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SGI, Netscape to build servers

Netscape and SGI are combining software and hardware to create high-end Internet servers targeted at media-intensive "supersites."

Netscape Communications (NSCP) and Silicon Graphics (SGI) are combining their software and hardware to create high-end Internet servers targeted at media-intensive Web "supersites" and major Internet service providers, the companies said today.

The companies will work together to integrate Netscape's Web and directory servers into SGI's Irix operating system--a variant of Unix--as part of what SGI calls the Everest Initiative, an effort to create what both companies say will be the world's fastest and most scalable Web server systems. SGI estimates that the server hardware enhanced with Netscape's technology will be out in two years.

To that effect, SGI has licensed Netscape's source code--a first for Netscape, according to chief technology officer Marc Andreessen--and will integrate it directly into Irix. No financial details of the collaboration were disclosed, although SGI CEO Ed McCracken said his company expects to spend $250 million a year on the Everest Initiative.

"A lot of people layer on Netscape's server software, but SGI is talking about taking the source code and tuning it to run on the hardware," said Jean Bozman, software analyst at International Data Corporation. "By integrating the Web server with OS, you get a more efficient and faster [solution], and they'll do it on big machines, not just small ones."

The initiative could also be a way for SGI and Netscape to keep Microsoft's 32-bit Windows NT operating system from making any headway in the high-end 64-bit Unix server market.

"You cannot have scalability without 64 bit, and making the transition from 32 to 64 bit takes a few years," said SGI's McCracken.

"SGI is suggesting it can target this market with an integrated solution and be head-and-shoulders above where NT solutions will be two years from now," said IDC's Bozman. "But remember that Unix servers already dominate in that space."

In the meantime, the companies will take incremental steps to get to the all-in-one hardware-software solution. In six months or so, Netscape will release a set of its servers tuned specifically to run on Irix.

The out-of-the-box solution should be a good one, especially for ISPs that don't have a lot of programming expertise, said one Internet software analyst, but Netscape nonetheless has to be careful not to dilute its cross-platform message by collaborating with a specific vendor.

"Netscape has gotten a lot more savvy in the past couple of weeks about getting its products into more hands through the channels that Microsoft often dominates," said Don DePalma, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "But if [their products] suddenly got better on SGI than on other platforms, they could dissipate the message of openness that lets them take the high road when it comes to competing with Microsoft."

To make sure the blueprints for the new machines meet the needs of their target audience, SGI is forming an advisory board made up of large ISPs and media-heavy Web sites including AT&T, CitySearch, Discovery Online, Excite, and SABR.

Netscape today also announced that the latest release of the FastTrack Web server is available in beta form on the company's Web site.

FastTrack is the company's entry-level Web server tailored for individual and small-group use. It is not included in the company's SuiteSpot bundle of enterprise-level servers, but the new version 3.0 will include tools to synchronize administration with SuiteSpot servers. FastTrack 3.0 will also support HTTP 1.1, and Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) directory services.

Berkeley Software Design, Bull Worldwide Information Systems, Caldera, Corel, Digital Equipment Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, NCR, SCO, Siemens Nixdorf, Silicon Graphics, and Unisys all agreed to bundle FastTrack with their hardware and software products.

FastTrack 3.0 will ship in the fourth quarter and will be priced at $295.