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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 :
idea has been completed and broadened later by several other kinds of
"turnkey servers" and network components :
- 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.
- 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
||HP, Intel, etc.
|Turnkey Classical File Server
|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
|Turnkey Multi-Function web Server
|Turnkey Wireless Network Hub
||Network Utility Box (Data General)
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.
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 :
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.
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
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.
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.
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.