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"NEI is a leading provider of purpose-built platforms, appliances and support services for application software developers, OEMs and service providers serving storage, security and communications markets worldwide. NEI provides the engineering, manufacturing, logistics and technical services required to deliver software applications as network appliances."
Source : Network Engine
How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Shipping Your Software Application as an Appliance
Software Appliance is also known as :
Application Security ,
Application Software Overview,
Emulation Software ,
Virtual Machine ,
Virtualization Software .
For independent software vendors (ISVs) that sell applications to enterprise customers, traditional methods of software delivery
create operational challenges that can turn into significant business problems. With these methods, which include shipping
disks or having customers download software electronically, delivery is the easy part. The challenges come when customers are
confronted with integrating the application to the latest version the operating system (OS) and service pack on a new server.
Then they are faced with the complexity of managing enterprise-class applications on their general purpose servers throughout
the lifecycles of those applications and devices.
The fundamental difficulty with these models is that on general purpose servers, the ISV's application is just one piece of a
complicated puzzle. That puzzle, which must be assembled correctly in order to run properly, includes supporting applications,
management software or middleware, operating systems and hardware platforms. With general purpose servers, these software
components are exposed to anyone with access to the customer's data center. That leaves too many tempting touch points
available to too many individuals, well-intentioned or otherwise.
The issue is that when something is changed on these servers or the host OS, normal interactions between software elements,
or between the software and hardware, can break down and cause the ISV's application to become unavailable. When that
happens, the enterprise customer views it as the ISV's problem. Although the actual technical problem may have nothing to
do with their application, the ISV has to figure out the problem and put the puzzle back together. Otherwise, the enterprise
customer ' fairly or unfairly ' blames the ISV and becomes dissatisfied with the reliability and manageability of the ISV's
That is a situation ISVs cannot afford to let stand. That is why ISVs spend untold amounts of effort, time and money trying to
identify, analyze and address problems anywhere in the software stacks and hardware platforms. This effort causes dramatic
increases in ISVs' support costs, and draws critical human and financial resources away from their core competency of software
The bottom line is that enterprise applications installed on
general-purpose servers open up a host of potential problems that are
difficult, time-consuming and expensive for ISVs to correct. The
opportunity costs involved in fixing those problems can quickly
erode an ISV's competitive advantage, slowing development work on their
own applications and stalling their growth.
A Smarter Approach ' Software Delivered as an Appliance
For many ISVs, a smarter approach to software delivery is the appliance model. By delivering their applications as appliances,
software companies can improve their applications' performance and availability by avoiding the problems associated with
installation on general-purpose servers.
Purpose-built appliances are simple for enterprise customers to install, run and manage. The appliance's locked-down hardware
and inaccessible operating system deter both the hacker and tinkerer, each of whom can wreak havoc on a system. Appliances
provide the reliable, secure and trouble-free operation that customers expect. They also help the ISV retain some control over
the customer's experience with their application. By reducing operational complexity and enabling higher performance with
greater reliability, appliances drive increased customer satisfaction. Happy customers can be great references and help ISVs
meet their business goals.
This paper discusses the fundamental characteristics of the appliance model and describes its advantages over traditional
software delivery, installation and management methods. It highlights the major benefits the appliance model delivers to ISVs
and to enterprise customers. It also discusses the important characteristics and capabilities ISVs should look for in potential
appliance manufacturing partners as companies assess their appliance delivery options.
What is an Appliance?
Appliances are pre-built server devices that include everything they need to do the job for which they were designed. Appliances
generally include an ISV's software application, the necessary supporting applications, and the required operating system and
hardware platform. These elements are all contained in one convenient and ready-to-go device. To get appliances up and
running, all customers typically need to do is place them in data center racks, power them up, and give them network
connections and IP addresses. With some minimal configuration and set-up work, customers generally can step back and let the
appliance begin to do its job.
The market research firm Gartner offers a more specific definition of what constitutes an appliance: "(An appliance is) a
computing entity that delivers pre-defined services through an application-specific interface, with no accessible operating
software." This definition reflects what enterprise customers want in applications today ' reduced complexity, yet increased
security, reliability and manageability. By shipping their applications as appliances, ISVs can meet these customer requirements
while also improving their operational effectiveness.
Benefits of the Appliance Model for ISVs
By shipping their applications as appliances, ISVs can focus more fully on what they do best ' the development and
enhancement of their software applications to meet customer business needs. When customers take their applications in the
appliance form factor, many of the operational complexities cited earlier are reduced or eliminated. Without those distractions
pulling valuable technical staff members away from development and other strategic activities, ISVs can concentrate all their
efforts on making better software products. Following are brief descriptions of some of the benefits that ISVs gain when they
ship their applications as appliances.
Faster Time-to-Market ' With an appliance as the delivery vehicle
for their software application, developers only need to produce
code that works with a set hardware platform, a single operating
system, a specific set of supporting applications, and a single
selection of middleware for the management interface. With this pared
back and known list of underlying elements, software
development teams can spend less time working though dependencies and
interoperability issues, and more time on building
new revenue generating features in their applications. This single
platform and software stack also significantly reduces testing
and Q/A requirements. This streamlining of development and release
engineering can significantly reduce the time and money it
takes a software company to build and ship new versions of their
Improved Application Performance ' Software engineers, working with the single set of accompanying technologies they
specify for their appliance, can write and tune their applications for maximum performance with those particular elements.
Instead of "dumbing down" their applications to work with the broad range of possible components that may show up on a
general purpose server, developers can focus on squeezing the greatest amount of performance possible out of the defined
and controlled set of technologies ‘under the hood' of their appliance.
Lower Support Costs ' In addition to the faster time-to-market benefit cited above, having a known and controlled set of
technologies on an appliance can dramatically reduce ISVs' support costs. With the appliance model, ISVs' support teams can
stop chasing down the far-flung technical problems that arise when applications are installed on general-purpose servers.
Instead, they can focus on the short list of technologies specified in their appliance, which enables them to identify and solve
technical problems faster. Faster resolution of technical issues can dramatically reduce support costs for the ISV.
Increased Customer Satisfaction ' Software applications deployed as
appliances generally deliver better performance and
reliability than applications implemented on general purpose servers.
This translates into higher customer satisfaction, which is
critical to the ISV's success. Happy enterprise customers are more
likely to continue to buy from that ISV and to talk about their
positive experiences with others, creating a positive ‘buzz' in the
market that enhances the ISV's brand.
Freedom to Focus on Core Mission ' The appliance model brings
clarity, focus and simplicity to many of an ISV's operational
areas, including software engineering, technical support and others.
Through the reduction or elimination of staff involvement in
extraneous efforts, the ISV's technologists and business people can
focus more fully on strategic initiatives that help to meet
their customers' needs and achieving their company's business
Appliance Benefits for Enterprise Customers
Software applications delivered as appliances offer numerous advantages to enterprise customers. Following are brief
descriptions of some of these benefits.
Reliability of Critical Business Applications ' With fewer "moving
parts", appliances provide a computing environment in which
applications can run more reliably. In many enterprise IT environments,
high application uptime is mandatory. The popularity of
appliances in data centers is the best evidence that they offer the
type of operational reliability that enterprise customers need.
Predictable and Scalable Performance ' When building out their infrastructures, enterprise IT staffs need to base their
operations on components with steady, solid and predictable performance. They also want to be sure that what they are building
on can scale to meet the future growth requirements of their businesses. Appliances meet these IT criteria better than any other
delivery and deployment model in the industry.
Enhances Security ' Network and application security is a major focus of the enterprise IT customer. In addition to great
functionality and top-notch performance, customers want applications that don't diminish their IT security posture. Appliances
deliver on this requirement. Since they are hardened devices in which the OS and other layers are made inaccessible, appliances
reduce or eliminate attack vectors, thereby enhancing a customer's IT security.
Faster Deployment, Easier Management ' Since appliances are fully loaded and largely configured right out of the box, they
eliminate the customers' need to coordinate the acquisition and installation of all the various components. Set ups and
installations therefore can be completed in hours rather than in days or weeks. For customers, that frees up IT staff to focus
on activities more closely aligned with business objectives. Appliances are also usually equipped with management interface
software that makes it easier for the IT staff to monitor the health of the appliance. This also saves time and money by
automating the process of patching and updating appliances across the enterprise.
Single Point of Support ' With applications loaded on general purpose servers, along with all the other supporting technologies,
support issues can be complicated and frustrating for the enterprise customers. With so many different technologies in the mix,
figuring out what the problem is and who is responsible for fixing it can be very challenging. Not so under the appliance model.
The ISV that supplies the appliance generally provides a single point of customer support for all elements of the device. This
eliminates the non-productive finger pointing between vendors for which enterprise customers have no patience.
Simplifies software evaluation and acquisition ' When enterprise customers evaluate software products, they usually will test
multiple competing offerings. With traditional software delivery, the customer's IT staff has to juggle disks or downloads while
finding room for the software on compatible servers and time for the installation and configuration of each vendor's product.
That makes software trials and pilot programs complicated and time consuming. With appliances, everything is loaded and
locked down in advance on the dedicated hardware platform. Ready-to-go in self-contained devices, appliances make it much
faster and easier for enterprise customers to conduct software trials and pilot programs.
Choosing an Appliance Production Partner' Factors to Assess
ISV embracing the appliance model for the first time, or those that
have already "appliance-ized" their applications but now are
looking to improve their operations, need to look at a number of
factors when evaluating potential partners. There are certain key
characteristics and differentiators among various types of
While it is up to the ISV to assess which of these criteria are most relevant to their particular set of business challenges and
objectives, all of the following factors come into play in the preparation, production, delivery and support of appliances.
Manufacturing Quality & Engineering Control
ISVs should seek a partner whose core businesses is developing,
manufacturing and integrating high-quality server appliance
solutions for software companies. With that focus, it is likely that
the potential partner will have in place a structured appliance
development process that takes into account all major aspects of a
product's design, from performance requirements to
branding, packaging, regulatory certification, and quality assurance.
The partner's production methods should be supported by an enterprise-class manufacturing supply chain, automated
manufacturing test tools and process, high-quality software imaging services, and extensive quality testing.
ISVs should also assess potential partners on their ability to
engage at multiple levels of their organization, including engineering
and product management, to optimize the appliance through effective
integration of the hardware, operating system, supporting
applications, and management software with the ISV's application.
Appliance Development and Customization Services
Since every ISV's needs are different, they should seek partners who can give them more than an off-the-shelf solution. Instead,
ISVs should look at a partner's ability to provide the customization services required to make appliances ‘just right' for their
intended markets and purposes. Such services include custom hardware specification and design, branding, hardware lifecycle
management, documentation services, agency certifications and regulatory approvals.
Customer Services ' Logistics, Customer Support and Training
While appliance development, customization, and manufacturing quality are obviously critical, an equally important aspect of the
appliance model is customer services. This category includes getting the device into end-user customers' hands in a timely, safe
and dependable manner, supporting and training those customers on its use and maintenance, and helping them address any
technical problems that arise over the lifetime of the device. The importance of solid logistics, customer support and training
with appliances cannot be overstated; ISVs should assess carefully their potential partners' capabilities in these areas.
Since the design, manufacturing, and logistics of appliance production is a detail-oriented endeavor, ISVs should expect their
appliance production partner to assign them a dedicated account manager or management team. Typically these teams include
both account managers for the business issues, and program managers who handle interactions with the partner's engineering
and manufacturing staffs. Combined, these teams hold overall responsibility for the success of the project and relationship,
including meeting specified dates, defining the scope of work then accomplishing it, which covers everything from hardware
configuration, branding, image requirements, documentation and even the design of the carton the device ships in.
Appliance Lifecycle Management
In addition to assessing potential partners for their ability to
design and build quality appliances, and deliver and support them
reliably, there is the question of how to manage those devices over
their lifetimes. For appliances to stay up and running for long
periods in production, they need to have things attended to over time.
These activities, which include device health monitoring
and reporting, patching and updating, and software image roll-back and
restoration, are collectively referred to as appliance
lifecycle management capabilities. The ability to connect remotely to
the device and conduct these activities automatically is an
important check box for the appliance provider. Without those
capabilities, the customer is likely to experience more downtime
and service disruption, and higher support and service costs. By
selecting an appliance vendor with strong offerings in this area,
ISVs can minimize their end user customers' total cost of ownership and
increase their overall satisfaction with their appliances.
ISVs can use the appliance model to gain significant competitive
advantages and operational efficiencies. But to truly gain those
benefits, ISVs have to take the right approach with their appliance
strategy. ISVs should choose an appliance partner that offers
all the elements required for success under the appliance delivery
model: hardware engineering and manufacturing, enterprisegrade
software for managing appliances over their lifetimes, and the
logistics and support services needed to keep an ISV's
global customer base up, running and happy. With the right appliance
partner, the ISV need not worry about those things, and
instead focus their efforts and resources more completely on where they
add value and differentiate themselves from their
competitors ' in application development.
About Network Engines
The information contained in this paper is drawn from Network Engines' long track record of success producing and delivering
appliances for the technology industry. For over a decade, we have been the appliance solution provider of choice for
market-leading technology companies worldwide. Today we partner with customers ranging form small start-ups to some of
the largest and most demanding technology companies in the world technology industry.
By partnering with Network Engines, our customers gain the benefits of deploying their software applications as appliances
without having to directly handle all the required hardware engineering, manufacturing, remote management, worldwide logistics
and support. They entrust those functions to the Network Engines team with confidence built on our long track record of
experience and success.
Knowing that their appliances will be built, delivered and supported reliably, predictably and securely allows our customers to
stay more focused on their core competencies for maximum competitive advantage and customer satisfaction. That is the
Network Engines difference.
For more information on the full range of appliance-related hardware, software and services Network Engines can provide to your
company, please contact us by telephone +1 (781) 332-1295 or by email at Sales@networkengines.com.