Depending on whom you ask, networks are either becoming more mature or more disruptive. And in his keynote presentation at Catalyst Conference 2007, Burton Group research director Dave Passmore said that a solid argument can be made for each.
On the maturity side, IP and Ethernet networking are now well understood, the rate of technical changes to the basic infrastructure has slowed, provider network services have become commoditized, and networks are deployed with an emphasis on service delivery, performance, optimization and ROI.
Essentially, Passmore said, "the network is kind of dull and boring."
Conversely, disruptive changes are afoot to snap the network out of its lull and give that maturity a much-needed reality check.
According to Passmore, Burton Group takes the view that the network will become more disruptive. There are several elements that play a role:
- Everything is going wireless or mobile.
- A host of security issues are unresolved, and new threats continue to emerge.
- New applications such as video are emerging.
- Telephony is becoming just another application that is part of a broader unified communications plan.
- IT's reorganization will accommodate new technologies.
"There is no silver bullet out there that's going to fix all this," Passmore said.
Of all the disruptive technologies springing forth to shake up the network as it is known today, wireless and mobility stand to have the biggest impact.
Almost three billion mobile phones are in use today, Passmore said, which means that one of every two people on earth has a cell phone. That's twice the number of wired phones and 10 times the total number of broadband subscribers. In 2006, about 8% of the mobile phones in use were 3G broadband.
"Mobility is no longer the exception, it's the rule," he said, adding that the number of business-related mobile phone calls placed and received has now eclipsed the number of calls received on desktop and wired phones. Also, sales of laptops and notebooks with Wi-Fi capabilities have surpassed sales of traditional desktop PCs.
Along with wireless and mobility, network security is also creating disruption. The theory of a self-defending network, coupled with enterprises' having less control over their own networks, is creating a scenario where "fewer and fewer people are sitting behind this well-maintained perimeter," Passmore said.
A massive increase in mobile and "anywhere" workers has catapulted the use of VPNs to secure the network, regardless of where end users are entering. Passmore believes that this level of network-independent security is going to increase.
Real-time communications, such as unified communications, IMS and fixed mobile convergence, are also introducing interesting challenges, he said. In the near future, IP PBXs and deskphones may go away and be replaced by instant messaging and presence-based software and mobile devices.
"Large enterprises need to think about planning for more than just a next-generation phone system," he said.
As these new technologies and considerations continue to evolve, network operations and management issues increase as well.
Networking pros must now focus more closely on service delivery, whether those services are data or real-time. The network itself is turning into an "inter-processor bus" for the enterprise. In turn, organizations will have to reorganize staff that was once based on different technology silos.
Putting all of those factors together, Passmore said, shows that while in many ways the network has matured, 2007 will see an influx of new capabilities and business needs to which the network will need to adapt as business trends continue driving technology trends.