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NetScreen's Web-conferencing play goes after Cisco

Juniper subsidiary NetScreen has refreshed its Web-conferencing appliances, using SSL to keep online meetings secure without client-side software. A customer says the products make collaboration easier, but remote help desks may disagree.

NetScreen Technologies Inc. has announced the availability of standalone Web-conferencing appliances that will not only help the company grow that segment of its business, but also help its new owner, Juniper Networks Inc., better compete with Cisco Systems Inc.

The NetScreen Secure Meeting 3010, 3020 and 3030 appliances use the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based security vendor's secure socket layer (SSL) technology to enable users to collaborate without requiring client-side software. When an online meeting takes place over a SSL link, it's that much more secure, said Andrew Harding, director of marketing for NetScreen.

The new product line incorporates granular group and role-based authentications, so administrators can decide who can and can't remotely control someone else's computer. It also integrates with LDAP servers and can use certificates for authentication. In addition to its event-logging capabilities, it works with Linux and Macintosh operating systems and it tolerates breaks in connectivity that might occur in a wireless environment.

This update differs from NetScreen's existing product in another important way. As standalone appliances, they can be used with or without NetScreen's SSL VPN product.

That represents a shift in strategy, Harding said. When NetScreen first launched its Web-conferencing product last summer, it was a feature that could be added to its existing SSL product and was meant to appeal to its existing customer base.

But this standalone appliance is meant to be sold beyond the company's existing client base, Harding said.

Collaboration's growth

The rapid growth of the collaboration market has helped draw in a large number of new competitors, said Paul Ritter, an analyst with the Boston-based Yankee Group. Yankee expects to see a 45% compound annual growth rate in collaboration between 2003 and 2006.

Three years ago, WebEx Communications Inc. was the clear market leader in this space, Ritter said. Since then, Microsoft has acquired collaboration vendor PlaceWare Inc. Other large players -- such as Nortel Networks, Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems, Inc. and Cisco -- have also entered the market.

"This product will give Juniper a bit of a counterbalance to what Cisco is doing in the marketplace," Ritter said.

It is also likely to appeal to financial service companies and others for whom security and logging is a priority, Ritter said.

Meeting needs

Peter Lam, director of information technology for the office of education in California's Alameda County, saw the Web-conferencing product as a simple addition to its existing NetScreen SSL VPN.

The county's 300 teachers and administrators are spread across a wide geographic area, and must collaborate with each other and often with other educators in the region.

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Lam said that other vendors' products required client software on each machine, which made it hard to use. In addition, he said there could be connectivity problems when the traffic was moved across the firewall.

He has not had any of those problems with NetScreen's appliance. In addition, NetScreen's product works with many of the legacy operating systems he manages, including Windows 95.

The county's helpdesk has also been using the Secure Meeting appliance's remote control function to help with computer problems. IT staff can remotely take control of someone's PC and then walk them through a fix. Though this helps to cut down on the amount of time his staff spends getting to users' computers, Lam said the process is a bit more complicated than he'd like.

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