From the Front Line - Does NC Mean "Not Cost" Effective?

Several months ago, I ordered my first IBM Network Station (NC), which was going to be evaluated as a possible replacement for all of the 180 "dumb terminals" we had been using.

Our first unit was a Series 100 with 8 MB of RAM and a sizzling processor speed of 33MHz. The first thing we found was 8 MB of memory was not enough to get the kind of response time our users were used to, so we added an additional 8 MB of memory. When we benchmarked the response time of the NC against the existing terminals, we found them to be very close. At this point, I felt that we had an ideal replacement solution -- at a 40 percent savings.

During our evaluation period IBM announced the Series 300 NC at a cost of $600 which, for only $100 more than the Series 100, afforded a doubling of the processor speed (66 MHz). Very shortly after the announcement of the Series 300, out comes the Series 1000. For either $999 or $1,199 you could purchase a 200 MHz NC with either 32 MB or 64 MB of memory. We naturally were anxious to try this latest offering, especially since IBM touted the new abilities of the Series 1000 to provide single source access to any PC application.

We purchased a Series 1000 with 64 MB of memory and restarted our evaluation. In addition to the $999 cost of the unit, there were some additional components required to allow the NC to run PC applications. Our plan was to bring in 20 NCs, field test them for six months and -- based upon price, performance, reliability, etc. -- make the decision to expand to 180 units, or go the PC route.

The following additional costs are based upon an installation of 20 NCs:

  • $116 for two year IBM maintenance
  • $220 per WinCenter license (for 20 units, total cost was $4,440)
  • $39 for WinCenter updates
  • $29 for WinCenter support
  • $249 for WinCenter IBM Netfinity server
  • $106 for WinCenter training
  • $300 for MS-Office license
  • $50 for CC:Mail license
  • $200 per 15-inch color monitor

Total "add-on" expenses equaled $1,309.

When we added the cost of the Series 1000 to the cost of the add-ons, the total came to $2308, which was approximately $600 more than we were paying for a fully loaded PC (233 MHz, 32MB RAM, 2GB hard drive, MS-Office, etc.). Ignoring the differences in cost of ownership, we continued with our evaluation.

For the next three months, we faced major software glitches while trying to implement a Windows platform. Specifically, the Internet browser (free) was not capable of handling the majority of the Web pages found on the Internet.

We were also forced to install an old version of NT (3.5.1) in order to run WinCenter. In addition, we faced enormous difficulty setting up WinCenter to present a user desktop. When finally configured, the NCs would constantly lock up, the cause of which was very difficult to determine due to the many layers of software. The final straw was Microsoft's delay in releasing NT 5.0, which was to contain Citrix multi-user software designed to allow NCs to run without WinCenter.

Our NC project was abandoned two months ago, but we are still open to the idea of NCs when we start hearing success stories from the field. My overall impression of the NC concept, specifically IBM's, is that it is a wonderful, cost-effective solution, as long as your one and only goal is to run 5250 emulation.

P.S. If you haven't guessed, we are now the proud owners of an additional 180 PCs.

--Bob Lewis is VP of IT at the FoodService Purchasing Cooperative Inc. (Louisville, Ky.). He can be reached at bob_lewis@fspc.com.