Touting the reliability and ease of use that come with dedicated, single-purpose devices, Compaq and Dell are betting that users are willing to populate their networks, particularly those in remote locations, with a variety of headless "appliances" for tasks typically run on general-purpose servers.
In what may have signalled the start of a significant trend by major server vendors, Dell in April debuted a file server for a network-attached storage server using software from partner Network Appliance and the company's own hardware to develop a turnkey solution. Compaq now has taken a similar approach, introducing a caching appliance, called TaskSmart, built around Compaq hardware and Novell caching software to speed Internet access and reduce Internet-related network traffic.
According to John Young, director of appliance and communications servers at Compaq, the impetus behind such offerings is obvious - simplicity.
"There are a lot of vendors that will offer single-purpose software on general-purpose servers, but to us that's only half the answer," Young said. "IT managers and ISPs don't want to have to baby-sit remote sites, so we've taken out parts that just don't matter, and fewer parts means simpler configuration and greater reliability."