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Getting The Most Out Of TCP/IP Network Software
By Marshall Breeding It used to be that only selected users required access to TCP/IP-based applications, but with widespread deployment of Web-based systems, nearly everyone now requires TCP/IP support. Selecting the best TCP/IP network software for your organization's desktop computing environment is an important decision. So, let's take a good look at what's out there.
Previous generations of desktop operating systems lacked integrated TCP/IP support. Windows 3.x users had to acquire shareware or commercial TCP/IP stacks and applications. The lack of native TCP/IP support in the Windows 3.x environment created an opportunity for vendors to develop and market software to fill this void. Many vied in an extremely competitive arena to add TCP/IP capabilities to the 3.x environment.
The n came Windows95 and Windows NT. Both have an integrated TCP/IP-protocol stack, but these stacks lack rich application sets. Apple Macintosh users get TCP/IP support through the Open Transport software bundled with the MacOS. And Unix-based systems almost always include TCP/IP networking--TCP/IP traces its heritage to Unix systems and continues to prevail as its dominant networking scheme.
The demand for industrial-strength performance and reliability and the need for enhanced security continue to fuel the interest in third-party TCP/IP network software. The TCP/IP protocol is evolving to meet the needs of an ever-expanding Internet and the demands of complex commercial computing. The protocol must repeatedly be redefined to accommodate a larger universe of network devices, more complicated routing and switching environments and increasingly stringent security. IP version 6, TCP/IP's latest version, addresses these concerns and expands the IP address from 32 bits to 128 bits.
TCP/IP software produc ts e nhance or replace the capabilities built into an operating system. Administrators must weigh the cost of third-party TCP/IP network software against the relevant deficiencies of the software that comes bundled with their organizations' operating systems.
Third-party TCP/IP network software can include the TCP/IP kernel and/or a suite of applications. Some vendors specialize in developing protocol stacks that specifically offer performance, security and reliability improvements over TCP/IP kernels that come bundled with operating systems. Others offer application suites, targeting customers that are satisfied with the bundled TCP/IP kernel but need better applications. You also can find TCP/IP software that includes both a replacement protocol stack and an applications suite.
Industrial-Strength TCP/IP As previously noted, all modern operating environments include a functional TCP/IP kernel and at least a minimal set of network utilities. It's easy to become complacent and rely on this low-cost approach to provide TCP/IP support. And the all-in-one Web browser approach fulfills much of the need for TCP/IP-applications suites.
As organizations become heavily invested in the Internet and in their own intranets, the weaknesses of the low-cost approach will become more apparent. The Windows environment generates the most interest in TCP/IP network software. Microsoft bundles a basic implementation of TCP/IP with Windows95 and NT. Although the built-in software will work for many environments, some organizations require more advanced features.
The degree to which these weaknesses matter depends on the organization's network infrastructure and security requirements. A decision to use AFS or NFS for shared file services, for example, dictates the need to purchase software that provides this capability. Security strategies that depend on specific interactions between clients and firewalls may also impose the need for specialized TCP/IP software on the desktop.
Organizations that are early IPv6 or IP Sec adopters, or that have developed applications that require WinSock 2.0, will need to look beyond the TCP/IP kernel bundled with Windows95 and NT. For up-to-date technical information on WinSock 2.0, IP Multicast technologies and the like, visit Stardust Technologies on the Web at www.stardust.com. Stardust Technologies does not produce TCP/IP network software, but it provides interoperability testing for TCP/IP network software and promotes various technical initiatives.
Updated October 24, 1997