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Java NC Vendors Are No Show at "Lowering TCO"

When GartnerGroup came up with "Total Cost of Ownership" as a measurement that showed a growing problem with the expense of PC networks, the network computing vendors were among the first to claim they had an answer.

But at the analytical service's "Lowering TCO" conference in Palm Springs this week, the Java NC vendors were nowhere to be found.

Oh, there were a few Oracle Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. employees among the attendees in the audience, but not up on stage. Next to Gartner's researchers, the stars of the show were companies like Tivoli (IBM's network management division), Network Associates, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and Dell , and they focused mostly on improving the TCO of PC networks.

The idea behind TCO is that the purchase price of a device is the least part of its cost, which in the case of Windows PCs has mushroomed because of the difficulty in installing, configuring, and managing software on these devices.

The NC vendors argued that a device that relied solely on Java applications downloaded from the network would drastically reduce the management of each client, eliminating the TCO problem.

Bill Kerwin, the analyst who did the original TCO research and continues to manage the program, said Gartner does not want people to think that NCs have an exclusive claim on TCO improvement. That might be part of the reason those vendors kept a low profile at the conference, he said.

Gartner's research does support the value of network-centric computing, but the argument for network computing turns out to have more to do with pursuing new business opportunities than with cutting costs. Also, Gartner argues that lowering TCO has more to do with implementing best practices in training and network management than anything else. Those best practices include making training, support, and network management applications available over the Web, but that doesn't particularly favor NCs.

In fact, the device that delivers the greatest savings may turn out to be a PC with enhanced network management features, according to Gartner.

Starting from the nearly $10,000 annual cost of a Windows 95 PC, Gartner is projecting that a Java-powered NC will deliver 23 percent savings, as compared with 22 percent for Windows terminals, and 25 percent for a NetPC in the context of full office automation applications. The reductions are deeper if the device is deployed as a terminal replacement, with the advantage shifting to favor Windows terminals based on the software Citrix Systems offers now and Microsoft will soon.

These projections assume that by 1999, Java vendors deliver a full office automation suite and that the "zero administration" features Microsoft has been promising arrive in full with Windows NT 5.0. Also, Gartner acknowledges that the NetPC--a Windows PC with a sealed cabinet that is administered from the network--may not succeed as a distinct product.

However, the NetPC and related initiatives from Microsoft and Intel introduced manageability features into standard PCs that make it possible to deploy them in a "locked down" mode that prevents users from installing software or altering configuration information, while reserving the option of turning the floppy drive back on if necessary.

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