Data General floats 'thin server' idea for NCs

Data General is entering the Internet appliance business with a line of thin servers that act as a way station to link central corporate resources and a remote office or homes equipped with network computer (NC) clients over the Internet.

Data General is entering the Internet appliance business with a line of thin servers that act as a way station to link central corporate resources and a remote office or homes equipped with network computer (NC) clients over the Internet.

Early next year, Data General's newly formed ThinLine business unit will release the server products, which are smaller than a PC, mount on a wall, and communicate with Oracle's NC via a wireless LAN. The thin server will cost less than US$1500 and has little processing power, some caching capability, an inexpensive chip set, and software similar to an embedded OS that can run some Microsoft applications, company officials say. "We want to create a virtual LAN that will provide communication services and access to a network provider via a digital telephone or a modem," says Tom West, Data General's senior vice-president of advanced development.

At least one user expressed interest in Data General's hardware idea. "I think Data General has generally seen where the industry is going, so we have to take it seriously when they talk about the market shifting from personal data processing to information access," says Steve Milunovich, a Morgan Stanley & Co. analyst, in New York.

Rather than competing on the client side, Data General will focus on creating a three-tier lightweight information access system to hook small workgroups to a central data repository or telecommunications backbone. This small-footprint server in turn would access a large remote database or information server via the Internet and act as a data repository, or it could sit near the backbone of the Internet service provider, West says. A three-tier model skirts typical LAN handicaps of multiple IP addresses and network administration.

Sources says the information server will use the Non-Uniform Memory Access architecture, optimising bandwidth for peripherals on a network. Data General can also tap in to its massive storage capacity in the form of a disk array to stockpile data such as Web pages.

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