Pitching its camp somewhere between the Network Computer, host/terminal and client/server models, AST has released Centralan. The innovative system allows up to a dozen users to hook up to a single PC, saving hardware costs without sacrificing the advantages of LANs, the company claims.
Centralan is effectively a PC server. Up to 12 sets of keyboards, monitors and mice can be attached at a distance of up to 80 metres from Cemtralan. A layer of software sits between the hardware and Windows 3.x or DOS to support file and peripheral sharing, multi-user applications and up to four virtual machines per screen. A Windows NT version of the product with support for 32-bit applications will be available early in 1997.
Centralan is bundled with a Web browser, security utilities, and remote access software so that resellers can provide off-site support. Pricing will be announced next week but product manager Steve Crawley said today that the basic four-user system would cost under £4,000 including V.32 modem, network interface card, four junction boxes, four mice, four keyboards and four cables, but not including screens. A 12-user system will cost from about £5,600.
AST expects sales to small businesses, as well as branch offices and workgroups. "It's standard PC hardware and a very easy system designed to be set up even by somebody with low technical knowledge," Crawley said.
"The product was code-named Hydra because it fits a lot of niches, one of which is the low-tech office manager who may not be computerised or may have one old Amstrad PCW lying around, and doesn't want the high administration costs of a PC network. It's an absolute pig to administer PC networks and an absolute pig when they go wrong. With Centralan all the processing is done in one box; all it does is send out screen refreshes and act on mouse and keyboard commands."