Interoperability Alliance closes its doors

After almost three years of ambiguous intentions and questionable impact, the Network Interoperability Alliance (NIA) is no more.

NIA founders IBM, 3Com and Nortel Networks are quietly shuttering the effort, citing completion of the group's goals of testing interoperability of each others' ATM products. A Multiprotocol Over ATM interoperability test last November was the group's last official act.

"We're in the process of terminating the formal agreement," says Lyndon Ong, a senior product manager in Nortel's Bay Networks architecture laboratory.

The NIA was formed in May 1996 amid much fanfare, as chief executives from the three founding companies pledged to help users simplify, standardise and enhance LAN deployment through open, common product interoperability specifications and testing. The NIA said it would achieve its goals by defining an open "system framework'' of standards - using technology from the founders - by which vendors could test products for interoperability.

But observers viewed the group as a thinly veiled cabal formed to thwart Cisco's growing dominance in enterprise networking.

Things began to unravel for the NIA just a year after it was formed when the founding members gave mixed messages on the status of their work. Also, the group undermined itself by reversing its stance on ATM routing, and when a high-ranking official from a founding company said the NIA was not addressing user needs.

Meanwhile, analysts said the group had no impact or influence on user purchases or industry standards.

Ong says the group's tests were intended for product technicians and integrators, not end users. "The interoperability testing has been very successful," he says. "In some ways, some other parts of NIA were inconsistent or incompatible with the testing goals."

"I think we succeeded very well in the focus on the interoperability testing," says David Vaughn, product line manager for campus switching at IBM. "We accomplished our goals."

As for end users, "When our customers put equipment from members of the NIA into their network, the probability of that working and interoperating effectively is much higher than it would have been without the NIA," says Bob Klessig, 3Com's director of enterprise technologies.

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