More for Less: Server Appliances Help Companies Expand Networks

REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 26, 2002 — When Swedish communications giant Telia needed to begin offering Web hosting services, its problem was anything but unique. Like many growing companies, it wanted to expand its IT infrastructure without rebuilding it. Sound difficult? Not with a server appliance.

General purpose servers are powerful business machines that handle heavy-duty multi-function corporate computing. But when companies have specific needs, such as hosting Web services or adding storage, many prefer solutions expressly designed to meet those particular needs. That’s where Windows Powered server appliances come in. These devices are designed to do specific server jobs well, so companies can assign key tasks to machines optimized to perform them.

Windows Powered server appliances are designed to be easy to set up and maintain. Server appliances come pre-configured with all the necessary hardware, software and management tools to perform defined tasks, such as networked-attached storage (NAS), running a virtual private network (VPN) or acting as a file or Web server. These appliances also are pre-tuned, can be managed centrally or remotely, and are designed to be a true plug-and-play solution.

“Windows Powered server appliances combine the simplicity and ease of use of an appliance with the scalability and availability of Windows 2000,”
said Joseph Landes, marketing manager in the OEM Marketing Group at Microsoft.
“Because they’re optimized for tasks like storing data or delivering Web content, they’re easy to use and very simple to integrate with existing IT infrastructures. Companies can usually set them up in minutes.”

Quick Deployment of New Offerings

Scandanavian telecom Telia was able to deploy its Web hosting services using Windows Powered server appliances quickly, allowing them to meet a very aggressive project timeline. The company, which has a long and successful history of providing traditional telecom services throughout Scandinavia, needed to move fast with Web hosting services because its customer base was rapidly expanding in this new area of business.

Telia created a complete three-tier hosting infrastructure — one that handles Web hosting, application and data center tasks — in three months. Today, the company can get a complex customer site up and running in days, and deploy new Web servers in 10 minutes, using a deployment utility and administration tool from Dell.

Equally important, Telia is poised for smooth growth with server power that’s readily scalable as needed, says Ulf Hedin, product manager for the company’s Web hosting services. These devices
“allow very fast deployment, are easy to use and have a compact size so we can build a high density data center,”
says Hedin.
“And their high availability is essential, because our customers depend on it.”

Telia’s needs and experience are familiar to Rahul Auradkar, product manager for Microsoft’s Embedded and Appliance Platforms Group.
“Our customers are looking at new and unique ways to expand their existing networks to meet current business needs,”
he says.
“Many are expressing a desire to use Windows Powered server appliances to provide cost-effective solutions that retain the high reliability and performance of the Windows 2000 operating system while solving specific business challenges.”

Despite the benefits of server appliances, Auradkar says that Windows Powered server appliances do not replace general purpose servers, such as Windows 2000 and Windows 2000 Advanced Server. If companies need broad functionality without application restrictions, general-purpose servers will still be the preferred resource, he says. General-purpose servers also provide flexibility; they can be re-deployed to address different computing challenges when a company’s needs change.

Toolkit Enables OEMs to Quickly Build Server Appliances

To meet customer demand for server appliances, Microsoft is providing Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) the tools to build server appliances on the Windows 2000 Server platform. The tools come in the Microsoft Server Appliance Kit (SAK) 2.0.

Since these devices don’t require a keyboard, mouse or monitor, they can be centrally and remotely managed, saving time and money on both hardware and IT management. Often they’re designed as standalone devices, but server appliances can be built in any shape or size, from a single computer card to a large machine.

Computer storage manufacturer Iomega uses the Microsoft SAK to build Windows Powered NAS appliances that are easy to install while offering large storage capacity and high reliability.
“There’s no sacrifice of capacity for ease of use,”
says Akshay Gupta, general manager of Iomega’s Network Attached Storage Division.
“Quite the contrary: customers gain big in both areas.”

Gupta says these appliances integrate seamlessly into customer infrastructures because they’re targeted at departments and workgroups that typically already run Windows.
“So buyers get one of the main things they’re looking for: compatibility with their installed environment,”
he says.

With the Microsoft SAK, ActiveLane, a manufacturer of function-focused networking server appliances, is able to build tools such as a full-featured Web user interface that lets customers install and begin using the appliance in 20 minutes and manage the device remotely.

“The Microsoft SAK is an incredible resource for developing and building server appliances,”
says Neil Matz, vice president of marketing at ActiveLane.
“It makes it very easy for us to provide enterprise-class management features common to all appliances. It’s a great tool.”

The Right Server for the Job

Continental Airlines, the fifth largest carrier in the United States, looked to Windows Powered server appliances to help reduce its costs in a tightly competitive industry. By consolidating 14 traditional file servers into four Windows Powered NAS appliances, Continental doubled its network storage space, trimmed its number of servers by 70 percent, and achieved tremendous savings in both acquisition and management costs, says Eric Craig, the airline’s director of network systems engineering.

The airline integrated the Windows Powered server appliance into its corporate IT environment and Active Directory infrastructure. This eased deployment and helps reduce administrative overhead, Craig says.
“This solution added a great deal of storage to our network for a very small footprint at a very reasonable cost,”
he says.

While productivity and lower cost of ownership are vital to businesses such as Continental that opt for server appliances, Microsoft’s Landes says so is access to many of the features they are used to with Windows 2000. Windows Powered server appliances deliver full-featured Windows 2000 operating system technology, including clustering, scripting, network load balancing and Active Directory. They integrate with existing IT infrastructures and the Web using a wide range of built-in protocols, including Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http), Extensible Markup Language (XML), Network File System (NFS), Novell and Apple.

These appliances also deliver the high reliability of Windows 2000, Auradkar says. In addition, the SAK allows OEMs to add reliability features such as built-in watchdog timers and back-up services.Craig says the reliability of Continental’s Windows Powered server appliances, combined with its clustering capability, has enabled the airline to avoid outages for scheduled maintenance.
“It virtually eliminates downtime, and has helped lower our operational costs,”
he says.

Focused-Function Doesn’t Mean Small

Just because Windows Powered server appliances are designed to address specific business applications doesn’t mean they’re small solutions for small companies, Landes says.

“Many people have the idea that server appliances are for small- and medium-sized businesses without IT staff,”
Landes says.
“And since they’re so easy to use right off the shelf, it’s certainly true that they offer a lot of value to companies that want to keep support needs to an absolute minimum. But they’re also excellent devices for large enterprises, many of which are already using them in demanding applications.”

He notes that Windows Powered VPN Server Appliances can support as many as 1,000 concurrent connections.
“They are a robust solution that arrives pre-loaded and pre-configured, so they are much easier, faster and more cost-effective than a custom development job,”
he says.
“Server appliances offer tremendous value to businesses of any size.”