Four fixed-function servers stack up

High-function appliances yield plug-and-play simplicity — for a premium

Enterprise adoption of fixed-function server appliances increased significantly during the past three years, with ISVs and customers alike betting on them to boost their business success. Appliances may have found their start fulfilling basic IT needs, such as firewall services and Web caching, but today they’ve branched out to include services such as network monitoring and even CRM.

In this special report, the InfoWorld Test Center plugs in four new server appliances geared toward solving a variety of IT dilemmas. Mirapoint introduces MailHurdle to its RazorGate e-mail security appliance; it blocks a large amount of spam from reaching the filter. NetVCR 2005 is Niksun’s appliance for proactive network monitoring and analysis. Ingrian Networks strengthens enterprise stability with its DataSecure appliance. Rounding out our quartet is SugarCRM’s Sugar Cube, a CRM appliance for managing sales and customer-service teams.

Many factors are fueling the influx of server appliances. For vendors, sealed systems provide an opportunity to mitigate many of the technical hurdles to deployment. These finely tuned boxes with specialized applications preinstalled provide near plug-and-play compatibility, a compelling selling point.

Furthermore, without the unnecessary features that encumber general-purpose hardware, these controlled platforms reduce configuration conflicts that put a drag on a vendor’s support resources.

Additionally, by making use of commodity hardware and low-cost open source licensing, vendors have been able to gild profit margins in the process.

From the customer’s perspective, a preconfigured system reduces time and toil for deployment, as getting it up and humming on the network frequently demands little more than an IP address.

Turnkey comes at a marginal premium, but customers can justify the costs through realized savings: Appliances often require less IT expertise to manage than do traditionally installed apps.

On the downside, appliances add to server sprawl at a time when consolidation is king. If you have available cycles on existing hardware, it may be tough to rationalize adding more boxes to your collection, particularly considering you need to purchase extra units to ensure fail-over redundancy. Also, although many vendors accommodate requests to upgrade hardware quality, you’re often stuck with a grab-bag approach to shopping.

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Nevertheless, server appliances have become a viable gambit in managing discrete IT needs. Consider your existing hardware and expertise levels, and then decide if one of these is right for your company.