Experience is the best teacher, but in networking it can be just as beneficial (and a lot less painful) to learn from the wisdom of others. In our special series, you'll hear from both practitioners and pundits about how to make the most of your network now and what to prepare for in the future. Today, David Passmore discusses the state of the networking industry and where it's going.
What is the current state of the networking industry and how is it changing?
David Passmore: As many people know, there was a major telecommunications boom and then bust cycle in 2000 and 2001. Since that time, we've been in a recovery mode. For a while things were pretty grim. But innovation has continued. We're still seeing investors funding new companies, and the industry seems to be growing again.
What are the "new rules" of networking and telecommunications?
Passmore: There's basically five areas in which the industry is changing.
- Telecommunications is just another application. It's just one of the many applications that run on the IP data network. That has a number of implications, such as integration with instant messaging and video.
- New users tend to favor wireless. That's leading to wireless broadband showing up everywhere, creating a lot of choices of new wireless services.
- IP network globalization. There's more Chinese DSL users than in any other country. No country can really dictate the shape of the Internet or regulate Internet content. That makes it much harder to make the Internet secure from bad actors.
- The Internet empowers users to put up their own content and applications. That's a far cry from the traditional broadcast model like television, which brought content to consumers. Network users can now be producers of content.
- Separation of content from transport. The network has been optimized for a single type of content, [for example] voice. That has a huge impact on carriers' business models. They can't decide whether to be providers or bit-haulers.
How will these new rules affect how enterprises utilize their networks?
Passmore: Enterprises are going to find a lot more choice of service providers in the future. There's potential to obtain content and applications from a large number of third parties, not just service providers. That will bring to light unforeseen applications.
What is the biggest factor driving these new rules?
Passmore: Technological innovation is continuing at a fairly rapid pace. Many of these innovations are going to come from other parts of the world. They inherently empower network users.
A lot of this is because bandwidth has become relatively inexpensive and ubiquitous. That's what's really empowering users.
What is customer/user demand doing to blur the lines between residential and enterprise networks?
Passmore: We have a saying that today's toys often become tomorrow's useful business tools, such as PDAs. For example, instant messaging. Rather than something teenagers use, we're starting to see enterprise interest. Peer-to-peer file sharing, instead of being used to illegally download music and movies, it's being used by enterprises. A lot of the same technologies and capabilities demanded by consumers are now being applied to enterprises' business requirements.
What key technologies are driving that transition?
Passmore: Certainly, a lot more wireless technology and standards such as 802.16, WiMax and Metro Wireless, are going to have a major effect.
There's also something called 'joining the islands of VoIP' in which enterprises can directly connect to each other. An 'island of VoIP' is that part of an enterprise, or carrier, network that permits direct VoIP communications between callers. If you want to place a phone call beyond this area, then the call must be converted from IP packets back to the old-fashioned, circuit-switched PSTN [public switched telephone network].
So imagine that your company provides VoIP phones, and you'd like to place a call to a customer or supplier in another company that has its own VoIP phones. Unfortunately, today this means that the call has to be routed VoIP to PSTN to VoIP. In other words, voice packets have to be converted to plain old telephone service and then back to voice packets—a very inefficient, costly and performance-degrading process.
Why can't the VoIP packets just be passed directly over the public Internet between the two companies? In theory they could, but there's currently no way for phone numbers to be converted to Internet IP addresses in order to route these packets to the correct recipient. Instead, companies—even those using VoIP—can only interconnect using the PSTN. There's no current way to link these separate 'islands of VoIP.'
We're also seeing new technologies for better use of radio frequency spectrum, such as ultra broadband and higher speed wireless LANs.
What are key requirements for a network infrastructure?
Passmore: We're seeing a real diversity in network applications. Now the network needs to support voice, video and multimedia. The network infrastructure has to provide more bandwidth but have control over latency and jitter. They also need the ability to control the use of bandwidth.
Certainly, network security is a critical infrastructure requirement, as more enterprises make use of the public Internet.
What are the biggest networking challenges now? How about next year?
Passmore: Right now the biggest network challenge continues to be security, and I don't see that as something that's going to be solved next year. We've seen a cat-and-mouse game of measures and counter-measures that have continued to be developed.
[Enterprise users are] also making greater use of the public Internet. There, the challenge becomes, how do they guarantee acceptable performance in that kind of environment?
Another challenge is, how smart should the network be? The jury's still out on that question.
How can enterprises get past those challenges?
Passmore: It's really an issue of trying to stay up to date on industry developments. There are new standards developing in wireless and wire-lined networks. Vendors are introducing innovative new products. Enterprises also have to pay attention to the regulatory environment and be concerned with compliance and standards. Enterprises must remain educated so they can address some of these challenges going forward.
What do you see as the biggest factor affecting enterprise networks now? In the future?
Passmore: Right now, most of the focus is on saving money and cost avoidance. A network manager is evaluated on the size of the phone bill and told to keep it under control. In the future, I think enterprises are going to be much more concerned with the flexibility of their networks, instead of the cheapest way to meet network business requirements.