In the network, the basic plumbing -- your routers, switches and cabling -- may stay more or less the same, at least for a few years. But the way you think about and manage that plumbing changes frequently. SearchNetworking.com canvassed its readers to find out how they think the network will change in 2007. Here are the top five trends.
1. WAN optimization moves forward (slowly)
On the wide area network (WAN), bandwidth is at a premium, so WAN optimization is on the minds of most networking professionals. Several site members agreed with our assumption that in 2007, network designers would catch on to the idea that buying more bandwidth is not a cure-all, instead looking to WAN optimization techniques for greater efficiency. Others offered their own twist on the future of WAN optimization.
Anil Macwan, Ph.D., said that network performance and optimization will continue driving technologies to evolve and converge, while reliability and quality issues will also remain in the spotlight during 2007. Ashok Chopra felt that this year would see the focus of networks shift from infrastructure to content, with a strong focus on the importance of Intelligence being put onto the network.
WAN optimization is definitely one of the major buzz terms of 2007, but for every person who believes that it's necessary, there's another who remains unconvinced of its importance. Darrell Jones, Lead System Programmer for Lane County Regional Information Systems, was not sure whether WAN optimization would catch on. "More likely, if and when more byte optimization and QoS handling gets built in to existing pieces, it will become effectively moot," Jones said. "But until then, it will only make modest inroads." In addition, he found in his company's research that the equipment needed for WAN optimization typically costs a considerable amount of money, is highly dependent on speed, and in relation to other solutions will make sense only in a very narrow space.
On the more positive side of WAN optimization, Jones said that "the speed of the gear is improving, the costs are better, and the reliability appears high – something very important when you're adding moving parts."
2. MAN and metro Wi-Fi will sprawl through urban settings
Several readers felt that 2007 would bring about growth in public network access through metropolitan-area networks (MANs) and metro Wi-Fi. Along with greater availability, however, comes the challenge of supporting and securing these public networks.
Satnarine David Ramjit stressed the importance of continued development and implementation of city-wide Wi-Fi networks, pointing in particular to Philadelphia's ambitious Wi-Fi implementation.
As public MANs and WANs gain more ground in major cities across North America, security issues around them will continue to be a major concern. Francisco Ardisson highlighted the issue, saying that the growth of Carrier Ethernet will be a major concern -- along with integration between MAN and WAN networks -- explaining that with security risks running rampant, many enterprises will have to be careful about their traffic being carried across sites.
3. Continued emphasis on security -- from the firewall to the end user
Staying at a threat level of red, network security issues are projected to remain a continued focus for network professionals. Network administrators keep questioning whether the focus should be on the end user or on the access point.
Many anticipate seeing some viable security solutions in 2007. Ashok Chopra feels that the focus of security will shift from the network to the desktop, while Aiden Dolan, a telecom manager at a bank in Ireland, stated that an increased emphasis on firewalls and firewall hardening will be necessary in 2007, in addition to more sophisticated encryption techniques.
Other site members felt that this year will show an augmentation of specialized security solutions as network attacks and threats continue to cause havoc for network administrators. "Anath" expected to see an increasingly strong focus on security in 2007, including the use of SSL VPNs, Unified Threat Management and wireless security solutions.
Site member Luis Alberto Guembes Saba chimed in on security issues, stating that security will need to go deeper and integrate with identity management, causing a swell in the use of biometric features that are becoming standard on laptops, PDAs and smartphones.
Illustrating the point that people -- more than any other factor -- influence how secure a network actually is, Saba pointed out that more companies will begin putting in place policies that require the use of these features on equipment under their IT umbrella -- and on all media, including common application files such as spreadsheets and presentations. "The main issue will be the enforcement of the security and encryption policies across the corporation," he said, "including a growing number of teleworkers and highly mobile users."
Security on mobile devices will also become a major issue for most enterprises during 2007, as more workers rely on mobile devices. Readers agreed with our assessment that as workers become more mobile, mobility and security issues will increase. Stolen smartphones and laptops cost companies not only the device itself but the potential leakage of sensitive information -- so enterprises will begin to enforce better mobile security policies and encryption.
4. Voice and data convergence
SearchVoIP.com Network convergence expert Juan Pablo Pazos indicated that 2007 will be the year of mobile and VoIP convergence. His expectations for the year include seeing full integration of Wi-Fi and cell phones -- for instance, it will become more typical to initiate a call on your office phone, continue the call on an IP phone as you walk out of the office, and pick it up on your cell phone in the car, without any interruptions.
Converged applications, such as messaging to the cell phone based on location, will help to reduce the overall cost of cell phone plans. Advertisers will assume a part of the cost, Pazos said, and in exchange, your cell phone will receive text message ads as you walk past different stores. "You could be walking in a mall and receive a text message with the promos happening that day or even that same hour!"
Juan Pablo also expects to see IP phones and cell phones integrated into one simple and ergonomic device, while WiMax will boost the broadband access in emerging economies -- making VoIP the norm rather than the exception. "What's more, convergence of IPTV and IP telephony will occur at the CPE level."
5. Storage and network convergence
Integrated storage and networks speed up processing as these systems make the shift to increased digital archiving and virtualization.
"Notorious increase in SAN consolidation and virtualization technology will drive down opex and capex and reduce distributed processing timing for the customers, partners and internal use," Saba said. "Administrators should prepare to merge SAN and LAN/WAN. Managers will start using collateral technologies such as FCIP and iSCSI over the IP infrastructure, just [as] PBX managers did with IP telephony.
"Tight regulations and in-house ILM will spark the secure storage market, where few players are ready to offer off-the-shelf multi-protocol, secure, IP-ready, high-density and high-performance SAN switches. 2007 may be the shift year from traditional physical document storage companies to electronic vaults and portable storage systems just like physical file boxes are until now. The new services also will spark the growth in optical networking, with larger DWDM multiplexers and higher wavelength densities for better use of existing optical networking infrastructure."
Just one quarter into the year, there is plenty of time to see how 2007 will play out -- although, ultimately, it's the practicality of any technology that spurs its adoption. According to Saba, "Everyone is following what the business trends are, but technologies will just align with the business goals of enterprises."