Internet: Networking's New World Order
Businesses can choose from a slew of new offerings and partnerships this summer
Most large companies -- especially technology businesses -- are either already on the Internet server bandwagon or trying to figure out how to jump on board. Business' embrace of Internet technology for myriad communications and information uses has been even faster than consumer use of the Internet.
More than two-thirds of Fortune 1,000 firms recently surveyed expect Internet protocol will run most of their traffic over local area networks within the next two years, according to Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass.
That leaves at least two enormous questions in the minds of those thinking about getting into the World Wide Web server world: Which products and services are best and how can the company's current network support them?
First, say experts, the gear-makers must recognize the impending surge and start churning out new Internet protocol-based infrastructures. What some call "fat" data -- video, complicated graphics, audio -- is adding to the congestion.
"A sea change is underway in corporate networking," said Blane Erwin, senior analyst at Forrester. "To inject routing brains into switching brawn, LAN equipment makers are transforming their current wares into a new IP-optimized hybrid -- the IP switch." That means a one-port Internet protocol router with a fast switch. It can either send packets quickly across the switch or through the router depending on the current drain on the system.
Then, perhaps more importantly, there's the problem of what to buy in an increasingly crowded marketplace. Sun Microsystems jokes in a current ad: "Sun designed the first intranet back when people thought intranet was a typo." Sun must now compete with big companies such as IBM Corp., Digital Equipment Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co., as well as virtual unknowns, such as Intergraph of Huntsville, Ala.
However, many analysts see Sun as the front-runner in the intranet and Internet server market. "Sun is demonstrating a savvy understanding of the emerging intranet business customer," said John Mann, an analyst with the Yankee Group, Boston. "In taking this kind of leadership role in the intranet, Sun is underscoring its strength and vision as an enterprise networking vendor."
Sun's latest Internet server product is the Netra, which includes security technology from Netscape. Sun prides itself on not just selling the server but adding consulting and systems integration to the mix, as well. Even many companies' self-appointed "techies" are eager for help in the fast-changing environment. "Suddenly companies are having to deploy a class of applications that was all but unheard of just a few years ago," said Neil Knox, vice president of Sun's Internet and Networking Products Group.
As executives at Intergraph, which is better known as a systems integrator and 3-D graphics provider, took a look at the market, they found that there are many companies that are slapping software on hardware and calling it an Internet server. Most Intel vendors, for example, can also say they have a line of Web servers, said Chandler Hall, senior marketing manager for Intergraph. "Many vendors that announce they now have Web servers don't really have them," said Hall.
The difference, he points out, is the ability to connect a customer to the Internet. Sun and Silicon Graphics, said Hall, are real server providers because they provide the whole Internet connection, from start to finish. Intergraph is trying to do the same thing. "We are a full solutions vendor," said Hall.
Another division in the Internet server world is between those companies that are using UNIX and those that use Pentium power. "UNIX will get more and more relegated to high-end niche environments," said Hall.
However, Digital Equipment Corp.'s newest Internet server, launched just last month, comes in both UNIX and Windows NT versions. TP Internet Server -- TP means transaction processing -- is designed for financial services, insurance claims and other process-oriented tasks such as inventory counting, distribution and ordering. Digital claims the technology will allow a whole new level of electronic commerce because the transactions are protected by AltaVista Tunnel encryption. Brazil's largest bank, Banco Bradesco S.A., plans to use the product for remote banking.
Digital claims its product is superior because it passes the "acid test": "atomicity," which means all the parts of a transaction succeed or the entire effort is called back; consistency, or data validity; isolation, which separates each transaction while being processed; and durability, which means data are saved by the system.
Another new effort this summer came from Oracle, which is also playing up the idea of "full service" intranets. Oracle executives said their product delivers scaleability in the intranet world, that is, the ability to build technology blocks.
"Browsers alone cannot provide the foundation for corporate intranets," said Jerry Held, senior vice president of server technologies at Oracle. Boeing, Booz-Allen & Hamilton and Electronic Data Systems Corp. are among Oracle's intranet customers. Partners include Attachmate, Silicon Graphics and Sun, which are all building intranet products around Oracle's platform.
Peter Kastner, an analyst with Aberdeen Group, Boston, said Oracle's 15 years of experience on the client/server front make it a great intranet player. "Oracle has really thought through investment protection in taking applications from client/server to the Web," said Kastner.
A major sign that the Internet server market is taking off is that the ubiquitous technology and marketing partnerships are starting to emerge. One of the most important so far was announced last week: SCO, Santa Cruz, Calif., will work with Intel and Netscape to develop standards for the Internet protocol-based "network computers."
"To get a quality product to market quickly, we knew we had to stick to our core competencies -- operating system technologies -- and partner with industry leaders," said Jeff Ait, vice president of SCO's Internet division.
SCO's Network Client Operating System runs on Intel processor hardware, using a UNIX operating system and Netscape Navigator client software.
"We are providing a real alternative for those who thought they could only use Microsoft on the desktop," said Scott McGregor, senior vice president for products at SCO.
Companies will save money by using Internet technology on local networks as opposed to proprietary solutions, according to Mike Homer, senior vice president of marketing at Netscape. "Together with SCO and Intel, we will help develop open, standards-based network computers, applications and content while ensuring their compatibility within the existing information infrastructure," Homer said in a statement.
Earlier this summer, SCO launched its Internet family of products that includes a server. SCO is making good on its intent to partner: other allies include CyberCash, Netcom and Verity.
Another partnership to watch was formed in July between IBM's software group, located in Somers, N.Y., and NetObjects, Woodside, Calif. IBM will resell NetObjects Fusion, software that lets companies extend existing client/server applications to the Web. Although details were not given, spokesmen at both companies said joint development projects are also in the works.
NetObjects Fusion includes Web site building, design and publishing capabilities. During August, Web site developers participated in a beta test of the program.
IBM is clearly a leader in the Internet server market, and is also clearly covering its bases with many offerings and partner- ships. IBM recently announced Domino II, the sequel to the much-hyped Domino Web server launched earlier this summer. Domino is under the umbrella of the Lotus Development Corp., an IBM subsidiary.
The second generation of Domino comprises servers built entirely on Internet standards. The first to be launched will be Notes-based, according to Lotus. Trials of the new products will begin later this year. Expected to be key to the technology is the "designer" package, which includes development tools and templates for Web design. An additional new component is the "information manager," which lets telecommuters and mobile workers tap into the same technologies as their counterparts at the office.
A Server(less) Server
SMS Data Products launches a CD-ROM alternative
As companies jump into the intranet and Internet server business, each tries to distinguish itself from the pack.
SMS Data Products, McLean, Va., this month made its splash in the pool by launching "the server(less) Web server." SMS uses a CD-ROM networking system that sets up World Wide Web formatted files that can be accessed by browsers across the Internet or an intranet.
The customer copies his home page onto a CD-ROM using a CD-ROM recorder. The technology allows it to be accessed by any standard Web browser.
The idea, said James Geanakos, director of marketing for SMS, is to use a CD-ROM tower as a Web server. "This combines the popularity of the Internet and the popularity of CD-ROM," he said. "It's less expensive and less complicated because it's server-less."
The tower acts as a Web server appliance, supporting hypertext links from other servers, and can read HTML-formatted CDs. Acting independently of other file servers and client workstations, it can connect up to seven CD-ROMs to an Ethernet network. That means other servers or files at the business won't be affected by the Web server. SMS' Millenia series 700 CD-ROM tower with Web module and seven CD-ROM drives costs $4,589.
Fifty Fortune 1,000 companies were asked:
How much of your network traffic is Internet protocol?
More than halfLess then half
Source: Forrester Research*projected