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Use server appliances for services
A lot of products get called appliances. Appliances are systems that have combined a reduced feature set, with a tuned functionality, which translates into an important Return On Investment argument over General Purpose Servers. Appliances tend to be narrowly focused when applied to larger enterprises, and more multifunctional when applied to smaller organization. I would argue that Microsoft's Small Business Server is not an appliance because it requires specialized staff to operate correctly. Products like Toshiba's new Linux office appliance and the Aries from Celestrix Networks offer a small form factor, with an internet gateway/router (firewall and VPN access), Web caching server, email server, file server, Ethernet, all easily understandable by an average business owner and operated from a Web browser and are appliances. The Aries supports Windows, Mac, Linux, and Unix, and is priced at $999.
Narrower server appliances are well illustrated by InfoBlox's DHCP/DNS server. This server which sells for a little over $10,000 makes DHCP and DNS assignments relatively straightforward in a simple interface, and offers a very highly tuned server function. This server wouldn't be appropriate for a small business, but is valuable for anyone managing more than 250 addresses. It's really valuable in large organizations.
A broad range of appliances exist, ranging from Web, mail, backup, and application appliances. Oracle dubs its 8i, running on a server as a package, the Oracle Appliance; but while the 8i appliance passes the tuning and narrow function test, it fails on the test concerning ease of use. Someone knowledgeable has to set the system up. But if a vendor can offer you a strong enough ROI argument for its network appliance, then it hardly matters what you call it. That is the ultimate decider.
We are entering the golden age of server appliances, and network services are a key application for them. Anything that reduces complexity while improving performance is something worth chasing. The truth is that detailed system expertise is getting harder and harder to find and hire. Thus expect companies like Microsoft to expand their Server Appliance Kit with a programming capability that allows average programmers to create server appliances easily.
Barrie Sosinsky (firstname.lastname@example.org)is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.