Customers have very different needs of systems today than five years or even one year ago. They also have very different needs of their systems vendors.

In the past, companies relied on two types of systems: high-performance, high-availability, high-priced systems for mission-critical applications and low-priced, PC servers for office administration and productivity functions, such as file and resource sharing and e-mail. Since each type of system fulfilled unique roles, customers had separate requirements of the vendors who supplied them. Application server vendors were valued for their roles as trusted partners and business advisors--and customers were willing to compensate them handsomely for providing cradle-to-grave support and security. In contrast, many companies expected PC server vendors to provide reliable, high-performance machines at very competitive prices.

But rapid changes in technologies and how they are used are forcing customers to rethink traditional product and vendor roles. File server LANs and the applications that run on them, such as messaging and information access and analysis, have evolved from productivity tools into business-critical infrastructures. Meanwhile, more powerful and reliable PC servers and operating systems as well as the growing role of client/server computing and packaged applications have transformed LANs into platforms suitable for running increasingly strategic applications.

Business requirements have changed even more radically. The pace of change in business environments has accelerated from a gentle, predictable breeze into a hurricane. By aligning computing infrastructures with distributed business operations, companies can better anticipate and respond to this change. Simultaneously, all industries are facing increased competition and squeezed margins. Organizations that could once accommodate some fat are forced to reengineer and streamline their operations. Distributed LAN-based information architectures--networked information systems that deliver instant access to business-critical data and empower local decision makers--are more flexible, and therefore effective at accommodating changing organizational needs than are centralized architectures. The use of standards-based architectures contributes to this flexibility.

Today's distributed enterprises require information architectures that can accommodate rapid change quickly and cost-effectively: architectures that combine the performance, availability and manageability of yesterday's business-critical systems with the low cost, flexibility and standards of yesterday's PC file servers. They also need vendors who can act as partners--standing behind their systems and helping customers anticipate and respond to change--while providing cost-effective solutions. Compaq addresses both of these needs.