Kiwi on the trail of networking’s Holy Grail

The Holy Grail of slashing networking costs has yet another champion - OnEX by Auckland-based Vision Computer Science (VCS). VCS chief executive David Hickman describes OnEX as the first Network Computer (NC) to slash the $US500 barrier.

The Holy Grail of slashing networking costs has yet another champion - OnEX by Auckland-based Vision Computer Science (VCS).

VCS chief executive David Hickman describes OnEX as the first Network Computer (NC) to slash the $US500 barrier.

“The real bonus the OnEX solution offers is its extremely low cost of Unix connectivity,” he says.

OnEX comprises an X-based down-loadable operating system (which works with a WinCenter application server) plus an OnEX network adapter card. Companies can convert PCs (486DX33 16Mb RAM upwards) into network computers with access to Windows NT (through WinCenter) and native access to any flavour of Unix, Internet browsers and legacy systems.

The network adapters come with a 10Mbit/s ISA bus suitable for a 486, and 10-100Mbit/s PCI models suitable for Pentium machines. The adapter cards have code burned into the EPROM which bootstraps the PC to the OnEX server. The PC then presents the OnEX interface, which shows icons for various operating systems.

VCS chief executive officer David Hickman has spent the past two years building the OnEX operating system from the ground up. VCS is pushing OnEX as an alternative to PCs and NCs in an open architecture.

“This saves enormous costs of ongoing maintenance or PC replacement for network administrators,” he says.

The biggest selling point of the OnEX system has to be the price. All network managers are aware of the cost of buying PCs (from around $2300 to $2900), maintaining and upgrading them. At the other end of the spectrum is the new wave of NCs, diskless computers which sit on the network accessing the server and which start at $1000 without monitor or keyboard.

In effect, the OnEX system will turn a PC into a network computer. Once the hard drive is removed, the hardware will last far beyond the three-year cycle of PC upgrades. Additionally, OS and application upgrades are handled at the server end, not the client, so the necessity to upgrade client hardware is dramatically reduced.

Hickman says the most difficult part for prospective clients to measure is the total cost of PC ownership. At $500, the OnEX solution includes the adapter card, OnEX operating system software, installation and maintenance for one year. Ongoing support is $500 a year and covers OS support and upgrades.

VCS also plans to market the product in US by August and may show it at America’s biggest IT trade show, Comdex.

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