Smart resellers watching the debate on network computers should forget the notion that the NC is strictly for larger organisations.
The power of the new generation of servers is making a case for using them to drive a network of NCs in the small office market.
Heading the charge in this direction is Hewlett-Packard. It recently released a server aimed at the upper end of the small- to medium-sized business.
HP's NetServer LD Pro is claimed to be the only PC server at this level that combines a Pentium Pro processor with up to 512Mb of system memory and 27Gb of hot-swap disk storage cap-acity. "It's not the system for the very small SOHO market," said David Booth, HP Australia's market development manager for its NetServer line. "But it is ideal as a server for an NC network in a small business looking for a cheaper solution to its computing environment," he said.
"Five traditional desktop PCs and a server, plus networking and software, will still cost a small business about $20,000," Booth added. "Using the LD Pro as the server can make a more effective solution on a lower budget when used with NCs."
With a street price pushing the $6000 mark, the NetServer LD Pro will certainly only appeal to resellers pitching at the upper-end of the small office market. More in line with the middle- and lower-end of the market is the recently-released Compaq ProSignia 200.
Built around a 166MHz processor, the ProSignia 200 was designed for what Compaq terms "price-sensitive" customers. It ships with a Windows NT Server and a pre-installed NIC.
Recognising that the market it is aimed at has little IT staff, the ProSignia also has a software tool - Compaq Insight Manager - that provides automated assistance for setting up, configuring and managing the system.
Unlike HP, Compaq is shy of committing its new server as an NC server. "No one really understands where the NC will fit," said Tony Bill, Compaq Australia's product marketing manager for systems.
"We don't see the small business and SOHO market embracing the NC," he said. "SOHO users need more power and autonomy on the desktop and only the conventional PC can give them that," said Booth. But he added that the market moves so quickly: "While the desktop PC looks safe in its current form, who can tell what will happen in six months?
"As for the low-end server market, we see the true server capabilities of the ProSignia 200 such as pre-installed NIC, automatic server recovery and Insight Manager, as a real alternative to desktop PCs for hosting networks," Booth said.
With a tax-inclusive street price of $3140, Compaq's new server could be the ideal answer for the small business market.
It's also worth reflecting on the continuing fall in PC prices. In the US, street prices of PCs in a 16/1.2/Win95/33.6 configuration have gone below the $US1000 mark.
With NCs predicted to hit the market at around $US600 RRP in the US, does it make any sense using them to replace the desktop? The heavyweights on the side of the NC - including IBM, HP, Sun, Oracle and Microsoft (on again, off again) - will have to keep an eye on the changing scene.
But what is the market buying now in mid-town Australia? Ross Williams, one of the principals of Northgate Bizz Whizz, Hornsby, NSW, said the home market was settling on systems based on a minimum of a Pentium 150, with 16Mb of memory, 1.2Gb disk and 12-speed CD-ROM drive.
"We see an increasing number of buyers now going for 32Mb of memory and a 2Gb hard drive," Williams said. "We concentrate on the home and home office market and we haven't seen any real move to NT. Most of our customers are happy with Win 95's networking capabilities," he added.
Northgate Bizz Whizz is independently operated but is part of the APT co-operative group. PCs are supplied by Pro Micro.
Gauging the reaction of the application software vendors, ARN asked Data-Tech Software if there were any noticeable trends.
"We've been very successful in the single user business," said Brad Shofer, Data-Tech's joint managing director. "We have about 80,000 copies of M.Y.O.B. in use and about 10,000 of them need a multi-user version," said Shofer.
Data-Tech has a multi-user version of M.Y.O.B. being readied for a launch later this year. "It's designed to run on a peer-to-peer network too," explained Shofer.
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