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Catalyst Conference 2002: Opening up the network

While advances in identity management and security for Web services may grab the headlines at the Catalyst Conference 2002 in San Francisco next week, the show will also focus on the latest developments in virtual private networks, voice over Internet Protocol and wireless networking technologies now making their ways into the workplace. In its ninth year, the conference is expected to draw 800 to 900 people and is sponsored by the Burton Group, Midvale, Utah, a 52-member firm of analysts and consultants in the network infrastructure space. Burton Group CEO Jamie Lewis says today the world of business networks is all about opening up the network to the outside world. He talks about the implications of that in this question and answer interview.

What is the big trend in business network infrastructures?
Companies can no longer think in terms of the old security model where there is firewall and all the people inside were good and everyone on the outside was bad. All of a sudden companies are having to open their core business processes and mission critical applications to people outside and across the physical boundaries. What is happening in the work place with new networking technologies?
VPNs are one thing that a lot of companies are doing to save money on remote access for employees. Companies are using them for extranets to give their suppliers access to internal networks. There are wireless local area networks companies are using to accommodate new kinds of working arrangements and voice over IP. So when you step up to opening up the physical networks, the question becomes how do you get them applications. That is where identify and access management comes into play.

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How far away are Web services?
A distant dream. The reality is much more evolutionary or incremental. We are seeing that Extensible Markup Language and Simple Object Access Protocol have given us a new way to integrate and support. But the Web services framework, of which XML and SOAP are a part and the most credible effort to date, still needs an enormous amount of work. We have taken the baby steps.
Single sign-on system to be shown

Catalyst Conference 2002 will feature the first demonstration of the Libert Alliance's standard for providing a secure single sign-on system for Web services. Microsoft has been working on its own standard as part of its Passport authentication service, which lets users access Passport Web sites without having to re-enter user names and passwords.

So far, Microsoft has not indicated whether it would embrace Liberty Alliance's standard. A single system for user authentication is considered crucial to the universal adoption of Web services by the business world. Products developed to make use of Liberty Alliance's standard will also be demonstrated. The Liberty Alliance is a consortium of companies.

What should networking managers and planners be doing about Web services at this point?
They need to be careful not to buy into the hype or build expectations within the company about what can be accomplished. They should be looking at what they plan to leverage with Web services. They should be looking at building XML and SOAP interfaces with their mission critical applications. They should not be expect wide spread interoperability. We are still very early but it is clear this is an important effort and they need to be getting ready. What is the state of digital identity technology?
We have made a lot of progress. At Catalyst last year the Security Assertions Markup Language (SAML) was basically an idea or a very early effort and this year it is a demonstrable working standard. Twelve vendors (at the conference) are going to demonstrate their products interoperating based on SAML. The Liberty Alliance has been formed as a way to create interoperable identity and standards. There are a lot of open big questions. What do you see as the most important issue facing networking technology?
Digital identity. Whether it is Web services or VPNs, or whatever it is you are talking about as far as cross company communications, an interoperable identity standard (is critical). Without it the dreams of Web services, business-to-business or business-to-customer are going to be diminished. What are some important things to watch next week and beyond?
The degree to which the Liberty Alliance successfully sustains momentum. Microsoft and how it reacts to what Liberty does because Microsoft has been keeping SAML at arm's length and trying to steer things as much as possible. IBM is a company that will have a big impact. It hasn't joined Liberty. What are the issues companies are facing with other technologies addressed at the conference, such as VPNs and VoIP?
VPNs have enormous attraction because they save money but they bring new problems. They are tough to manage. Also, there are lots of different varieties of VPNs. Voice over IP is sort of like Web services. Everyone thinks it is going to happen. The question is when and what should you do now in order to get ready.

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