Arthur Cole spoke with Tom Crowley, CEO of MBX, maker of server appliances.
Cole: Most companies have spent years and millions of dollars buying versatile network machines designed to run multiple software applications. How do you convince IT executives to now buy additional hardware designed for only one purpose?
Crowley: It's all about simplicity and time savings. IT buyers like appliances because they are easy to install and maintain. With next to no configuration tasks, expenses are lower and they free up IT staff for other concerns. Software vendors like appliances for several reasons, but primarily they can differentiate themselves and make their also-ran products stand out from the crowd. But from an IT perspective, pre-installation and testing of software means there are fewer support headaches. And when it comes to making a purchase, the process can be significant when buying separate IT-related hardware and software. You need separate purchase orders that need to be coordinated. You need an OEM to bring in a server and then another person to install the software and hopefully set it all up.
Cole: Flexibility, scalability and upgradeability are crucial requirements these days. How do server appliances measure up in these areas?
Crowley: It depends on the application. We build for many different vertical markets, and some are more concerned about flexibility and scalability than others. Many security applications, for example, come in a 1-RU form. There aren't many storage needs or a need for a robust machine. When the time does come to scale up, it might require a simple patch or a download from the software company. In the VOD niche, hotels purchase servers that store the movies and whatever video feeds into the room. So the need for storage will grow and grow. With a lot of single-function devices, the basic platform is so simple that it's less expensive to purchase a new unit with upgraded software.
Cole: So does the future of server appliances lie in ever-expanding features and functionality, or does it lead to faster, simpler, cheaper?
Crowley: The heat is on, and it's been on, IT departments to become leaner and meaner, so I think the latter is going to take hold. IT departments have so much to do now that anything that saves them time and headaches is going to be more attractive. Relative cost-to-time-savings is one of the main drivers around the growth of the overall appliance market. An organization can look at security and realize that the to-do list is so long, and then they realize that they can take a box, plug it in and get the whole network locked down. If there is a problem with the box, there is one call to make and no finger pointing between separate hardware and software companies. So there are pre-purchase and after-purchase benefits around the whole model.