Network World today posted my column predicting a rosy future for computing appliances. A lot of the supporting research has been posted in this blog recently; here’s what was a preliminary summary and survey of appliance vendor strategies.
Subsequent to submitting the column, I developed a simpler taxonomy of computing appliance types, namely:
Type 0: Custom hardware including proprietary ASICs or FPGAs.
Type 1: Custom assembly from off-the-shelf parts. In this model, the only unusual (but still off-the-shelf) parts are usually in the area of network acceleration (or occasionally encryption). Also, the box may be balanced differently than standard systems, in terms of compute power and/or reliability.
Type 2 (Virtual): We don’t need no stinkin’ custom hardware. In this model, the only “appliancy” features are in the areas of easy deployment, custom operating systems, and/or preconfigured hardware.
Here’s what I predict for each of them.
Type 0 appliances used to be favored by a range of networking and security vendors, such as Netscreen. However, there’s a trend away from them. Netezza is the only Type 0 appliance vendor I’ve actually talked with recently.
Type 1 appliances are pretty much the norm, as per the column and summary post linked above. However, that depends in no small part on how networking-intensive the appliance’s software is. Interestingly, DATAllegro seems to be moving from Type 1 to Type 2.
Type 2 is where most appliance vendors ideally would want to be. Examples can already be found in data warehousing, antispam, and firewall. Also, a variety of platform vendors are interested in supporting virtual appliances, including VMware, Microsoft, maybe IBM, and Crossbeam. Crossbeam’s strategy may be the most interesting of all.