Toshiba launches new compact server

With a microtower measuring 9x16x4 inches – or about a phone book and a half – Toshiba America Information Systems Inc. says its new Magnia Z300 is one of the world’s smallest two-way, Intel-based servers.

Despite its half-rack, 2U size, the company is positioning the Z300 – which is wireless-enabled, and powered by dual Pentium III processors – as a full-service solution for mid-size businesses, workgroups or educational environments where space is scarce. The Z300 also has a modular design and flexible architecture that can accommodate an expansion hard drive, and an external device, such as a tape backup, Toshiba said in its launch statement.

With all the major hardware players now offering compact servers, the market for these smaller appliances looks to be getting larger and larger, said Alan Freedman, Toronto-based research manager of servers and storage at IDC Canada.

“By having these small servers all ready to go into a rack – and they’re usually pre-wired and configured so you can just pop them right in – companies are looking to decrease the footprint as well as increase the ease of installation,” Freedman said.

According to Toshiba, the Magnia Z300 can be accessed through the company’s new Web-based software application. Through this management tool, network administrators can access detailed hardware and software status reports from either a desktop, a wireless notebook or PDA within the wireless LAN created by the server.

Some sort of management tool is definitely a key feature to look at in a box like the Z300, said Freedman. “Really the one thing that’s enabling people to populate their server farms like this is increased middleware and software allowing for manageability. Because if you get 400 small severs how are you going to manage it all?” he said.

Brooks Gray, the Hampton, N.H.-based director of Technology Business Research Inc.’s Computer Business Quarterly, agreed that manageability is increasingly important.

“With staff cuts and reduction in IT spending it’s essential for small- to medium-sized businesses to have a stand-alone platform to operate on. Once companies purchase a server and image load all the data and software that they need on to it, they hope that it can be up and running and as hands-off as possible,” Gray said.

However, Gray also said that the Z300’s small size – a feature that Toshiba is heavily emphasizing – might not be a particularly attractive selling point in North America.

“The (size) strategy is inherent in Toshiba’s culture because of their base in Japan, and appears to fall in line with the trends in Asia-Pacific – many of their Asia-based customers look for compact server lines. It’s not necessarily as important for SMB (small and medium business) customers in the U.S. – they are looking for stability, and they’re looking for low price points,” Gray said.

In order to compete with the dominant hardware manufacturers, Toshiba really needs to continue to price their systems competitively, and the Z300’s starting price of US$2,350 is “not necessarily an attractive one, especially when you can look at Dell (Computer Corp.) and pull up a two-way, 800MHz server bundled in with a small network switch for US$1,500 to US$1,800 price range,” Gray said.

“At this moment in time, especially for a workhorse server, form factor is not the issue. It is more of an issue when you are looking at large enterprise and data centre environments where you have to scale rapidly and build up a large number of servers,” Gray said.

The Magnia Z300 compact server will be available beginning Dec. 14 through Toshiba America’s traditional sales channels. Toshiba of Canada, in Markham, Ont., focuses on mobile computing systems and does not plan to carry this product, said a company representative.

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