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Cisco plans thin server

Not wanting to be left out of an emerging market, Cisco Systems will ship a "thin server" to support NC clients by year's end.

Not wanting to be left out of an emerging market, networking monolith Cisco Systems (CSCO) announced that it will provide a "thin server" component for network computers.

The company said it would focus on providing these new Micro NC Servers, which will be formally announced by the end of the year, for the IBM network computer reference design, as well as other NC architectures.

The products will use a PowerPC processor engine, and will focus on certain vertical market segments where a Java-based NC environment makes the most sense, according to Cisco.

The Micro NC Servers are not intended to be the heavy-duty, back-end processing server for thin clients. Rather, Cisco's thin servers are targeted at a workgroup environment by providing localized access to productivity applet programs.

Cisco hopes to alleviate network congestion by offloading some of the back-end processing tasks and speeding access to applications when an NC is turned on.

Cisco already ships a Micro Web server product that lets small companies build intranets by giving them tools to publish internal Web-based information easily.

"This new family of products will be optimized to work with NCs, like those based on IBM's new Network Computer Reference Design," Cisco said in a prepared statement.

In conjunction with the Cisco announcement, IBM said today that its new development kit, based on the Network Computer Reference Design, is available to manufacturers.

The kit, which includes both PowerPC-based hardware and software, can be used to develop various NC devices, such as dumb terminal replacements and more functional network computers.

Buyers can use the kit as it comes or make their own modifications to tailor the system to their needs. The kits includes a Java Virtual Machine, smart card support, PowerPC 603e processor, and Lotus productivity software.

The development kit includes a PowerPC 603e processor running at 150 to 200 MHz. The reference design supports integrated 10/100 ethernet, smart card readers, PCI video adapters, and up to 64 MB of RAM.

On the software side, the basic setup includes Java support as well as desktop and browser applications. The system uses Microware's OS/9 operating system, and also has a Java Virtual Machine, Hot Java browser, Java Just-in-Time (JIT) compiler, and Lotus Java business applications.

The kit will be available in July, with a 200 MHz package costing $199 when bought in large quantities. The Lotus Java applications will be available in September. IBM is also selling components of the kit on an individual basis.

This is part of three-pronged IBM attack on the NC market. IBM is also offering an NC called the Network Station and is expected to debut its Net PC next week at PC Expo.