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NetMAX Linux Network Appliances -- a Thing of Beauty

Nov 28, 1999, 07:44 (5 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tom Adelstein)

By Tom Adelstein, CIO, Bynari Inc.

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ]

On November 4th, the day before Cobalt Networks (NASD:COBT) went public, I had the good fortune of spending a couple of hours with Kim Brown of DataQuest, Carl Howe of Forrester Research and Francis Gaskins on RadioWallStreet discussing Cobalt Networks and network appliances. In the event you missed the activity on Cobalt, the Company planned to open its IPO at $17 on November 5th. Instead, the stock initially opened for $22 and closed the day at $105. On Friday, November 27th, the stock closed at $143 1/8.

So what does Cobalt Networks do? They make network appliances using a Red Hat 5.0 distribution ported to the MIPS platform. In case you're interested in hearing the discussion, it's still available on http://radiowallstreet.com

If you decide to miss the analysts' discussion, the topic that caught the most attention in my mind centered around Cobalt's software. In a nutshell, the analysts didn't have much to say about the Company's 1U form factor. Instead, they saw the main market differentiation for Cobalt being its ability to create an appliance with software. I remember thinking at the time that someone would probably catch that point and realize they could just sell the software.

Three weeks later, I ran across Cybernet's NetMAX product line on the shelves of the MicroCenter in Richardson, Texas. MicroCenter retails computer products in the superstore fashion and does a very good job with Linux. You might say, someone caught the point and realized they could just sell the software.

I found out that NetMAX has an inventor. Cybernet Systems, established in 1988 and with clients such as the U.S. Government, Ford Motor Company and the A.I. du Pont Institute, invented the NetMAXTM suite of thin server/Internet appliance software. After extensive investigation, I came away quite impressed. Cybernet has developed the industry's first suite of Linux-based "thin"network server products.

Cybernet calls their products the NetMAX Thin Server series. They feel that NetMAX will appeal to a broad market of users who want both the power of the mature Unix operating system and the ease-of-use of a point-and-click interface. They designed the software for what they refer to as a universally recognized need for a network that is simple to administer across multiple platforms - Windows, Macintosh and Unix.

They have a suite of four products which include WebServer, FireWall, FileServer and the NetMAX professional.

NetMAX WebServer is a pre-configured Web server, Email server and FTP server in an integrated product. The NetMAX WebServer includes and easily installs all necessary software in about 15 minutes. The product includes a Linux operating system based on the Red HatTM distribution or FreeBSD, the Apache web server, the Sendmail Email server, and an FTP server. All of the services are pre-configured and integrated into the WebServer product. The point and click HTML based interface works in a browser like Cobalt's RaQ and Cube products.

NetMax advertises the WebServer as "all necessary software included and installed with the complexities of Linux concealed, multiple Web sites supported, Web site access reports, Web browsing monitor, IMAP and POP Email server, spam-blocking facilitities, Windows, Macintosh, and Unix clients supported and a software only solution ." MicroCenter priced NetMax for $89.95.

NetMAX FireWall is a firewall and a router in one integrated product. NetMAX FileServer provides file, print, and CD-ROM sharing and backup utilities. FileServer also includes cross-platform printing, software mirroring and RAID5, full and differential backups, server and client backups and data restored to any client. NetMAX Professional sells for about $500 and has the kitchen skink thrown in with network management tools.

While all the big computer companies plan on offering 1U track mount servers in the appliance mode during the first quarter of 2000, NetMAX offers the needed software today. At $89.95, hardware guys can put together a motherboard with a socket 370 and sell Cobalt clones for about a quarter the going price. Suddenly, one has to wonder if Gateway's OEM deal with Cobalt hasn't gotten undercut before they sell the first server.

I like the NetMAX products. Here's a company that said they would shrink wrap a Linux based network appliance and they did it. While the idea doesn't seem very novel considering the many people who have told me they could do the same thing, the idea and fifty cents will buy you a cup of Sanka.

Tom Adelstein, CPA, is the CIO/CFO of Bynari, Inc. He's the author of several books and articles on business and technology and has management, consulting and hands-on experience in the Information Technology field.