For future networks, think multivendor

Crosett became
Banyan’s vice president of engineering after serving as chief technology officer for
an Internet service provider, Planet Direct of Andover, Mass. He also founded and later
sold two medical imaging and software companies. Crosett’s early career included
senior-level technical and marketing management positions at Lotus Development Corp. and
Interactive Data Corp.


He holds a master’s degree in business administration from the University of
Vermont and a bachelor’s degree in Slavic languages and literature from the
University of Virginia.


GCN senior editor Florence Olsen interviewed Crosett by telephone from his office
at Banyan headquarters.



What’s more



Age: 41
Family: Married; two children ages 6 and 10
Favorite Web site: http://www.planetdirect.com,  which he helped
build
Sports: Sailing, cross-country skiing and
flying




GCN: Is it too early to trust
the standards and technology for extended enterprise networks?


CROSETT: I don’t think so. TCP/IP as a networking protocol and standard is as
firmly entrenched as it can get. Standards such as the Lightweight Directory Access
Protocol have matured well in terms of directory lookup.


The Internet Messaging Access Protocol is a very useful standard. It’s kind of
like Post Office Protocol for Internet mail servers, except it has folders and
server-based message storage so that messages can be backed up.


A lot of things that people used to consider standards, such as the Messaging
Application Programming Interface, have dwindled in importance. Microsoft Corp. even
admits this internally. Microsoft certainly uses MAPI but is not investing in it. It is
investing in Internet standards such as IMAP and advanced directory technologies such as
Active Directory that are LDAP-enabled.


Microsoft can still create standards just by the weight of its work, but it has to turn
its code over in order to get it standardized. And that’s not necessarily a bad
thing.


Whether the innovation comes from a standards body or a commercial software company
doesn’t matter as long as people agree on the standard. The Internet makes for lots
of good partnerships and opportunities to solve parts of a problem without having to solve
the whole problem.


GCN: What are the important
standards for electronic government and electronic commerce?


CROSETT: The X.509 standards have been defined and ready for a while, but they
aren’t easy to roll out across a large organization without burying your help desk.


It’s a technology configuration and buying conundrum. A lot of application
software—messaging, browsers, servers, you name it—can use certificates.


But putting it all together in one big box and making it easy to roll out is a
directory problem.


We would like to work on this problem with our customers, because we see a tremendous
adoption of software that is certificate-enabled but almost no adoption of the
certificates themselves in any useful form.


The certificates are like user name-password pairs, except you can’t give them to
a person. You have to give them to a machine and an application. Let’s say your
certificate expires, which they commonly do every one or two years. How do you get another
one? How do you make sure it is secure?


And how do you get dropped off the list when you go out the door so your certificate is
no longer honored?


GCN: What technologies is Banyan
developing for extended enterprise networks?


CROSETT: The new product focus at Banyan is on interoperability using mail and
messaging standards—in particular, LDAP and directory brokering to aggregate
directory information. It’s a tie to our past, and I think a step into the future.


We’re looking at directory-enabling Web applications. You’ll see an
announcement about a co-branded Web product from Netegrity Inc. [of Waltham, Mass.] called
Banyan SiteMinder, a single sign-on and authorization tool.


Any organization that builds membership-oriented information, whether it is internal
employee or extranet member information, can use SiteMinder. And if they happen to have
StreetTalk, they can use that as the directory repository.


GCN: What kind of fallout from
date code errors do you expect around Jan. 1, 2000?


CROSETT: I’m a moderate on this topic. I don’t think the lights are going to
go out, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go flying on New Year’s Eve.


I do think there certainly will be earnings damage from some of the remediations
carried out by large companies with large legacy systems.


Some of the stuff you read is pretty hysterical, but it does seem as if some people
haven’t spent as much time worrying about it as they should.


GCN: What did Banyan engineers uncover when they
tackled the problem internally?


CROSETT: They counted between 8 million and 10 million lines of code in the repository.
When the new management team arrived, it treated the year 2000 problem as one of the first
things to attack.


While there were certainly lines to be changed in a lot of places, it was nowhere near
as bad as was originally thought, which was good news.


When you change fewer lines, on average you get fewer regression problems. I guess that
was the other good news in terms of cost.


All the current Banyan releases—StreetTalk 8.5 for Windows NT and Vines 8.5, for
example—are year 2000-compliant. Even some of the products released earlier such as
BeyondMail 3.0 ended up being compliant. A rare surprise.


GCN: Have you visited government
sites to see how they are using Banyan products?


CROSETT: Yes, and in general we’ve taken our new product direction cues from
observing what customers are doing with our technology and with technology from Microsoft,
Lotus Development Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp.


The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is doing some interesting Web and LDAP
work with StreetTalk. We’re starting to see people using LDAP to pull systems and
applications together. Simple interoperability solutions such as finding an address have a
lot of value in large, diverse organizations that have all sorts of departmental things
going on.


The more hierarchical the organization, the better the delegated-administration model
of Vines and StreetTalk seems to work.


GCN: What is Switchboard Inc.?


CROSETT: It’s one big directory out on the Web. Switchboard is a subsidiary that
is majority-owned by Banyan and partly owned by America Online. It has yellow pages, white
pages and other community-oriented functions. Its fundamental use is to find people’s
names, addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and personal information.


It grew out of the StreetTalk directory technology. Banyan funded the development first
as an advanced technology group and then spun it off into a separate corporate entity.


GCN: How is Banyan coping
with its liabilities?


CROSETT: Our reduced public visibility is a liability at this point.


But Banyan is building a services organization and new products around our base, which
is networking and messaging and solving big problems inareas where we believe we have a
core competency.


GCN: Does the market provide
sufficient incentives for the software industry to deliver quality software?


CROSETT: Everybody is pushing too hard to live in Web time, I think. You end up paying
more for quality later on both sides of the vendor-customer relationship if you don’t
get it right the first time.


But it is hard sometimes to tell the difference between a rolling beta test and a real
software product.


I have great sympathy for customers who try to stay on the leading edge by looking at
all the beta software out there, adopting it early and finding what doesn’t work.


The only sound strategy is to have a realistic lab environment and to trust but verify.
I think everyone has had an experience with quickly released products that ended up having
major problems.


GCN: What impact do you see Web
technology having on the federal government?


CROSETT: If you look at what the IRS has done with tax forms on the Net, that’s a
tiny baby step. But boy, is it useful when you’re sitting up late at night with a
question and feeling entitled to get the government’s answer.


I hope we will see better behavior with respect to disclosure of information to
citizens. The whole concept of taking an application and using the Internet to increase
its reach by an order of magnitude is very important.


Certainly there are some unintended effects. There is a lot of discussion about privacy
and proper use of information because it’s so easy to move things around through the
pipe.


GCN: Do you see any good
consequences from the date code crisis?


CROSETT: Banyan had thousands of machines in the network lab to simulate very large
customer deployments, and some of those machines looked like they belonged in a computer
museum.


We either needed to charge admission or get rid of some of the stuff, and we chose the
latter. If the hardware is not and cannot be made year 2000-ready, then who needs it?


Year 2000 is really good news in a lot of ways because people are just cleaning the
deadwood out. It’s a great big garage sale.

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