Linux server connects small offices

Looks can sometimes be deceiving.

The NetWinder Office Server may come in a small package, but it has a lot of functionality built into it, according to some analysts.

The NetWinder, Inc.’s Linux-based Internet server, is designed for small businesses that want and need to get connected. Aimed at businesses with between two to 19 employees, Ottawa-based’s server is an Internet gateway that lets everyone in the company connect to the Internet or a company intranet.

“The idea is they are light little, tight little servers. You plug it into the hub, you plug it into the wall; they don’t have a keyboard, or a mouse, or a screen, and they just quietly sit there in the middle of this doing whatever they do,” said Michael Whitehead, the vice-president of marketing for

The Office Server comes with Web design software and has e-mail, Web hosting, file sharing and printer sharing capabilities. The software also has a firewall for security purposes and virtual private network capabilities, allowing employees to tunnel through the Internet into the company’s site from home.

“It’s an all-in-one, Swiss-army-knife kind of proposition. It gets you a file server, it gets you a print server and it gets you a clearing house of all your Internet requirements,” Whitehead said.

The Office Server is specially made for small businesses which don’t have and can’t afford a full time IT staff with a lot of technical features, Whitehead said. The product is supposed to be simple to set up even for people whose technical capabilities aren’t their strong point.

There are currently eight million firms in the U.S. alone with 19 or less employees, Whitehead said. Many of them just have one or two computers hooked up to the Internet or a printer. Often, employees need to save documents on disks and then walk up to the computer attached to the printer in order to print documents; or employees need to make sure no one else is already connected to the Internet before they themselves can connect, Whitehead said.

The NetWinder Office Server can help ease the logistics of connecting and can be used in any Window 9x environment, or with a Unix, Windows NT or a Mac environment, Whitehead said.

The Office Server can also provide a solution for small field offices of larger corporations.

Dan Kusnetzky, an operating environments and server ware analyst for International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass., likes to carry the paperback book-sized server around with him in his briefcase when he gives talks about dedicated servers.

The NetWinder is “a pretty impressive little box. It’s very small, provides a lot of capability and it seems to be priced competitively,” Kusnetzky said. “It seems to do what it’s supposed to do very rapidly.”

Kusnetzky isn’t the only one who’s impressed.

Eric Klein, a small business technology analyst with the Yankee Group in Boston also thinks the Office Server is a good product.

“The NetWinder product possesses all the characteristics that are required of this kind of product, as far as ease of use and quick set up,” Klein said. “It’s a great product.”

But Klein added that the NetWinder and other products like it, are just the first generation of thin server products and they will eventually need to incorporate more applications.

“Although these products, like the NetWinder, do have a great deal of functionality built into them, they do lack certain things,” Klein said.

The firewall, a Network Address Translation (NAT) firewall, for instance is a very basic firewall, Klein said.

“The second generation of these products will have some kind of firewall that is more than a basic NAT,” he said.

“There’s more opportunity for bringing more e-commerce capabilities to these products,” he added.

The NetWinder, which has a StrongARM processor, is scalable up to 100 employees, Whitehead said.

But Klein thinks 50 is a more realistic number.

“I think the sweet spot is probably more in the range of 50 people, and that’s pretty logical. Once you move above the range of 50 there are levels of sophistication that you may require,” he said.

The NetWinder comes in 4, 6 or 10GB options and is priced at $895, $1,450 or $1,995, respectively. can be reached at 1-877-282-6735 or at

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