SPECIAL REPORT

Big base, big plans

Survey data and interviews about NeXT memory and storage configurations suggest that most users are opting for the performance that comes from a well-configured machine.

In the NeXTWORLD Expo intercept study, only 24 percent of those responding used NeXTstep computers with 8MB of RAM, the minimal configuration for a monochrome system. Another 8 percent had 12MB of RAM, the minimal configuration for a NeXTstation Color. The rest two-thirds of those responding had 16MB of RAM or more.

"As the base configuration, most everyone is using at least 16MB of RAM," says Alex Cohn, president of Objective Technologies (OTI) in New York, a NeXT consulting firm that caters to the financial community.

Indeed, it seems that after delivering a 25-MIPS workstation for under $5000, NeXT has discovered that most of its customers want desktop Ferraris, not Volkswagens and the customers are willing to spend the extra money to get faster, more powerful machines.

Although customers want more RAM and mass storage, they're not buying them from NeXT. "We've tended to buy just 8MB machines from NeXT," says Alex Henry, director of MIS at the William Morris Agency in Beverly Hills, California. "Where we need better performance, we upgrade them with third-party memory."

"Everyone tries to ramp up on memory, which means buying as little as you can get away with from NeXT and buying more from third parties," says Cohn. "Everyone I know, including us, has a bag of 1MB SIMMs."

Users are also ramping up on their disks. According to the study, 36 percent of respondents had external hard disks, and another 6 percent had removable-cartridge drives, such as a SyQuest or Bernoulli. Only 16 percent of users had access to a tape-drive system for performing backups.

Customers thinking of upgrading NeXT computers in a networked environment should first think about upgrading their servers, says OTI's Cohn. The reason is simple: Anything that improves the performance of the server improves the performance of every other machine on the network that uses the server.

When configuring a server, OTI's Cohn tells his clients to "put in as much RAM as you can." Many of his clients have 64MB of RAM in their NeXTcube file servers. NeXT's Mach operating system uses extra memory in the server as a hard-disk cache.

Although the average number of NeXT workstations installed at any site was 17, 55 percent of the respondents reported working at sites with five or fewer NeXT computers.

More than half of the respondents also said that they intended to purchase additional memory, mass storage, or other peripherals within the next 12 months. That could mean big business for those companies providing third-party sales and support to the NeXT marketplace and not just to the vendors offering the lowest prices. Many of NeXT's Wall Street customers are willing to pay a premium price for top-flight service and same-day turnaround, Cohn says. That's a striking contrast to the cash-strapped university market that NeXT first staked out.

Three-quarters of the survey respondents said that they plan to purchase additional application programs within the next year, and more than half said that they plan to develop a custom application. More than 70 percent of respondents said that they expect to purchase more NeXT machines in the next year.

by Simson L. Garfinkel