The workstations process information coming in from thousands of road sensors and then adjust the timing

of traffic lights and freeway ramp

meter systems.

The Arizona Department of Transportation also decided to use workstation technology to run its sophisticated freeway management system that covers 29 miles of freeway within the Phoenix area. The system is built around two Sun servers, using six processors each.

The servers receive information from sensors in the highway every third of a mile and video cameras every mile. Once stoppages are identified by sensors, and verified by video, messages can be relayed to commuters on digital signs along the highway. With this information the computer system can quickly alert fire departments, police and other agencies of problems within their jurisdiction. The same data is being supplied to local TV stations and plans are under way to make traffic information available over the Internet.

In the field of law enforcement, workstations are helping police officers pump up the volume. Redwood City, Calif., moved to the national forefront of high-tech crime fighting when the city council approved a test of a computer-and-microphone system that is supposed to allow police to pinpoint the location of gunshots within seconds (Government Technology, June 1996). The system uses acoustic sensors planted on telephone poles and tall buildings connected to a Sun workstation at police headquarters. Tests of the system are aiming for a 70 percent accuracy rate, pinpointing the location within 10 yards 20 seconds after the shot was fired.

The emergence of the Internet's World Wide Web has created a new need for workstation computers in the government sector, according to Lynne Corddry, director of Silicon Graphics' Federal Business Development. She cited the growth in visually strong Web sites as one reason agencies and departments are using workstations on the Internet.

Another reason has to do with government's need for fault-tolerant computers as they increase their use of the Internet. Both the public and government workers are growing used to the idea of accessing information round-the-clock over the Net. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), under the umbrella of the California Environmental Protection Agency, has created a sophisticated Internet/intranet data warehousing solution in order to disseminate vast amounts of information anywhere, anytime, at low cost (Government Technology, October 1996). The data warehouse provides appropriate data to the two groups served by the system, employees and the public. The data available externally is refreshed nightly from a data warehouse running on a Sun workstation. Using the intranet portion of the system, department employees can find procedures, postings of weekly events, informational bulletins, archives of historical data on the use of pesticides and chemicals -- an all-encompassing information resource that is rapidly replacing the past's entirely too frequent trips to the file cabinets.

The department's Web site is reflective of the elaborate structure of connections to databases upstream from the data warehouses. Using Oracle's relational database management system, the department has provided the user with the capability of seamless navigation through a variety of specialized databases assembled by DPR and the federal government's EPA. GIS technology is also being used to provide pesticide-related information by specific locale.


Some experts say the line of distinction between workstations and PCs is rapidly blurring. Already, vendors are introducing workstation computers that run Windows NT, not UNIX. Digital's Alpha workstations run both, as well as their proprietary VMS. Prices for low-end workstations nearly match those for PCs using a Pentium Pro microprocessor.

But the leading vendors believe the workstation market has distinct needs that PCs and Windows just can't provide. The people at Sun, HP, Silicon Graphics, Digital and others are hard at work building advanced memory architectures, faster system throughput, greater expandability, network connectivity and high-end graphics capabilities. With these features, functions and ever-increasing performance, workstation computers just might become unique once again.



Ten Leading

Workstation Vendors

Rank Company



($ mil.)

1. Sun Microsystems


2. IBM


3. Hewlett-Packard


4. Silicon Graphics


5. Digital


6. Intergraph


7. Motorola


8. Unisys


9. Control Data


10. Data General


Source: DATAMATION; June 1, 1995




All the workstation vendors run comprehensive Web sites with loads of information on their distinctive line of workstations and servers. They include:

Sun Microsystems: .

IBM: .

Hewlett-Packard: .

Silicon Graphics: .

Digital Equipment Corp.: .