Servers are display of confidence in Internet

Arman Danesh

WITH the release of its new line of servers, including the Netra Internet Server, Sun Microsystems was signalling its confidence that the momentum which has caused such massive growth on the Internet and brought it into the realm of the PC-based desktop would continue.

According to Eric Schmidt, the company's chief technology officer, most people can't envisage how the Internet will unfold, but it is still obvious the world-embracing network-of-networks will eventually invade every individual's desktops, and most of those are PCs.

In fact, Mr Schmidt clearly feels that the scope of Internet to affect humanity and society is greater than most people realise.

'The Internet is a phenomenon that is . . . changing the world,' he said in an interview last week. 'It is much deeper and bigger than anyone thinks.' Mr Schmidt attributes this depth to the fact that no one individual or entity is in charge of the Internet, a fact that is not likely to change even as big business takes its first tentative steps into cyberspace.

In fact, Mr Schmidt welcomes the commercialisation of the network and even feels this will contribute to the breadth of activity on the Internet rather than consolidating it in the hands of a few powerful corporations.

'I think anyone who thinks that a global network is free is naive. Someone has to pay for it,' he said, comparing it to the dawn of the television era when few thought that advertisements would become common-place.


'There is no evidence that commercial activities are slowing down in any way.' As Mr Schmidt pointed out, the people who will eventually dominate the global information network will be those that develop something new and innovative. After all, he said, the Internet is a new medium unlike any previously available.

'The unique aspect of the Internet is its connectivity,' Mr schmidt said. 'That is the profound difference.' Mr Schmidt points to Sun as an example of the way a company can be innovative in its use of the Internet. Sun uses it for providing customer service (probably because the vast number of Sun customers are Net-connected - Sun servers account for more than 50 per cent of Internet-connect machines) and he claims the company is among the leaders in the area.

In addition, Sun Express sells a lot of their after market products over the Internet and Sun is involved in developing products to help facilitate commercial transactions on the Internet.

In fact, Mr Schmidt places great hope in the on-going free-wheeling nature of the Internet culture, which he associates with the 'Wild West' of United States history.


He thinks that ultimately content providers will play the same important role in the '90s that software publishers played in the computer industry in the last decade. With that will come the need for originality and creativity.

Sun is trying to promote this by working with serveral content providers to ensure that these content providers use Sun machines as their server platform.


'Content is not something Sun is [good at],' Mr Schmidt said. 'We want to ensure the content providers use Suns.' For example, Sun servers were used to provide World Wide Web services during this year's Winter Olympics and the World Cup tournament. In fact, the main World Cup server based in Los Angeles was accessed more than three million times during the tournament, peaking at more than 200,000 requests per day.

Sun is also helping a San Francisco-based public radio station establish a Net presence, as well as the City of Berkeley among many other projects.

Ultimately, this will help further diversify the Internet and as regulatory and price barriers drop eventually the Internet will become a universal network reaching all computers.


This process will especially be accelerated when one considers the fact that most of Asia and Africa and large parts of Europe are not yet covered by the Internet.

'Access to the Internet is going to be crucial to the economic development of these countries,' Mr Schmidt said, especially when many of these countries are leap-frogging analog telecommunications technology and heading straight for digital networks, which make Internet connection very easy.

'The Internet will eventually touch every PC in the world,' Mr Schmidt added, pointing out that this is why the new Netra Internet Server from Sun is targeted at easy integration with PC LANs.


'You can buy this thing, plug it in, and automatically it will connect you to a service provider.' Still, the biggest barrier to the growth of the Internet remains the security issue. After all, many commercial transactions involve confidential data and, as Mr Schmidt pointed out, one wouldn't want to send personal credit card information by E-mail and, as a result, through thousands of computers on the way to its destination.

Of course, Sun plays a role in this area as well, providing firewall systems which are designed to connect local private networks with the public Internet without allowing unauthorised access to the local system.