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Web server speeds up data access

Network Appliance announces a server that will let intranet-based Web surfers quickly access corporate documents.

Network Appliance will announce a server for Web-client systems next week that will let users on intranets access corporate documents at speeds up to six times faster than conventional Web servers.

As previously reported by CNET, The Web Filer is a stripped-down version of Network Appliance's network server aimed specifically at supporting Web-based client systems. By supporting Internet standards such as HTML and HTTP as well as file sharing standards such as CIFS and NFS, the company has been able to build "filers" that give users fast access to data over the network.

Expanding on the company's strengths, the Web Filer lets users access HTML-based data quickly via a stripped-down operating system called Data ONTAP that integrates the file system with Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) storage.

The operating system is combined with recently announced multiprotocol filer software that gives Unix and Windows clients native access to data, allowing administrators to consolidate their Unix and Windows-based file servers. The software will be available in October.

Cheena Srinivasan, Network Appliance's director of product marketing, said the company's bread and butter is building "the world's fastest data access engine, and it really doesn't matter what the protocol is."

"It's the [Web Filer] software," he said. "That's the hardest thing for the general-purpose server vendors to do."

Srinivasan foresees Network Appliance offering new Pentium Pro-based hardware and symmetric multiprocessing configurations in the near future. He also said Filer software for FTP (file transfer protocol) and Apple Computer's Apple File Protocol (AFP) could be in the works.

Network Appliance will be successful with the fast file-access concept on the Web, but as people become better versed on Internet and intranet capabilities, they may want a more database-oriented approach from a hardware vendor, according to Michael Goulde, an analyst with the Patricia Seybold Group, a Boston-based consultancy.

Customers will need more heavy duty hardware to handle dynamic Web pages with multimedia content, Goulde said.

Prices for the Web Filer software start at $950 for the low-end Network Appliance F220 server or "toaster," as the company calls it. Customers will need to upgrade to Version 4.0 of the company's Data ONTAP operating system to install the Web Filer software.