Microsoft suite to safely link Win 2000 to the 'Net

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In order for corporations to secure connections between Windows 2000 and the Internet, Microsoft is developing a host of new network and security tools for its future flagship operating system.

The suite of products, code-named Comet, includes features similar to those in Proxy Server 2.0 for Windows NT and may even be the precursor to the next version of that server.

A proxy server is a key security feature for connections between networks because it shields internal clients from direct access with other networks, in particular the Internet. In doing so, the proxy server prevents hackers from obtaining internal IP addresses and details of a private network.

Therefore, a proxy helps make connections to an outside network more secure. It also provides a platform on which third-party vendors can build applications, such as virus detection.

Currently, Microsoft does not have a proxy server that runs with Windows 2000, but that will change soon. Service Pack 1 for Proxy Server 2.0, expected to ship in the coming week, will allow the server to run with the new operating system.

The Comet suite includes a secure firewall, high-performance proxy/cache services, a fax server, a Web-based interactive voice response engine and other connectivity services.

Proxy Server 3.0 in disguise?

The proxy/cache services may actually be the beta version of Proxy Server 3.0. The Comet release notes say users who deploy Comet are "bound to the Proxy Server 3.0 pre-beta agreement." While Comet is not publicly available, Web site BetaNews.com obtained a copy of Comet's release notes and detailed the product's feature list on its site last week.

The proxy services also appear to be key because they contain a caching feature that boosts Web traffic performance by storing pages locally. As more companies rely on Web-based applications, cach-ing becomes critical.

Comet also is expected to ease management and configuration of the proxy.

"Comet may be a way to compete with Novell's BorderManager," says John Kretz, president of Enlightened Point Consulting Group.

BorderManager provides security management through services for firewalls, virtual private networks, single sign-on and proxy/cache. In July, Dell and Compaq began shipping caching appliances based on BorderManager technology.

"Maybe Microsoft is tired of losing sales to BorderManager," Kretz says.

Novell's BorderManager is tied to Novell Directory Services, and Microsoft may be working to tie Comet to Active Directory.

"I think Microsoft is endorsing our architecture," says Smita Deshpande, director of marketing for internet solutions for Novell. "Microsoft now has a server-centric view, but centralized, scalable management run through the directory is a compelling security architecture."

A Microsoft spokeswoman only would say that the company is working on a group of technologies code-named Comet. She says the work includes firewall, caching and telephony features.

More features ahead

Comet also is likely to bring other advanced communications features to Windows 2000 servers. The suite includes desktop client software to support such things as Winsock Proxy, Modem Sharing and Fax Services on Windows 9x and NT 4.0, according Nate Mook, Webmaster of BetaNews.com.

The suite also includes beta preview versions of Microsoft's H.323 Proxy and H.323 Gatekeeper, which will support enhancements to Microsoft's NetMeeting desktop conferencing application.

Microsoft has established a secure Web site for testers of the pre-beta software, which is being released as a package but may be marketed as individual products upon final shipment, according to the release notes.

Comet runs exclusively on Windows 2000 Beta 3 Release Candidate 1, which shipped July 1.

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