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NetApp readies monster server

Network Appliance readies a speedy network server, code-named Mothra, that it hopes will tap into the unquenchable thirst for faster access to data over the Net.

Hoping to tap into the unquenchable thirst for faster access to data over the Internet, Network Appliance (NTAP) will announce a new enterprise-class server next week, code-named Mothra, that accelerates information retrieval, CNET NEWS.COM has learned.

Named after the giant moth from the Saturday afternoon monster movies of old, the new box--also known as filer--will replace the company's previous top-of-the-line model that was once code-named Godzilla, the dominating creature who succumbed to Mothra in one movie.

Though the code names suggest a light-hearted view of the business, Network Appliance has turned its filer expertise into a lucrative niche. The company announced last week that revenue doubled to more than $93 million for its just-completed 1997 fiscal year compared with 1996.

"I think they've become almost the standard for network file service," noted Carl Howe, analyst with the Forrester Research consultancy.

"These dedicated file servers can actually deliver bits to your computer faster than your hard disk can, assuming you're appropriately configured with the network bandwidth," Howe said. "As you see more and more thin clients, this class of server becomes more important and, perhaps, could start a move away from Windows NT servers doing this type of thing."

The new Mothra NetApp F630 model, which will ship near the end of June, is targeted at the Internet service provider and corporate market, with features specially tuned for networks with large data storage capacity requirements. NetApp officials said one ISP customer, GTE Intelligent Network Services has offloaded all of its Usenet group users to filers, due to its fast response time and large concurrent user capacity.

NetApp officials said the new box, which runs on a 500-MHz Digital Equipment Alpha processor and supports up to 52, 9GB UltraSCSI disk drives, moves the company into the high-end space dominated by companies such as enterprise Network File System (NFS) specialists Sun Microsystems, and Auspex Systems.

Like all of NetApp's filers, support for Unix NFS, Microsoft Windows CIFS, and HTTP file sharing protocols is possible through add-on software. The system includes a stripped-down operating system designed specifically for fast data access, with support for Redundant Array of Independent Disk (RAID) technology, which can copy data over multiple disk drives.

The new F630 also includes ten PCI-based card slots, with support for Ethernet, FDDI (fiber distributed data interface), and ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) network interfaces. The box starts at $69,950 for a diskless system with 128MB of ECC memory.

The announcement of the F630 has altered the makeup of the company's product line. The previous top-of-the-line model, renamed the F520, will target campus networks and large departments. Prices for the F520, along with two other low-end models, have been cut by more than 25 percent in some cases.