Realm Systems has developed a portable USB Linux server that can be plugged into a Windows PC.

The BlackDog server at first glance appears to be a geek fetish item (especially thanks to its James Bond-based marketing campaign), but the company says it will ultimately have serious corporate uses.

The 1.6 ounce server is powered by the USB connection and does not require any special software to work on the PC. BlackDog is treated as a CD-ROM by the host PC and boots automatically when plugged in. Once booted it can access any of its host's peripherals or network resources. The product works with PCs that are running Linux, Windows 2000 or Windows XP, Realm said.

BlackDog also has a built-in fingerprint reader, so that it can be set up to work only for authorised users. And that biometric reader is key to the corporate uses the company envisions for its product.

Next month, Realm plans to introduce an enterprise version of the BlackDog product, called the Realm Mobile Personal Server, that can be used with another new product, the Realm Management Router, to create a secure way of accessing a network from outside of the firewall. "It creates a secure tunnel. You're basically walking around with a VPN (virtual private network) in your pocket for a few hundred bucks," said Shawn Cunningham, vice president of marketing at Realm.

Because the tiny Linux client has biometric authentication and can be plugged into just about any PC, Cunningham believes it will be a useful and secure way for travelers to log-on to their corporate VPNs.

Although there may not be practical applications of the portable Linux server at present, Realm hopes that the early release of BlackDog will help tap into the innovation and creativeness of the open source community, and perhaps inspire developers to create novel uses for the Linux server, Cunningham said.

BlackDog uses a 400MHz PowerPC Processor and has 64M bytes of RAM. A $199 version ships with 256MB of flash memory. There is also a $239 version of the product with 512MB of flash memory. It is based on the Debian Linux distribution.