Dealer Sold on Network Stations

IBM reports that 1998 was a very good year for sales of its Network Stations, climbing into "double-digit" percentage growth over the previous year. While IBM will not divulge actual sales figures, it has announced major deployments, including a sale of 8,000 units at the end of 1998 to American General Finance, and another several thousand to Sysco Corp., a national food distributor.

"We think 1999 will be the year when people make the move towards a 'thin' infrastructure," predicts Edward Petrozelli, general manager for IBM's Network Computer Division. Predictions from Zona Research (Redwood City, Calif.) and IDC (Framingham, Mass.) back this up. Zona predicts thin client sales will jump from two million units in 1998 to more than 13 million by next year. IDC estimates that the industry will ship 6.8 thin-client million units in 2002, up from 507,000 in 1998.

Over the past year, IBM has dramatically shifted gears in its network computer strategy, repositioning its NCs as access devices for Windows NT networks, incorporating terminal server software from Citrix Technologies Inc. (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.). Still, IBM's strongest bet for its Network Station architecture may be in the terminal replacement market, according to IDC. There is strong demand for terminal replacements from IBM's customer base, many of whom seek to extend their investments in AS/400, S/390 and RS/6000s. IDC predicts that IBM Network Station clients will be only slightly more expensive over five years than text-based terminals: $3,144 per user per year for Network Stations versus $2,535 for terminals. However, this is far less than the jump to a PC, which would run about $5,713 per user, per year.

At Nissan Infiniti -- which maintains a network of 150 upscale auto dealers -- a recent deployment of Series 300 Network Stations as replacements for Twinax terminals has meant dramatic gains in performance. The Network Stations support 10 Mbps over an Ethernet connection to AS/400e model 170s installed at most of the dealerships, says Victor Villasenor, IT manager with Nissan Infiniti, based in Gardena, Calif. "In addition to faster performance, the Network Stations also support multiple sessions in a GUI user-friendly environment."

Infiniti's Network Stations tap a home-grown dealership information and communication system, called Infinitinet 2000 (INET2000), which runs on the local AS/400s. "There's a single AS/400 at each dealership, except for those dealerships that are running routed remotes over a frame-relay connection to a host AS/400," Villasenor explains.

Currently, there are approximately 150 Network Stations in use at Infiniti dealerships nationwide, with the projected total expected to climb into the hundreds through 1999, according to Villasenor. Infiniti employees access AS/400 applications through 5250 emulation sessions. Browser capabilities will be added in the near future, Villasenor says.

So far, these thin clients have saved the dealerships 50 percent in initial hardware acquisition costs compared to PCs, according to Villasenor. He also expects to improve customer service and worker productivity, since the maintenance requirements are lower than that of fully-loaded PCs.

--J. McKendrick