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The Network Appliances Convertir en PDF Version imprimable Suggérer par mail
16-04-2002
As the networks reach more and more users, they need to become easier to install, set up and manage. To reach that goal, turnkey monofunction systems are becoming more common. While small companies are evidently benefiting a lot from these network appliances and their low administration requirements, large IT departments too should use them to leverage "zero-administration" use, thus lowering the corresponding costs, to ease deployments and branch empowerment and costs.

What the network appliances are

The first "network appliances" were the "print servers", the success of which grew thanks to two main features :
  • Easy administration with no danger for any main server, making easier to have these servers administered by users themselves.
  • Printers connections over the network, allowing placing the printer close to users, instead of close to the main servers.
 This idea has been completed and broadened later by several other kinds of "turnkey servers" and network components :
  •  File servers : either as regular file servers (e.g. the Snap ! by Meridian), or with additional functions : multi-support servers (e.g., from Axis : multi-CD tower ; mixed server combining CD, DVD, Jaz, etc) ; or autonomous web servers which not only host files, but also deliver them through HTTP or FTP, etc.
  • Network logical components, monofunction turnkey servers : proxy server, routing firewall (Technologic), IP gateways, or multifunction turnkey servers, bringing in the same box a full collection of web applications such as a HTTP/FTP server, a POP3/ SMTP/ IMAP4 mail server, a proxy, a firewall and a router over POTS, ISDN or (fractional-) T1 lines (like the Interjet server from Whistle).
  • Network physical components, namely wireless hubs and network cards with autoconfiguration, e.g. the NUB (Network Utility Box) from Data General.
  • IP Appliances are a special case of network appliances : we discuss these non-computer devices in a separate note. Table 1 shows a more complete inventory of these devices.

 Table 1 : The Network Appliances


Appliance type Some vendors
Print Server HP, Intel, etc.
Turnkey Classical File Server SNAP (Meridian)
Turnkey Multi-Support File Server Axis, DiscJokey (SciNet)
Turnkey web Server Micro web Server (Cisco),
Qube, WebZerver (Mictotest)
Turnkey proxy/ Router InBusiness InternetStation (Intel)
Turnkey Firewall Server Interceptor (Technologic)
Turnkey Multi-Function web Server Interjet (Whistle)
Turnkey Wireless Network Hub Network Utility Box (Data General)

 

Common characteristics


All these "appliances" are very easy to setup and require very low administration by non-technical personnel, even if their robustness and rusticity come with a slight waste in computing power. Simultaneously, these appliances are for the most part and if needed, remotely manageable over the WAN because of their embedded HTTP server.
The Operating System used by these appliances is irrelevant as long as required functions are available to end-users : this OS will not be managed or "tuned" onsite, but only used in its predefined configuration. Consequently, any embedded OS can be considered, even Unix's or exotic OSes ; Windows NT, and its presumed greater administration ease, would present absolutely no advantage (at least in its current version) -in fact licenses costs would be prohibitive.
On the software side of the integration of these network appliances, two cases may happen :
  • The network appliance is the main or single server of the IP LAN, and thus should handle the role of a local DNS and DHCP server to ease local networking and integration.
  • The network appliance is installed in a pre-existing IP environment, and so must comply with whichever addressing scheme is already in place, with the possible exception of requiring a fixed IP address. This is the situation that most IT departments will face when using the network appliances to deploy their corporate network architecture.

 

Photo 1 : A minimum push-button interface is used to set up Qube's turnkey web server.
Le tableau de bord réduit du Qube, dès 1998


The advantages of these "turnkey boxes" are so great that large companies will benefit from defining their own corporate "base standard component" and deploying them extensively in workgroups and branches. Main priority there will be standardization, so that administration cost is basically kept to zero. If a ready-to-go product does not fit corporate requirements, IT might decide to build its own configuration. A typical solution would be a system running a unified interface layer on top of Linux, with a very simple setup (e.g., for the IP address on the network -see photo 1), a network card, a floppy and a bootable Zip, a CD and an average capacity IDE hard-drive (6 to 8 GB today) -except for file servers where a bigger disk would mean longer lifetime. And of course a built-in tape-drive with an automatic backup/ restore program will be needed as soon as the product will be widely adopted by the workgroup as one main business tool !

 

Strategy for use


The simplicity of these appliances and their easy setup facilitate deployments. Savings in setup and administration costs amply compensate for any product redundancies, which might even cause no additional costs. These network appliances are thus the ideal tool to IT-empower groups without any IT-management competency. As these system enjoy easy remote administration, the corporate IT department keeps all its liberty to monitor events and pre-empt most IT problems.
 Because of their ease of setup, these appliances are also a no-brainer tool for special occasions like trade shows or temporary reinforcement of a department for a specific operations etc.

Recommendation

With these low-cost hi-power zero-administration appliances, the IT department can deliver everywhere most of the needed power while keeping in touch even at distance, in permanent setups (departments, branches) as well as in temporary situations (special operations, tradeshows, etc). Consequently, IT management needs to leverage these appliances and to add them to the catalog of its corporate standards.

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