Banyan VINES was a network operating system developed by Banyan
Systems for computers running AT&T's UNIX System V.
VINES is an acronym for Virtual Integrated NEtwork Service. Like
Novell NetWare, VINES's network services were based on the
Xerox XNS stack.
James Allchin, who later worked as Group Vice President for Platforms
Microsoft until his retirement on January 30, 2007, was the chief
architect of Banyan VINES.
1 VINES technology
2 Protocol stack
3 VINES client software
4 Initial market release
5 Defense Department adoption
6 VINES competitors
8 Version history
VINES ran on a low-level protocol known as VIP—the VINES
Internetwork Protocol—that was essentially identical to the lower
layers of XNS. Addresses consisted of a 32-bit address and a 16-bit
subnet that mapped to the 48-bit
Ethernet address to route to
machines. This meant that, like other XNS-based systems, VINES could
only support a two-level internet.
A set of routing algorithms, however, set VINES apart from other XNS
systems at this level. The key differentiator, ARP (Address Resolution
Protocol), allowed VINES clients to automatically set up their own
network addresses. When a client first booted up it broadcast a
request on the subnet asking for servers, which would respond with
suggested addresses. The client would use the first to respond,
although the servers could hand off "better" routing instructions to
the client if the network changed. The overall concept very much
resembled AppleTalk's AARP system, with the exception that VINES
required at least one server, whereas AARP functioned completely
"headlessly". Like AARP, VINES required an inherently "chatty"
network, sending updates about the status of clients to other servers
on the internetwork.
Rounding out its lower-level system, VINES used RTP (the
Protocol), a low-overhead message system for passing around
information about changes to the routing, and ARP to determine the
address of other nodes on the system. These closely resembled the
similar systems used in other XNS-based protocols. VINES also included
Internet Control Protocol), which it used to pass
error-messages and metrics.
At the middle layer level, VINES used fairly standard software. The
unreliable datagram service and data-stream service operated
essentially identically to UDP and TCP on top of IP. However VINES
also added a reliable message service as well, a sort of hybrid of the
two that offered guaranteed delivery of a single packet.
Banyan offered customers TCP/IP as an extra cost option to customers
of standard Vines servers. This extra charge for TCP/IP on Vines
servers continued long after TCP/IP server availability had become
At the topmost layer, VINES provided the standard file and print
services, as well as the unique StreetTalk, likely the first truly
practical globally consistent name-service for an entire internetwork.
Using a globally distributed, partially replicated database,
Talk could meld multiple widely separated networks into a single
network that allowed seamless resource-sharing. It accomplished this
through its rigidly hierarchical naming-scheme; entries in the
directory always had the form item@group@organization. This applied to
user accounts as well as to resources like printers and file servers.
VINES Protocol Stack
Talk (directory service)
Remote Procedure Calls (RPC)
InterProcess Communications (IPC)
Sequenced Packet Protocol (SPP)
Internetwork Protocol (VIP)
Address Resolution Protocol
Address Resolution Protocol (ARP)
Routing Table Protocol (RTP)
Internet Control Protocol (ICP)
Media Access Protocols:
HDLC, X.25, Token ring, Ethernet
VINES client software
VINES client-software ran on most PC-based operating systems,
MS-DOS and earlier versions of
Microsoft Windows. It was
fairly light-weight on the client, and hence remained in use during
the later half of the 1990s on many older machines that couldn't run
other networking stacks then in widespread use. This occurred on the
server side as well, as VINES generally offered good performance, even
from mediocre hardware.
Initial market release
With StreetTalk's inherent low bandwidth requirements, global
companies and governments that grasped the advantages of worldwide
directory services seamlessly spanning multiple time zones recognized
VINE's technological edge. Users included gas and oil companies, power
companies, public utilities—and U.S. Government agencies including
the State Department, Treasury Department, Department of Agriculture,
and Department of Defense.
The U.S. State Department, for example, was an early adopter of the
VINES technology. Able to take advantage of the then high-speed 56k
modems for telephonic connectivity of the developed world to the
limited telephone modem speeds of 300 baud over bad analog telephone
systems in the Third World, VINES was able to link embassies around
the world. VINES also came with built-in point-to-point and group chat
capability that was useful for basic communication over secure lines.
Defense Department adoption
By the late 1980s the
US Marine Corps
US Marine Corps was searching for simple,
off-the-shelf worldwide network connectivity with rich built-in email,
file, and print features. By 1988 the Marine Corps had standardized on
VINES as both its garrison (base) and forward-deployed ground-based
battlefield email-centric network operating system.
Using both ground-based secure radio channels and satellite and
military tactical phone switches, the Marine Corps was ready for its
first big test of VINES: the 1990-1991 Gulf War. Units were able to
seamlessly coordinate ground, naval, and air strikes across military
boundaries by using the chat function to pass target lists and adjust
naval gun fire on the fly. Ground fire support coordination agencies
used VINES up and down command channels—from Battalion-to-Regiment
through Division-to-Corps and Squadron-to-Group to Aircraft
Wing-to-Corps, as well as in peer-to-peer unit communication.[citation
For a decade, Banyan's OS competitors, Novell and Microsoft, dismissed
the utility of directory services. Consequently, VINES dominated what
came to be called the "directory services" space from 1985 to 1995.
While seeming to ignore VINES, Novell and eventually
Microsoft—companies with a flat server or domain-based network
model—came to realize the strategic value of directory services.
With little warning, Novell went from playing down the value of
directory services to announcing its own: NetWare Directory Services
(NDS). Eventually, Novell changed NDS to mean Novell Directory
Services, and then renamed that to eDirectory.
Microsoft had gone through its own round of operating system
development. Initially, they partnered with IBM to develop an
Intel-based disk operating system called PC DOS, and its Microsoft
twin, MS-DOS. Eventually,
Microsoft shared true network operating
system development with IBM
LAN Manager and its
Microsoft parted company with IBM and continued
LAN Manager into what became Windows NT. Essentially, its
OS 4.0. NT was originally a flat server or domain-based operating
system with none of the advantages of VINES or NDS.
Windows NT 5.0 (released as Windows 2000) however, Microsoft
included Active Directory, an LDAP directory service based on the
directory from its Exchange mail server.
Active Directory was as
robust as and, in several key ways, superior to VINES. While VINES was
limited to a three-part name, user.company.org, like Novell's NDS
Active Directory was not bound by such a naming convention.
Active Directory had developed an additional capability that both NDS
and VINES lacked, its "forest and trees" organizational model. The
combination of better architecture and a marketing company the size of
Microsoft doomed StreetTalk, VINES as an OS, and finally Banyan
By the late 1990s, VINES' once-touted Street
Talk Services' non-flat,
non-domain model with its built-in messaging, efficiency and onetime
performance edge had lost ground to newer technology. Banyan was
unable to market its product far beyond its initial base of
multi-national and government entities.
Because Banyan could not quickly develop an OS to take advantage of
newer hardware, and apparently did not understand that the StreetTalk
directory services, not the shrink-wrapped OS, was the prime value
added—the company lost ground in the networking market. VINES sales
rapidly dried up, both because of these problems and because of the
rapid rise of Windows NT. Banyan increasingly turned to Street
a differentiator, eventually porting it to NT as a stand-alone product
and offering it as an interface to LDAP systems.
Also, Banyan continued to operate a closed OS. This required hardware
manufacturers to submit hardware and driver requirements so that
Banyan could write drivers for each peripheral. When more open systems
with published APIs began to appear, Banyan did not alter their model.
This made it difficult for client-side support to handle the explosive
growth in, for example, printers. As competitors began to adopt some
of VINES' outstanding wide area networking protocols and services,
manufacturers were less inclined to send a unit to Banyan for VINES
specific drivers when competitors let them write their own.
Dropping the Banyan brand for ePresence in 1999, as a general Internet
services company, the firm sold its services division to
late 2003 and liquidated its remaining holdings in its Switchboard.com
Banyan VINES 1.0
Banyan VINES 2.1
Banyan VINES 3.0
Banyan VINES 4.11
Banyan VINES 5.0
Banyan VINES 5.50
Banyan VINES 7.0
^ "The U.S. Marines' Network-Linked War Units", 14 Oct 1991, p576,
Banyan VINES at Bamertal Publishing