VINES ran on a low-level protocol known as VIP, the VINES Internetwork Protocol, which was essentially identical to the lower layers of XNS. Addresses consisted of a 32-bit address and a 16-bit subnet, which mapped onto the 48-bit Ethernet address in order to route to machines. This meant that, like other XNS-based systems, VINES could only support a two-level internet.
What set VINES apart from other XNS systems at this level was its set of routing algorithms. Key to this was ARP, for Address Resolution Protocol, which allowed VINES clients to automatically set up their own network addresses. When a client was first powered on it broadcast a request on the subnet asking for servers, which would respond with suggested addresses. The first to respond would then be used by the client, although the servers could hand off "better" routing instructions to the client if the network changed. The overall concept was very similar to AppleTalk's NBP system, with the exception that VINES required at least one server, whereas NBP was completely "headless". Like NBP, VINES required the network to be inherently "chatty", sending updates about the status of clients to other servers on the internetwork.
Rounding out the lower-level system was RTP, for Routing Table Protocol, a low-overhead message system for passing around information about changes to the routing, and ARP, for Address Resolution Protocol, whereby devices could determine the address of other nodes on the system. These were essentially identical to the similar systems used in other XNS-based protocols. VINES also included ICP, the Internet Control Protocol, which was used to pass error messages and metrics.
At the middle layer level, VINES was fairly standard. The unreliable datagram service and data-stream service were essentially identical in purpose to UDP and TCP on top of IP. However VINES also added reliable message service as well, a sort of hybrid of the two that offered guaranteed delivery of a single packet.
At a 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.
VINES client software was available for most PC-based operating systems, including MS-DOS and earlier versions of Microsoft Windows. It was fairly light-weight on the client, which is another reason it remained in use during the later half of the 1990s, when many machines not up to the task of running other networking stacks were still in widespread use. This was true on the server side as well.
By the late 1990s this performance edge was no longer a concern, and VINES sales rapidly dried up. Banyan increasingly turned to StreetTalk as a differentiator, eventually porting it to NT as a standalone product, and offering it as an interface to LDAP systems. This never really took off in the market, and by this point Novell had a similar offering.
Banyan eventually re-formed in 1999 as ePresense, a general internet services company. This didn't fair very well either, and after a series of failed ventures they finally sold their services division to Unisys in late 2003 and liquidated their remaining holdings in their Switchboard subsidiary.