To boldly network where no one has networked before

By Joel Shore, ITworld |  Opinion

We all love those clients with 100 rack-mounted servers sitting in the
locked, lights-out, secure server room. That many servers means lots of
switches, routers, network adapters, workstations, printers, operating
systems, and applications - stuff that is sure to go wrong from time to
time and need our world-class, fee-based expertise.

No argument from me. But what about all those businesses with no
servers? My last statistical tally suggests there are, well, zillions of
these businesses out there. A small CPA firm, a retailer selling custom
curtains or window shades, a woodcarving studio, a driveway paving
company, an electrical contractor, and more. It could be a company that
digs artesian wells, installs fences, or paints houses. How many of
these businesses are there? I live in suburbia, yet my local yellow
pages is nearly three inches thick. Do the math.

No doubt doing business through a dial-up, cable, or DSL connection,
these small operations have no centralized file storage, no real e-mail
system, and no virtual private network. Many have never set up a Windows
or Macintosh peer network, rely on an ancient mechanical switchbox to
share a printer, and still dance the floppy shuffle to share files.
Pitch the idea of a network to the owners of these businesses, and
you'll see the unmistakable look of terror in their eyes.

To these businesses, an affordable, non-threatening solution has come
from the land of russet baking potatoes (that's Idaho). Enter a clever
product, the IT-100 from EmergeCore. Billed as an IT department in a
box, the $1,395 box is far smaller than a PC but includes a 20-gig hard
drive, ports to connect a broadband modem and wired devices (PC or
printers) if required, a parallel port, and two USB ports. There's a
built-in e-mail server that supports Web-based e-mail. Web hosting and
software for building a simple corporate presence Web site are included,
too. But wait, there's more. A router, four-port switch, firewall, and
802.11b wireless access point are built in. Proxy, DHCP and FTP servers
are in there, too. Connectivity to PCs, Macs, Unix workstations, and
PDAs are fully supported.

The IT-100 can be installed and configured (through an elegant graphical
interface) in just minutes, at least according to EmergeCore. I'm sure
that's a bit on the rosy side, but nevertheless, even if it can be set
up in an hour - about as long as it takes to bake an Idaho spud - this
is a good way to bring big productivity gains to the smallest of
businesses.

So why would a big-time solutions integrator like you, MCSE certified
and selling those top-dollar Compaq servers, be interested in the
smallest of the small? I can think of a couple reasons.

Get in there with the $1,400 IT department in a box, and you're sure to
see many hopelessly outdated PCs and printers, old versions of Windows
(3.1!!!) and applications, lack of UPSes, absence of any data backup
procedures, and more.

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