Appliance Servers Arrive from IBM, Dell

The concept of server appliances got a big boost in the last few weeks with major system offerings from IBM Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. Both companies built new server appliances on optimized Windows 2000 code.

IBM ( is applying its Netfinity brand name to the new servers and calling them the A-Series. Dell ( is branding its appliances the PowerApp line, a name akin to its PowerEdge servers.

Some early reports on these projects relied on sources that declared they were built with a "lite" or embedded version of Windows 2000. Microsoft acknowledged at the Windows 2000 launch in February that it would release a Windows 2000 Embedded this year, but it has not indicated the offering would come anytime soon.

Bill Veghte, vice president of the embedded and appliance platform group at Microsoft (, flatly stated during the IBM server appliance announcement that rumors the project was based on Windows 2000 Embedded were false.

"This is not Windows 2000 Lite, this is not Windows 2000 Embedded," Veghte said. "This is taking the capabilities of Windows 2000 and optimizing them for Web serving. There is certainly some work that is applicable to the embedded kit. But the focus was, ‘Deliver a great server.’"

The value of appliance servers is coming into focus for industry analysts. A recent study by IDC ( finds the market "too hot not to touch" for server vendors. IDC predicts appliance server revenue will reach $11 billion by 2004, up from significantly less than $1 billion in 1999. That revenue will come at the expense of traditional server revenues, IDC warns (for more information on the survey see page 43).

Jim Gargan, IBM’s director of strategy and marketing for Netfinity servers, positioned IBM’s announcement last month of three Web servers as the vanguard of a broad IBM initiative.

"We mark the beginning of our appliance generation of servers," Gargan declared.

By targeting Web servers, IBM is aiming at one of the sweet spots identified in IDC’s report. IDC projects revenue in the Web server segment to increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 130 percent, compared with 73 percent CAGR for the overall appliance server market.

IBM’s new model is called the Netfinity A100. It is a 1U, two-processor capable Netfinity server running Windows 2000 Advanced Server optimized for Web serving. It is enhanced by new IBM software designed to speed the delivery of Web content.

Gargan says the A100 establishes a new paradigm that he calls unpacking-to-Web-hosting operations. "It takes a typical customer two-and-a-half hours to unpack and install that server. With the A100, we can accomplish that task in five minutes," he said.

The Web server-optimized version of Windows 2000 Advanced Server leverages Internet Information Services 5.0, Network Load Balancing, SMP support, and asynchronous I/O from Windows 2000 Advanced Server, Veghte says. Disabled services in the optimized operating system include DHCP, DNS, WINS, TAPI, RRAS, and domain controller functionality.

The IBM A100s come in three configurations, which start at $6,000. The least expensive configuration comes with one 650-MHz Pentium III processor, 512 MB of memory, a 9-GB hard drive, and 10/100 NICs. A medium configuration adds a second 650-MHz chip, a second 9-GB hard drive, and bumps the memory up to 1 GB. The most expensive setup includes two 750-MHz Pentium IIIs, 2 GB of memory, two 18-GB hard drives, and Gigabit Ethernet NICs.

All models come prepackaged with Netfinity Web Server Accelerator Version 2.0, which leverages the Windows 2000 kernel to boost Web-hosting performance by storing frequently accessed information, such as the home page and product photos, freeing the Web server for transaction data, such as consumer credit card and shipping information.

The slim servers are based on the Netfinity 4000R servers, and IBM has decided against sealing its appliance boxes, Gargan says. "We thought long and hard about that, and what we decided to do was not to take that approach. Should a customer want to add a second processor to that appliance [later], they’re able to do so. Should a customer want to redeploy this system as a general server, they would be able to do so."