The New World of Client/Server
Are you using the Internet and intranets to connect and communicate? You will.
P> Move over client/server, your replacement is here. Analysts say that "Internet computing," using the Internet and the World Wide Web to connect computers and communicate with employees and customers, is the biggest thing to hit businesses since client/server. Maybe even bigger.
Switching businesses from client/server to the Internet, even if it happens gradually, will have enormous implications, especially for the software companies that would lose business and the systems integrators that would gain a new one. While the Internet is solving problems for users, it is simultaneously shaking up the computer world and creating vast new territories for infotech services companies.
Hardware manufacturers will be affected, too, because using the Internet, especially with Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java software, calls for a Web server that is cheaper than most traditional servers. The individual "client" then just needs the newest incarnation of a dumb terminal, what many are dubbing the "$500 PC." Users download Java in so-called "applets," which is software a la carte -- just what you need, when you need it.
Web servers are quickly becoming a huge sector of the computer market. According to International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., 850,000 Web servers were sold in 1995, up 58 percent from 1994. IDC predicts sales will grow at least 50 percent this year. Compaq Computer Corp. holds the largest share of the Web server market at 36 percent, with IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. holding 14 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
Here's how remote servers and clients communicate over the Internet. Users go to a Web site, request a session and get a client code. Then the user's computer is connected to the Internet server, ready to exchange information. Intranets, a loosely used term, are networks within a company that employees use to access company information. For instance, a salesperson could, through an intranet, take a look at his president's latest speech and a month's worth of news releases to write a strategy report.
Intranets are showing up in every kind of organization, from automobiles and banking to defense and state and local government. In fact, half of Netscape Communications Corp.'s third quarter revenues of $20.8 million came from companies setting up intranets via the Web.
Even the Notes groupware product from Lotus Development Corp. has a new version -- Internotes, which converts Notes files to Web format.
Jim Lindner, president of Attachmate, Bellevue, Wash., has spent the last year positioning his 14-year-old business as the "Intranet Company," claiming to be the only one that concentrates solely on building intranets. "Intranets have changed the whole ball game for corporations," said Lindner. The internal networks allow everyone in an organization, whether they are in a foreign branch office or on the road, to communicate in real time and access information about the company.
Client/server platforms, Lindner pointed out, are fine for departments, but are not scaleable for companywide communication. Intranets certainly have the ability to become the dominant choice. "Intranet has many of the benefits of client/server without the boondoggle," Lindner said. Still, he believes 20 percent to 40 percent of companies will do business without intranets, Internet computing or client/server.
While Internet computing is related to the much-hyped intranets, analysts said the former is the real breakthrough technology. "In the long range, the differences between Internets and intranets will evaporate," said John Robb, an analyst with Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass. In other words, he said, "A pipe is a pipe is a pipe."
Both Internet computing and intranets will be used to bring a business to a new level by connecting more quickly and with more people, including customers and branch employees. Communication would be easier and more widespread because Internet is universal: Standards do not compete. "It will be as big as client/server, if not bigger," Robb said. The main difference between the two? "Internet computing will drive revenues versus saving money."
Lindner agrees. Internet computing and intranets will translate into cash benefits because decisions will be made faster and people will be communicating more quickly and more often than ever before.
The industry with the most intranets in place is the infotech market, which practices what it preaches. Health care and banking industries are also on the leading edge, said Lindner. Basking Ridge, N.J.-based AT&T has its wireless division on an intranet built by Attachmate. The telco's internal network allows employees to post questions and comments to each other, which are "threaded" like Internet news groups.
AT&T's intranet is also open to vendors and customers and acts as a 24-hour customer service hotline where clients can type in questions. The intranet helps AT&T in the field, too. Employees carry laptops and can access company information. Through the intranet, the remote worker can sit in front of a potential client and retrieve data, even communicate with other employees in real time.
An entirely different organization, Pepper-dine University in California, uses an intranet to disseminate information about the school to students and faculty. A student can access the Pepperdine home page on the Web, type an identification number, and have all kinds of research and logistical information at his fingertips, such as how many people have signed up for a particular class or the location of a building.
Prices for intranets vary widely, depending on the number of users and what tasks are possible. Intranets can be developed for companies at no cost, provided the business has in-house Web experts. But a professional job for a large company with 2,000 users would cost about $200,000 to $250,000 a year, Lindner said. Intranets, like everything else on-line, must be updated or they are worthless.
According to Forrester research that has not been reported, 25 of 50 Web content providers, such as newspapers, said they were already using or plan to use Java to develop Web sites. Java, so far, has cornered the market. "Java has gotten to be the brand name for Internet computing applications," said Robb. People even refer to the new technology as "Java Apps."
For computer companies that missed this trend, it will be hard to catch up. But many are not sitting back and letting this trend take hold without them. Late last month, IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., said it has created software that will transform its computers into Web servers. The strategy revolves around the fact that by using the Web, everyone is compatible with everyone else. Software loses its proprietary status.
Zona Research, San Francisco, predicts that the intranet services and software market will reach $7.8 billion by 1998. Lindner said Attachmate plans to control a whopping 15 percent to 20 percent of that market. Systems integrators, predicted Lindner, will win 25 percent of the pie. He sees intranets as a huge new market for infotech consulting and networking.
"Systems integrators have a big chance to get into this early," said Lindner. "It's like client/server all over again -- the CEO will read about intranets and say, 'Go build me one of these.'" At this point, he said, customers are willing to pay a premium price.
Sprint just announced an Internet computing strategy that represents yet another way of doing business on-line. "The browser-server has a phenomenal future," said Dominick DeAngelo, vice president for data product management at Sprint. The telco, however, is steering customers away from the Internet by creating a new Internet protocol-based backbone. Sprint said that through a private backbone, companies will have more security.
Many businesses worry that intranets will make them more vulnerable to inside hackers who would have more access to company information. Attachmate is addressing the issue by providing customers with "Intranet Assistant," which can control what files certain employees can look at and even how much time they are allowed on the system.
There's reason to be concerned. The National Computer Security Association recently polled 250 information security chiefs from large organizations and found 55 percent experienced Internet security problems in the past 12 months.
DeAngelo said Sprint intends to make more of a splash as an Internet player. "We're one of the worst marketers," he said. Not many people know that Sprint carries 40 percent of domestic traffic on the Internet, he admitted.
"Sprint is the first to provide a full intranet service solution for business remote LAN-access applications, freeing companies from the headaches of installing and managing modems, routers and transmission lines," said DeAngelo. To reach the intranet, users dial a phone number and then enter a corporate ID and password.
Sprint has tested the new backbone with 75 business customers, has 10 in beta testing and signed on six as early adopters.
That's not such good news for Microsoft, Intel or other companies that thrive on software, especially operating systems, and subsequent updates. "The Microsofts of the world won't make as much money," said Robb. In fact, much Internet computing software will be free, which will drop the price of client/server software. New channels will also appear: Software will be sold directly via the Internet, not through dealers or salespeople.
As with everything that has to do with the Internet, this kind of computing is expected to enter the market much faster than client/server: You'll be hearing much more about it in 1996 and 1997.
Client/server vs. Internet computing
Time to develop applicationSix to 12 monthsTwo to three months
Time to deployOne to two monthsOne to three weeks
Life of applicationThree to five yearsOne to 12 months
Time between versionsOne yearOne week
Scale50 to 200 users1,000 to 1 million users
DataResides in corporationExtracted from many sites
Primary graphical user interfaceWindows/95/NTBrowser
Years for market to matureSix yearsTwo years
Source: Forrester Research Inc.