Perhaps the biggest story of 2008 was the economic downturn, yet networking professionals have always been expected to do more with less. The other networking trends of the past year, such as the spread of the wireless LAN and the consolidation of data centers (which is both increasing the importance of the WAN and making "data center" and "network" bosom buddies), all reflect the urge to increase productivity while reducing cost. Here are our editors' picks for the top networking trends of 2008:
Wireless LAN gets cozy with the wireline network
New management software and rising sales of draft 802.11n infrastructure are driving many enterprises in this direction. The widespread use of WLAN saves money on the cost of installing physical network drops and enables employees to be mobile within the office environment. Enterprises are thus interested in managing both wired and wireless networks through one platform. Vendors need to offer a full array of both wired and wireless networking hardware and management software. HP ProCurve's purchase of Colubris and the Siemens-Enterasys merger reflect this trend, as does Aruba's recent OEM agreement with Foundry.
The rise of the WAN
With data centers consolidating and remote workers and branch offices proliferating, the wide area network (WAN) is more important than ever. Enterprise applications, voice and video must be optimized for WAN transport. Enterprises must use technologies such as QoS or QoE to prioritize traffic properly; while network engineers must work with application developers to make sure applications will succeed on the WAN. WAN management is a huge concern, and remote management of branch office networks becomes more important as resources are centralized.
Networking the data center
The consolidation of data centers, the rise of server virtualization, and the increase in networked applications mean that the data center network is no longer plumbing -- it's critical for service delivery. This year, vendors began to position themselves for a new era of data center networking. Cisco launched its new Nexus line and introduced its data center 3.0 portfolio of hardware and software, which includes virtualization orchestration and automation. Cisco is even planning to launch blade servers in 2009. Juniper launched its first-ever switches with an eye on the data center, and Brocade bought Foundry in order to claim a larger stake in data center networking. Brocade and Cisco both introduced unified fabric switches that allow data and storage traffic to run on a converged Ethernet network.
The collapse of the perimeter defense
Network security is no longer about defending the network from outside threats at chokepoints on the network. Businesses demand the ability to collaborate with customers, partners and suppliers, which forces network security managers to come up with new ways to protect the network and secure data. Network access control vendors are adapting to this trend by offering access control products aimed at addressing specific problems, like guest and contractor access. Network behavioral analysis and data loss prevention technologies are important for protecting against both outsider and insider threats. And intrusion prevention and security event management technologies are gaining traction in the market.
Economic downturn forces IT to do more with less
It's official: the United States was in a recession for all of 2008, whether some people in Washington, D.C., wanted to acknowledge it or not. The pressure was on IT more than ever to cut costs , boost productivity, and generally do more with less in 2008 and into 2009. This means that every vendor and consulting firm under the sun is offering tips on how network managers can save their companies money. You can't rely on one adviser for this. Look around and see what everyone is saying.