Although the network computer (NC) is being touted as the harbinger of a desktop revolution, the systems that will actually enable this change are now being designed by the major server vendors.
Oracle officials say they plan to work with Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Digital and Intel to build NC servers. These servers will run NC management software being developed by Oracle and the Unix operating system marketed by The Santa Cruz Operation, says Jerry Baker, president of Oracle's network computing (NCI) subsidiary.
The servers from HP, Sun and Digital will be positioned as enterprise-class NC servers, whereas servers based on Intel processors will be the equivalent of PC servers, Baker says.
Next month NCI will release NC Server software that will provide a series of services, including security, authentication and application management, officials say.
Operations include the capability to track the use of applications and even bill for usage, says Bonny Crater, vice-president of strategic relations at Oracle. Crater says this suite of products will be embedded in the operating system running on the server.
Users says they were intrigued by the NC but note that ease of use and the functionality of the server component are critical to saving money on an NC deployment. "There are all kinds of services behind it that you're going to have to purchase," says Larry Binder, a database administrator at Ford, in Dearborn, Michigan. "What other costs are there to get the system up and running?"
Analysts agree, saying the cost of ownership in a NC network will shift from the desktop to the server.
"NCs are dependent on servers and clearly Oracle wants them dependent on their servers," says Audrey Apfel, networking director at the Gartner Group, based in Stamford, Connecticut. "If you're going to invest in NCs, don't cheap out on the server."
Like Oracle, Sun has added a server piece to the NC puzzle. It announced two weeks ago at its JavaStation rollout that it will bundle NC administration software with its line of Netra J servers.
Oracle is also beefing up its systems and database-management platform, Oracle Enterprise Manager (OEM), with application management features. As part of Oracle's Network Computer Architecture (NCA), the next version of its OEM will be deployed as a cartridge.
"Oracle believes it will make money and sell more database server software to server suppliers with the NC," says Tim Bajarin, an analyst at Creative Strategies, in San Jose, Calif.
One analyst says that the NC Server suite will eventually contain all that's needed to manage and configure a network of NCs, but currently the server can only download the client's operating environment.
"Personalised configuration management won't be available for at least six months," says Richard Finkelstein, president of Performance Computing, in Chicago. "These things are still evolving."