JavaStation takes Air NZ IT chief's fancy

With the estimated cost of PC ownership up to US$50,000 over their lifetime, network computers are starting to catch local users' attention.

"I'd love to get my hands on one."

That's the reaction of Air New Zealand IS general manager Garth Biggs to Sun's announcement of its JavaStation network computer.

And he will probably be one of the first in New Zealand to assess the new technology because the airline is a major user of Sun servers.

"I haven't seen enough in depth to make much comment but given the total cost of ownership of PCs, it would be hard for us not to look at network devices," Biggs says. "Sun would be high on the list."

He hasn't managed to quantify the cost of ownership of PCs at Air New Zealand--there are many variables--but says Gartner Group estimates total ownership costs over the life of a PC at between $US40,000 and $US50,000.

Sun chief executive Scott McNealy reckons the annual cost of running a JavaStation will be in the vicinity of $US2500.

"What we need now is Java products to sit behind it, both in terms of applications and people who can cut code," Biggs says.

Waikato University Internet services director John Houlker says the university is also keenly interested in the network computer.

"I've got an NCD Explorer on my desk right now and we're looking hard at this way of managing life cycles and support costs. We're also running old, less powerful PCs with network computer-type front ends to give them a whole new lease of life. We can run monstrous applications on powerful servers with just the graphical front end running on an old PC or Mac.

"The premise of Java goes rather beyond that in that you're distributing the application itself rather than just the graphical front end. We're certainly looking hard at that with our Oracle systems."

Houlker says while he couldn't comment specifically on the Javastation, he believes the news will help drive the Java movement forward. "What's really needed are the authoring tools and just in time compilers to give significant performance advantages."

In its announcement out of New York, Sun positioned the technology as a secure, manageable, cost-saving alternative to traditional PC networks and mainframes.

The JavaStation is a sleek, trimmed-down device that has no hard drive, slots or CD-ROM player, and looks somewhat like a laptop computer stood on end. It derives its applications and storage power from servers via the Internet or corporate intranets, which Sun officials said can reduce network maintenance costs by more than 50% over traditional PC-based networks.

Shipping is expected to begin in December.

McNealy says New Zealand can expect to see the JavaStation at the same time as the rest of the world, although local pricing is not yet determined.

"The initial cost really just doesn't matter. JavaStations would be a great deal at even three times the price. The issue is that we think we can bring running costs of each workstation down to $2500 per year."

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