Commodity or Customized? Take your pick

PCQ Bureau
New Update

We've been noticing a very interesting trend lately,

based on some of the products we've been receiving for review. Increasingly,

instead of having plain vanilla IT products, we're finding customized products

for distinct applications. Take notebooks for instance. The last one we received

was one that let you watch TV without actually powering it on. It had a built-in

TV tuner with a remote control, and a very good speaker system, not like the

standard ones found in most notebooks these days. The Media Center PCs were also

built around a similar concept. They converted your PC into a control center

from where you could watch TV, videos, and even photographs shot from your

digital camera. In some other countries, the PC has been converted into tiny

devices for Internet access and email. This trend is not only there for PCs and

laptops, but even individual PC components. So another product we reviewed was a

small NAS box, which was built around one or two standard hard drives. You

simply had to plug it into your network and you had storage space to share

amongst users. Then there was a tiny network security appliance with firewall,

and you could add anti-virus capabilities onto it.

Anil Chopra, Associate Editor

Does this indicate that the market is headed towards only

customized products and applications? And that the commodity market is actually

going down? While this may sound far-fetched, but specialized hardware is

actually eliminating the need for some types of commodity hardware, and the same

goes for software. Let's take a closer look.

Let's go back to the example of hard drive again. It has

taken so many avatars that you'll find it in all shapes and sizes, to be

fitted into everything right from laptops to laser printers to gadgets and the

NAS example we just gave. So you don't need to setup a separate file server

for storage anymore, because of the NAS, so that gets eliminated. Similarly,

laser printers themselves are coming with built-in print servers, so once again,

you won't need to install a separate print server on a machine for the job. If

you're a gaming freak, then instead of buying a PC to play games, you can go

for a gaming console, which is also built around similar components, but

customized for better gaming performance. The latest MS Xbox 360 gaming box for

instance, is so powerful that it's a tiny super computer in itself. The story

of security and unified appliances has already been told too many times. Instead

of configuring a server with different types of security software, you instead

get an appliance with everything pre-installed. Even on the software side, there

are numerous examples where general purpose is giving way to custom-built. The

upcoming Longhorn server for instance, let's you define roles for the server,

instead of turning it into a general purpose do-it-all box. This is supposed to

make it more efficient, and also gives administrators greater control.


What's the advantage of having such specialized products?

One is that it saves you a lot of hassles. In case of the security appliance,

you don't have to buy a separate hardware server, install the OS and security

software on it, and then get on to configuring it for your needs. You

straightaway jump to the last step of tuning it for your environment. Likewise,

you don't have to first install a game and then configure your PC for the best

gaming experience. You straightaway get a pre-tuned machine with the games and

start enjoying them.

Many of the things that you had to earlier do yourself are

now taken care of. You get everything pre-installed. You only have to worry

about the configuration. Moreover, the prices for such specialized products are

also coming down dramatically. So, why should anybody take the trouble to build

a product from scratch? The NAS box we just talked of would only cost around

10K. The tiny PC for Internet access for instance, also costs far lower than an

ordinary PC.

While this does paint a rosy picture for the specialized

products, it doesn't eliminate the need for commodity products. PC

penetrations are still pretty low in the country, so the need for ordinary

machines is still pretty high and will remain for a long time. As long as that

need exists, the need for its sub-components will always remain. While the NAS

eliminates the need for a file server, you still need the server for other

purposes. In fact, now you need more separate servers for various applications

like mail, database, business application, directory service, etc. It's just

that there's another interesting and exciting new market for specialized

products built around the commodity ones. The two markets will go hand in hand.

Another interesting thing that emerges from all this is

that earlier you had to figure out what specs to buy for a PC. But now, you have

to check how much RAM, hard drive capacity, and processor are there in so many

other devices.