Over the past few years, enterprise software vendors have ventured well beyond their traditional focus on licensed software packages. Many have begun to offer solutions that incorporate such diverse approaches as open source software, service-oriented architecture and software-as-a-service.

Some software vendors even have taken a bold step into the world of hardware, and are offering appliances that integrate software with CPU, storage and other hardware to deliver function-specific, performance-optimized solutions for quick deployment.

The appliance wars are upon us, as can be seen in IT vendors’ eagerness to slap the label on a growing range of hardware-integrated solutions, most of which are much bigger than a bread box and far more complex and costly (though less so than the software-centric solutions they hope to supplant).

Appliance hype is building to a fever pitch. Every vendor claims its appliances are plug-and-play solutions, though few customers are so na