When Andre Agassi or Pete Sampras steps onto the tennis court, spectators -- and opponents -- anticipate smashing serves in excess of 120 miles per hour. In tennis, a good server holds a huge advantage, and while computing has no clay courts or Wimbledon, a good PC server is essential to taking care of business over the Net.

Internet, intranet and e-commerce deployments are growing, and many state and local government agencies are upgrading their networks and installing the latest generation of servers. Thanks to heated competition in the PC-server market and advances in technology, prices will continue to go down even as power and features climb. Computer Economics, a private research company, is predicting that in the next two years, prices should drop about 19 percent for enterprise and departmental PC servers, and 23 percent for workgroup and entry-level PC servers.

Server Types

A server is a computer or a software package that provides a specific kind of service to client software running on other computers. A Web server enables Internet browsing. If the server is down, browsing is disabled. A server computer, or host, can have several different software packages or applications running on it, thus providing those services to network clients.

There are three basic types of server: * A file server/print server stores the programs and data files shared by users. It acts like a remote disk drive. A file server stores the programs and data, while the print server is a computer in a network that controls one or more printers. It stores the print-image output from all users of the system and feeds it to the printer one job at a time. * In the client/server environment, the application server contains not only users' data files (word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases and so on) but also the applications themselves, which are executed directly from the servers instead of from the users' hard disks.

* A computer that provides World Wide Web services on the Internet requires a Web server. It includes the hardware, software, operating system, Web-server software, TCP/IP protocols and the Web-site content -- the Web page itself. If the Web server is for internal use, it is an intranet.

The global market for Internet-server software continues to grow and many top-seeded vendors, such as Oracle and IBM, are in the process of integrating Internet functionality into their products. Today, Netscape is the major Web-server software provider. However, Netscape is feeling the pressure of competition from UNIX and Microsoft's NT.

Old Champs and Hot Young Turks

Not long ago, Novell's Netware server, which mainly managed files and printers on a LAN, was the only game in town. UNIX and IBM's OS/2 servers were mainly used in government to run specialized applications such as GIS.

Currently, Microsoft NT has become a dominant network operating system (NOS), surpassing Novell's NetWare. However, many companies are integrating NetWare and NT to run their applications.

Novell's latest version of its network operating system, NetWare 5.0, was launched early this year, giving the company an early start on rival Microsoft. NetWare 5.0's new directory is not only capable of managing NetWare networks, but also those of Microsoft's NT and Sun Microsystems' Solaris and UNIX.

While it may appear that Windows NT is the biggest challenger to NetWare for the standard operating system for print and file servers, some argue that it is posing an even greater challenge to UNIX. Both UNIX and NT operating systems for servers are 32-bit, and both run on a variety of platforms.

UNIX has been in use for more than 25 years. It's not unusual for UNIX to run multiprocessing systems with more than 30 processors. That's something that neither NT or NetWare can handle today. The symmetric multiprocessing technology trend in the UNIX market is