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Picking a better box for software

Does more enterprise software belong in a hardware appliance? A number of smaller companies appear to think so.

Rather than create a software-only product, they're combining software and hardware engineering to create a specialized machine. A few examples are database warehouse appliance company Netezza; Cast Iron Systems, which does an "application router" for data integration; and XML networking companies, such as DataPower, Reactivity and Sarvega. Mirapoint does an e-mail appliance.

The appeal of the appliance design to corporate customers is quicker installation and easier maintenance, proponents say.

Are these just isolated cases, or will we see more and more specialized boxes humming away in corporate data centers?