A host of new servers will arrive this week and, in the process, will underscore the shift in the market from multipurpose boxes to computers geared toward particular purposes.
Network Appliance will unveil two new Intel-based server appliances Tuesday. The NetCache C6100 and C1105 are designed to help companies stash information such as videos around the Internet. NetApp was one of the first to jump aboard the bandwagon for server appliances, special-purpose machines geared to do one job faster, more cheaply or more easily.
IBM will be fueling another server expansion with thin, rack-mountable servers designed to be stacked up by the dozens. Big Blue is releasing its own 1.75-inch-thick server with two Pentium processors, the eServer xSeries 330, a machine of IBM's own design that will replace a similar but less sophisticated design from Network Engines that IBM has been selling.
And Cobalt Networks, another server appliance maker that Sun Microsystems is in the process of acquiring, will launch its own next-generation all-purpose server, the Qube 3, designed to easily handle file sharing, email and Web page hosting for small companies. Though the Qube doesn't handle just one task, analysts categorize it as a server appliance because it has a simplified interface and is designed to be up and running after a very basic setup procedure.
The new Qube 3, costing between $999 and $1,999, uses an Intel-compatible CPU, unlike its predecessors that used MIPS chips. The rest of the Cobalt line is based on AMD processors. In the future, however, Cobalt servers will shift to Sun's UltraSparc processors.
The servers, though not blazing new trails, typify the disparate directions servers are headed. In former days, servers almost always were general-purpose machines differentiated chiefly by how many processors they contained. But the arrival of the Internet has boosted server use, especially of appliances and rack-mountable models.
IBM's 330 competes chiefly with Sun's Netra T1 "Flapjack" and Compaq's ProLiant DL 360 "Photon."
The 330 will gradually replace the Netfinity 4000R, the design licensed from Network Engines, said IBM marketing manager Brendin Paget. "We'll continue to sell that for the short term, but I expect the new 330 will replace the 4000R over the next couple months," he said.
Compared to the 4000R, the 330 offers:
• Faster Pentium processors running from 800 MHz to 1 GHz
• Hard drives that are faster and can be replaced without shutting the machine off
• A management chip to let administrators monitor the system easily
• A system whereby dozens of servers can be linked together easily to share the same monitor and keyboard with minimum hassle.
But with as many as 42 servers stacked in one rack, each with eight fans and two processors, things get toasty downwind, Paget said. "Standing behind these, it's quite warm. These things have to have a fair amount of airflow," he said.
Bare-bones models cost $4,500 apiece.
Network Appliance, meanwhile, introduced new software to go along with its hardware. The NetCache 5.0 software is designed to let customers send streams of video from their NetApp servers. And the new ContentDirector and ContentReporter packages, based on software acquired from NetApp's September buy of WebManage, will let customers more easily manage the profusion of data spread to servers across the Internet.
NetCache 5.0 also supports an initiative called iCAP, a standard that lets companies examine and modify information as it's sent out of the server. It allows companies, for example, to check for viruses, reformat Web pages for small handheld screens, or insert Web page advertisements.
The NetCache 6100 has room for as much as 2 terabytes of storage and can broadcast streams of audio or video at 1 gigabit per second, whereas the slimmer and rack-mountable NetCache 1105 can hold only 72GB of information and broadcast data at only about 180 mbps, NetApp said.