Bracing for NT Steelhead
-- by John D. Ruley
Microsoft is seeking to rout competitors in yet another high-technology market. This time, the company is developing a Windows NT application, code-named Steelhead, that can route data across LANs, WANs and the Internet, a la networking hardware from Cisco Systems, Bay Networks and 3Com Corp.
Steelhead, slated to ship this summer, is expected to tout several advantages over traditional hardware routers, including easier setup and a lower price. For instance, Microsoft says Steelhead can route about 40,000 packets per second-roughly the same throughput offered by $10,000 hardware routers. Steelhead, however, is expected to cost far less because it's based entirely on software (exact pricing was undetermined at press time)
Steelhead certainly isn't the first software-based router. Novell's NetWare MultiProtocol Router software is quite popular within some NetWare shops, and Microsoft has offered limited routing in NT since last year.
Steelhead takes software routing to the next level, though, by supporting several protocols, including Router Information Protocol (RIP) 1.0 for IP and IPX, RIP 2.0 for IP, Open Shortest Path First (licensed, ironically, from Bay Networks), DHCP relay and Service Advertisement Protocol (SAP). Router vendors can plug additional protocols into Steelhead via a new Microsoft API.
It's doubtful, however, that router vendors will embrace Microsoft's new API. "We have a strategic relationship with Microsoft on a number of fronts, but supporting the API is not in our short-term plans," said Martin McNealis, IP product manager at Cisco, which commands 65 percent of the $7 billion router market. "It's not clear what we'd want to do with the API, since we have comprehensive routing capabilities in [our own hardware]."
In other words, Microsoft and traditional hardware router vendors will be competitors once Steelhead ships.