Netscape Port Opens AS/400 Cryptography Options

I/Net Inc.’s (Kalamazoo, Mich.) port of the Netscape server to the AS/400 makes available to the midrange market a variety of security tools previously inaccessible.

One such product is nCipher Inc.’s nFast line of cryptographic accelerators, which are compatible with Netscape enterprise server. These cryptographic accelerators plug into the Netscape server’s host and improve performance of the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) on a host company’s Web site.

NFast is a hardware accelerator that connects to the Web-hosting platform via a SCSI connection, according to Stephen Cohn, president of nCipher Inc. (Andover, Mass.). As a peripheral device, the cryptographic accelerator speeds up online transactions by offloading cryptographic responsibilities from the main Web server. The unit fills a need to provide secure e-commerce over non-secure, open networks such as the Internet. "By pulling cryptography off the main processor, you allow this main processor to do what it does best," he says, adding that it is more "cost affective to accelerate a server than buy a more powerful processor."

The software portion of nFast interfaces with the host platform’s operating system. Though nCipher has placed more focus on development for the RS/6000 platform, "recent announcements regarding Netscape support for AS/400 are leading us to reconsider nFast support on AS/400 in line with our aim to support Netscape on all major platforms deployed by customers for electronic commerce applications," Cohn says.

"The AS/400 is a good platform and makes sense as a Web server platform," Cohn says, adding that he expects to eventually see increased Web serving needs in the AS/400 market.

The nFast product line consists of two devices. The first is strictly an accelerator and acts as a co-processor to the hosting platform. This acceleration-only device "improves the capacity of the Web-server system but doesn’t address [encryption] key management issues," Cohn says. The second type of nFast is a Key Management (KM) unit, which features the same capabilities of the accelerator while storing encryption keys in a more secure manner than they could be stored on the main Web server.

NFast devices range in price from $2,500 to $10,000 – depending upon the speed of the unit – and are available in a variety of speeds, designed to appeal to several market segments.

One such segment consists of companies that have opted to host their Web sites on a small number of high-performance servers. These companies would be most interested in nCipher’s faster devices – such as the 150 or 300 models. A second segment consists of companies running a number of lower-end Web servers, and who would be most interested in the 75 model.

Still another segment of the market is most interested in Key Management and is concerned with protecting their encryption keys. These companies vary in size, but all are candidates for the KM line of units, which feature a smart card reader/writer for moving and storing keys, according to Cohn.

A study of several cryptographic accelerators conducted by Giga Information Group Inc. (Cambridge, Mass.) last year indicates "nCipher’s nFast accelerators should be considered first where high performance is the requirement." The nFast product line was lauded as providing the "highest performance and best price/performance, in some cases by a wide margin," according to the study.

Other accelerators included in the study were recognized in a variety of areas. Atalla (San Jose, Calif.) was noted for "strong key security with middle-of-the-pack performance," Rainbow Technologies (Irvine, Calif.) for low entry-level price and IBM for tight integration with its own e-commerce solutions.