Web Informant #125, 29 September 1998:
Is there an Internet appliance in your future?


You may not know what an Internet appliance is, but chances are you could use one to simplify your computing life. Over the past year, more than a dozen different vendors have sprung up to sell various kinds of pre-packaged Internet servers.

Internet appliances come, for the most part, ready-to-use. Their software comes pre-installed, and they require minimal configuration to get them up and running. Most products are administered via a web browser, making them fairly easy to setup and maintain. They are mostly inexpensive, costing less than $2000. That is the good news. The bad news is that different appliances offer overlapping features, making choosing the right product difficult. And unlike kitchen or other household appliances, it isn't immediately evident what these things really do. When it comes time to make a toast or a roast, none of us have any trouble distinguishing between a toaster and an oven for the job.

But the problem is that Internet appliances can be used for a wide variety of tasks and services, and each appliance combines a different mix of services. The household equivalent would be if General Electric started selling a combination dishwasher and carpet cleaner.

The number of Internet appliances available fall into roughly six different categories: file servers (which provide simple shared network disk storage), web servers (which can range from relatively stripped-down models to those than can handle more complex programming and scripting tasks), eCommerce servers (which automate setting up web storefronts and handling payments), Internet application servers (to deliver email and news and addressing services), communications servers (covering routers and both dial-in and dial-out to the Internet), and security servers (covering filters, proxies and firewalls). That is a pretty broad swatch of applications.

So, buying an Internet appliance isn't as simple as using one. If you never saw a blender, you would be hard-pressed to choose the right appliance for making milkshakes, or even know that there is such a device. The same is true in the Internet appliance marketplace. First, you need to know the right questions to ask to frame your requirements. Then, you need to focus on the type of problem you are trying to solve. And finally, you'll need to collect information on which products match your needs. Some products are better suited to remote offices or small business owners, while others are geared towards teleworkers, Internet and eCommerce Service Providers or for use in branch offices of larger corporations.

There is surprisingly little information on this subject, until now. (self-promotions on here)

Having seen this information gap, I set out to do something about it. Combining forces with Dave Piscitello and Lisa Phifer at Core Competence, we wrote a 20 page report describing the market, enumerating the many different situations and products available. To help fund the project, we obtained four sponsoring vendors and review their products in detail: Cobalt Microsystems' Qube 2700 Internet application and web appliance, the Encanto e.go Commerce web and eCommerce appliance, the FlowPoint(tm) 2200 SDSL router, and the WebRamp 300e dial communications appliance.

Dave and Lisa report on a variety of internet-related topics in their own newsletter, Cornerstone. Subscribe to this newsletter here.

Our report is available in several different ways: free from the web, a nominal fee ($35) for a printed copy, or from the sponsors themselves. We also wrote a feature based on the report for the December issue of Web Builder magazine. And Dave and I will be demonstrating these four devices, as well as talking about the overall market, at the upcoming Atlanta Interop (our session is on Thursday, October 22 at 10 am). You can find links to the vendors along with copies of our presentations and the reports below.

Report's home page Other Internet Appliance references

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