Scale took on a whole new meaning last week for Entrust Technologies Inc.
The specialist in digital authentication technology, like its competitors, has continually been concerned about the scalability of its public key infrastructure systems-building them big enough and fast enough to meet the anticipated demands of electronic commerce.
Entrust faced a different kind of challenge last week. It had to accommodate a 70% increase in attendance at its second annual conference for customers and strategic partners, SecureSummit '99, in Orlando.
John Ryan, president and chief executive officer of Plano, Tex.-based Entrust, said he anticipated 1,000 people-which would have been a gain of 300 from last year-but 1,200 showed up. There were also more than 50 exhibiting companies, a 100% increase.
"We're quite excited," Mr. Ryan said. "This sends a message to the marketplace that what we are talking about is very real."
Attendance at privacy and security conferences has been generally robust. When technology is the attraction-as at the annual RSA Data Security Inc. conferences-people come by the thousands. More and more come from banks and other businesses trying to find their way in Internet commerce and "extended enterprises"-opening their networks in a secure way to customers and remote employees.
Entrust, its rival Verisign Inc., and other information security vendors, which invariably license RSA encryption software, compete for attention at that company's show each January. Entrust sponsors its own meeting to flaunt its product developments and put a spotlight on some of its clients, to the extent they are willing to put their security strategies on public view.
The aim is to show how "we are serving the transition to e-business," Mr. Ryan said.
In a telephone interview during the Orlando meeting, Mr. Ryan was effusive and optimistic.
"We think we have rolled out a complete framework for e-business," Mr. Ryan said of a series of announcements revolving around version 5.0 of Entrust/PKI, the flagship public key infrastructure system for digital certificates.
"We are providing customers with more flexible options to scale, manage, and establish the trust model of their choice," he said.
In a sign of the program's workability, loyal Entrust customer Bank of Nova Scotia is participating in the 5.0 preview program, a test phase.
"We are pleased to see new features like remote administration (of credentials and privileges), which will provide us with the capability to deploy secure electronic identities conveniently," said Drew Brown, senior vice president of electronic banking at Scotiabank.
"Entrust/PKI gives us the capability of extending trusted e-business solutions to our customers and employees, and integrating additional real- world business applications with our existing PKIs," Mr. Brown added.
Scotiabank is one of Entrust's marquee customers, billed as one of the largest deployers of digital certificates in the world. The warm spot in the Toronto bank's heart for Entrust may have something to do with Entrust's Canadian roots, as a spinoff of the telecommunications giant Nortel Networks.
But from its Texas base, the PKI company has made considerable inroads in banking and other industries globally, with a client list that includes Royal Bank of Scotland and the Swift banking communications network.
In the United States it has worked with Citigroup, J.P. Morgan & Co., and Chase Manhattan Corp. One of Entrust's announcements last week trumpeted its role in a Dutch initiative called I-Pay with SET, which uses the payment card industry's Secure Electronic Transaction protocol for the first time with debit cards as well as credit cards.
Interpay, the payments association sponsoring I-Pay with SET, and Europay International, MasterCard's European affiliate, are projecting as many as two million users by the end of next year. That will be a true test of the PKI's scalability.
Mr. Ryan, almost since Entrust's inception five years ago, has never wavered from the promise that "we can scale to millions."
Some critics remain skeptical of any major scalability claims, if only because these systems have not been put to the ultimate tests. But I-Pay with SET is one of a growing number of near-term opportunities. In Germany, the payment processor Telecash is working with a public key infrastructure from Xcert International Inc. of Walnut Creek, Calif., that could lead to digital certificates on tens of millions of smart cards.
Entrust has been close to national and provincial initiatives in Canada that could require issuance of the digital credentials to virtually every citizen. The company also has a major public service effort under way with the United Kingdom's Royal Mail.
"We have had insurance companies tell us to think in terms of 60 million" certificates, Mr. Ryan said. He added that Citigroup has bandied about the target of 100 million by 2001, and he said he is unfazed even at the prospect of 400 million certificates that might be required by the People's Bank of China.
For now, Scotiabank leads the Entrust parade at 210,000 issued certificates, about half of them active, mostly in an on-line banking service.
But Mr. Ryan expects that "next year we will see monster-scale implementations."
Mr. Ryan said his confidence about Entrust's prospects stems from the completeness of its product line and the pending resolution of year-2000 programming problems, which will allow banks and other clients to turn their attentions to more strategic priorities such as Internet security.
"Think about a bank that transacts with employees, customers, and trading partners," Mr. Ryan said. "Some transactions will be of low risk and low value, and you don't have to go nuts with security. Others will require high assurance. The Entrust portfolio matches the right amount of security to the transaction and lets the bank manage it."
"Clients are telling us that e-business networks are their top priorities heading into 2000," he said. "After Y2K gets off everybody's mind in September, they will be focusing on that, which will be great for us."
RESTON, Va.-TRW Inc. said it has formed an international consulting and systems-integration practice for large-scale electronic commerce ventures.
The company said the Reston-based unit represents an extension of its expertise in enterprise resource planning, supply chain management, channel integration, and payment processing.
Priscilla Guthrie, vice president and general manager of TRW's commercial marketing unit, said many companies moving beyond first- generation Web systems find that they "aren't able to handle the large- scale, high-security and interoperability needs of a growing e-commerce business environment." TRW can provide systems that "scale effectively to drive future growth."
TRW said it has successfully implemented e-commerce systems for telecommunications and financial service companies that handle more than 10 million electronic and paper transactions a month.
This year, also in Reston, TRW started E-Certify, an Internet security services and technology firm.