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-- by Joseph P. Panettieri
Quick: Name a fast-growing software market segment that Microsoft doesn't compete in-yet. One key category near the top of the list is firewalls. But the fact that the market for Internet/intranet security is scorching hasn't escaped Microsoft's attention.
Firewalls filter Internet IP packets as they attempt to enter corporate networks, allowing only approved data onto private systems. They're also being used increasingly within intranets, to serve as protective barriers between multiple departmental networks.
The demand for firewall software and hardware is growing rapidly. One firewall provider, Raptor Systems of Waltham, Mass., has seen its annual revenue grow from $2.2 million to more than $10 million in the last year.
That kind of growth may prove hard for Microsoft to resist. Insiders at the company say Microsoft may enhance its Proxy Server 1.0 for Windows NT into a full-blown firewall. Proxy Server manages Internet access rights, but doesn't offer advanced firewall features like IP packet filtering. Microsoft sources say Proxy Server could indeed gain firewall enhancements, though a spokesperson said such a decision is "still up in the air."
More than 40 vendors-including CheckPoint Software, Global Internet, Haystack Labs, MarVel Internetworks, Network-1 and Raptor-already make firewalls. The early leader is CheckPoint (http://www.checkpoint.com), which commands more than one-third of the firewall market, according to several research firms.
New products seem to arrive daily. One of the latest is Global Internet's Centri Firewall 3.11 (http://www.globalinternet.com/security/index.html). For $50 to $100 per user, it can protect servers from rogue ActiveX applets. It was also designed from the ground up for NT (most NT firewalls are ported from UNIX)
As for the future of Proxy Server, keep an eye on Microsoft.