Data General broke its traditional mould this week with the launch of a low cost minimalist Web server, which the company claimed would outperform conventional Unix servers three times over.
The Sitestak is an Internet appliance rather than a full function computer and is designed to operate as a dedicated Web server. It is aimed initially at Internet service providers and large corporates, to consolidate their Web hosting activities. It is less than two inches high and 17 inches wide, can be rack-mounted with multiple units, and has a retail price of around #5,000 ($7,700).
Tom West, vice president of advanced development at DG, claimed that, as a Web hosting device, the Sitestak delivered three times the performance of a Unix server and 20 times the performance of other machines of similar size.
"The Sitestak is an Internet appliance. It can hold 160,000 Web pages, it is easy to install and manage through a Web browser and Web page, and you can specify quality of service guarantees by setting space and network bandwidth for each site. It has the ease of use that's the first requirement of any appliance," said West.
James Gruener, senior analyst at the Aberdeen Group, said he thought the Sitestak could have a big market if DG could convince customers to choose a cheaper, specialist machine to act as a Web host, rather than the wider functionality of the Unix and NT servers they are used to.
"With this appliance you can get a lot into a small space and that is a major factor for ISPs. I know a lot of companies will really look at this closely as a possible alternative to the traditional boxes that are cumbersome in some ways. But there is a lot of functionality in those boxes and that perception is what they are going to have to fight," he said.
While Gruener said DG's performance claim would need to be audited he thought their argument was compelling, particularly as Sitestak runs on a single Pentium Pro processor and has an embedded operating system, which is faster than a standard version.
Beta testing is taking place at 17 large ISPs and one corporate Intranet site. DG plans to sell to large customers through its direct sales force but has also set-up a Web site where Sitestaks can be ordered and paid for over the Internet.
Craig Heim, marketing manager of DG's Thiinline Internet devices business unit, which developed Sitestak, said he believed electronic commerce would prove a good route to target smaller ISPs, particularly in Europe.
"It is an easy way to order what is really a commodity appliance. People can try it out over the Web at our test site so they know in advance what they are getting. Smaller European ISPs in particular are up to two years behind the US in the purchasing cycle so we hope to get into that market quickly," he explained.
DG also previewed its Thin server device, designed to go in the home and act as a combined wireless router and server to link to all the PCs, phones and other thin clients in a home. It connects to a cable or ISDN line and then communicates to its connected devices via 10 or 100Mbps Ethernet. Planned as a sub-$800 device, it is due to be launched before the end of the year.
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