technology leader with the AltaVista Firewall product on DIGITAL UNIX and, more recently, on the Windows NT platform.

The AltaVista tunnel, or secure virtual private network product (VPN), has similar roots to those of the firewall technology. Tunneling was born in response to a need for visitors at DIGITAL facilities to securely traverse the trusted internal network with untrusted packets. Again, the research community took the lead.

With the tunneling concept reversed, that is, access allowed from the untrusted external network (the Internet) to the trusted corporate network and with encryption added, the rudimentary basis for today’s product was put forward.

The newly formed Internet engineering group was ready to take the technology and prototype forward, putting into action a new instance of the research–engineering partnership. As was the case with the firewall, a talented engineering group moved the initial product to market within six months. DIGITAL was once again able to lead in the Internet space and claim the first VPN product to surface in the market, one that currently has many competitors.

As was also the case with the firewall, DIGITAL recognized a good use of this technology to solve one of its own problems. The telecommunications costs of moving the U.S.-based sales force to home offices and connecting it back into the corporate network were becoming excessive. The information services organization ran a pilot with 2,000 sales people, using local Internet connections and the Internet tunnel to authenticate users to the DIGITAL corporate network. The solution was perfect because the tunnel supplies the encryption capability that ensures the privacy of confidential business data as it traverses the public network infrastructure.

The results of the pilot were staggering in terms of the savings in telecommunications costs andkeeping our internal network secure. With this pilot in hand, information services moved to offer the tunneling service to other internal groups as a way to solve DIGITAL’s mobile-worker problem.

DIGITAL Services has also begun to offer the tunnel product, coupled with information services’ pilot experiences, as a solution to its customers-the same model used with the initial firewall technology.

As DIGITAL and the industry move forward in using the Internet as an effective business tool, standards are emerging that DIGITAL is helping to define. Future products are being developed based on the standards and include features that allow other companies, who may have very different security strategies and policies, to take advantage of the Internet in a secure and productive manner.

The model of research, product development, and services working together to deliver innovative, cutting-edge products and solutions that use the ubiquity of the Internet to solve real-world customer problems will continue to expand DIGITAL’s Internet capabilities and offerings.

A cornerstone of the research–product-development–services model is the talent and mind-set of the product engineering group. The advantage of keeping intact the core of the Internet and AltaVista engineering groups through the entire technological cycle that I present here has enabled the engineers to react quickly to changing requirements and market conditions. The group has consistently responded with two major product releases per year and some minor releases needed to satisfy a particular, significant demand.

As has been proven with these products, the model that is good for the company and for the customer is one that includes

  • Researchers incubating and piloting the technology in the labs
  • Engineering groups rapidly prototyping and developing product
  • Services groups developing a repeatable solution for customers

DIGITAL will continue to move technologies rapidly from research through products and on to solutions, thus accelerating the use of the Internet as a mainstream business tool and helping businesses take advantage of the Internet and be competitive in their own markets.

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