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Intel pushing limited-use servers

The chipmaker heads an industry group aiming to define a new category of limited-use server computers that are ideal for e-commerce.

Intel is leading an industry group that aims to define a new category of limited-use server computers, the company said today.

Along with technology industry heavyweights Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lucent, Novell, Oracle, and SCO, Intel has formed the Server Appliance Design Guide to hammer out uses for so-called thin servers and come up with a set of hardware and software guidelines so corporations can standardize their equipment.

The market for these appliances is expected to take off along with the e-commerce Web sites they are used for, according to Lauri Minas, general manager of server industry marketing for Intel. "What's driving the growth is the growth of the Internet and commerce over the Internet," she said.

Servers appliances are intended for a specific purpose, like a Web caching or proxy server, unlike general purpose servers that are loaded with an operating system and are configurable for multiple purposes. Internet service providers or the information technology departments of large companies are the primary users of such limited-function servers.

"A server appliance comes sealed from the factory, the design is optimized for the function, the operating system is optimized, and the only application loaded is for the function it is designed for," Minas explained. "Their appeal is their simplicity-- they're designed to do one thing."

But the key industry players must come to a consensus about the hardware specifications for these machines, or risk losing potential customers and software developers who may be hesitant about investing in non-standard equipment.

"There is potentially a great demand for these," Minas said, but "ISVs [independent software providers] are hesitant in choosing a vendor, so the market is fragmenting."

Intel is acting as "host" to companies representing the telecommunications industry, like Nortel and Lucent, PC makers like Dell and HP, ISPs like ISPNet and Digex, and server operating system vendors like SCO, Novell, and Oracle.

The group will have its first meeting next month, and is targeting June for its report on the necessary "building blocks" for server appliances. Additionally, the consortium will release reference implementations, development tools, and test suites in the second quarter of 1999.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.