Whether it is a router or a Webserver-in-a-box, small businesses are increasingly buying low priced, single function devices to perform tasks that would otherwise require a much more expensive full function PC server.
This was one conclusion reached at a conference this week, organised by Dataquest in San Jose, where analysts discussed the future of the server business.
?There are services that are being broken out of the server," said Dataquest analyst James Staten. Some of these services are already familiar as standalone devices, such as routers or print servers. Other services, such as firewalls or even Web servers, are increasingly being sold as standalone boxes.
So-called thin servers will reach sales of more than $2 billion this year, and will grow to outsell entry level PC Servers by 2002, predicts Dataquest.
According to a Dataquest definition, the thin server is a network hardware device that is designed to perform a single or specialised set of server functions.
Typical features of this new class of device - it comes in a closed box, it is managed remotely by Web browser and it runs a minimal operating system, often a variant of the Unix based Linux. It also typically require less maintenance than a full blown server, and has no per-seat licensing price.
One specific type of thin servers for which Staten sees a bright future is the 'small business thin server', a device that offers a series of Internet services for a small business or a workgroup, such as the $1,995 Interjet from Whistle Communications.
A small business thin server combines Internet access, firewall, HTTP server and email, and possibly more, but does not have a general purpose operating system and will not run off-the-shelf applications. This specific type of thin server alone will see significant growth this year, predicted Dataquest, with sales exceeding $200 million in 1999 and reaching $1.6 billion in 2002.
Another device that Dataquest is classifying as a thin server is Network Attached Storage (NAS). The market for workgroup NAS is expected to reach $2 billion by 2002, with the market for enterprise NAS ballooning to $8 billion.
According to Dataquest, thin server revenues will largely be additive to the server market.
Staten predicted that general acceptance of thin servers is still one to two years away and vendors still have a way to go, he believes. They must prove the cost advantages of their solutions. And if they fail to deliver on the initial promise of the architecture, this may lead to a disenchantment with the whole concept ? as happened with thin clients.
The emerging marketplace is also faced with another problem, as a panel discussion between vendors illustrated. These vendors appear little inclined to cooperate on interoperability standards.
Said Steven De Witt, president and CEO of Cobalt Networks: ?If you?re thinking about all of us getting together and agreeing on one operating system: that?s not going to happen. Get over it." Most vendors did seem prepared to discuss agreement on some application programming interfaces though.
At this moment, the different thin servers have differing operating systems and processors, and each has its own, proprietary management interface.
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