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Intel-Oracle deal takes server appliance upscale

Suddenly but subtlely, Intel's server appliances needn't be cheap and cheerful after all

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As predicted here rather some time ago (Intel network scheme means war with Microsoft), Intel's "server appliance" strategy is breaking the old Wintel alliance asunder. Last week the company announced a group of "supporters" for its projected Server Appliance Design Guide, and Microsoft, naturally, wasn't on the team. It may also be interesting to note that Compaq, which muscled its way into some of the Wintel PC9x design guides, isn't listed either. An oversight, or a hint of Alpha-related shenanigans to come? The "supporters and contributors" (it seems pretty clear who's in charge here - they're not what you'd call consortium members) are Bull, Cobalt Networks, Dell, Dialogic, Digex, HP, Lucent, Nortel, Novell, Oracle, PSI-net and SCO. So what do you do with a group like that? Well, you maybe modify what you said originally about server appliances for starters. Intel's original pitch was that they were single-task or limited function devices that sat on the network and were easy to install. It's first real appliance was launched relatively recently, and is a sort of plug-in mail server in a paperback sized box. It uses a 486 and an embedded OS, and it's cheap. At the original announcement Intel specifically stated that expensive, multi-function (i.e., Microsoft) operating systems were out of the question, as were expensive, per seat (i.e. Microsoft) network licensing models. Now, the message is slightly different. "Server appliances are an expansion to the overall market segment, providing complete hardware and software solutions designed to perform a single dedicated function or a small set of dedicated functions within a network or communications infrastructure… These products are applicable over a broad range of performance classes and usage models." Read that last sentence again if you didn't get it right away - Intel has taken the spec upscale. Initially it was pitching appliances at small business, but now (no doubt having read and learned from Oracle's Raw Iron project ) it sees how you can put high performance apps like Oracle8 almost directly on the metal. Quite a few of the supporters for server appliances certainly would want to build simple, idiot-proof devices for small businesses, but quite a few of them would also like to produce more powerful, dedicated devices. Intel would appear to be snuggling up to Oracle in order to commoditise the latter's Raw Iron project on an Intel hardware base. The effort will get a charter in Q1, and the first spec is expected in Q2. So what do we call it? Intacle?

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