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OS/21st- by Sam Henwrich

Plug n Play

While spending time reading the web news sites I noticed banner ads for something called the "Snap! Server" - a buttonless box that you plug into the LAN, switch on, and forget about. It supplies up to 12 gigs of hard drive storage space, available instantly on the network the moment you plug it in. It's like the network equivalent of bolting an extra bedroom onto your house, with all the plumbing and wiring already taken care of. A smart idea, because one of these boxes is much cheaper (not to mention much more convenient) than assembling or buying a whole PC just to supply another networked drive.

It occurred to me then that this is just the kind of idea that OS/2 can be applied to successfully for two reasons: 1) The OS inside these boxes doesn't matter, as long as it can speak the network's protocol. And 2) In a sealed box, stability must be of utmost importance.

The "Think Tank"

Now that the idea of plugging in extra storage space has already been thought of by the makers of the "Snap!" server, I began thinking about other applications. The first I came up with was far out and improbable, but has grown on me as something that could actually work: a CPU server - a box that has no useful storage space, but maybe one or more high-end CPUs. Inside would be OS/2 and a Java virtual machine. The box would be plugged into the network and become instantly available as a "think tank" - able to unload processor intensive tasks from other workstations on the network.

The idea is that programs which require a lot of CPU power would have much of their number crunching routines implemented in Java modules. An example of which might be the plug-ins available for PhotoShop and other graphics software. When you come around to using one of these functions, the Java module is quickly uploaded to the "think tank" along with the data and parameters it's to work on. This sealed box then begins to work on the job while the user's workstation is free to do other tasks. If the job is something that's easily split up among multiple CPUs (such as the multi-CPU technology found in ColorWorks for OS/2) then the job could even be distributed across two or more of these boxes, getting the job done even quicker.

The "think tank" would be almost limitless in potential, and thanks to Java, the OS inside doesn't matter to the network on the outside.

The technology to build the box is already here, but the applications aren't. As far as I know, there aren't any Java plug-ins for PhotoShop or any other similar, processor intensive application (short of those already written in Java), but with the standards for distributed computing already set by IBM and OS/2 with DSOM (Distributed System Object Model) we're not far away. There's nothing to say that a spreadsheet or 3D modeler couldn't off-load tasks in the same way as a paint program could.

It's a bit high-end, but imagine the convenience of just plugging in more CPU power to be used globally across the network instead of the labor and expense of upgrading each workstation individually. Best of all, with Java, it doesn't matter that the OS inside is OS/2.

The Media Server

Of course, if it's possible to do this trick with hard drive space, why not other storage mediums? Why not instant CD-ROM jukeboxes or a rack of tape drives for heavy duty backup? OS/2 has excellent SCSI support, which is just what you'd need for this kind of device.

If you think this is a good idea or a lousy one, don't forget to let me know and share your own ideas for the future of OS/2 in our Hypernews discussion forum.

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Sam Henwrich is an upstate NY OS/2 user. He can be reached at henwrich@yahoo.com.


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