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Bursting the bubble around enterprise networks

Disruptive technologies like VoIP and wireless broadband along with more advanced users are forcing network managers out of their comfort zones and into uncharted territory, according to an analyst at Burton Group's Catalyst Conference.

SAN DIEGO -- Disruptive technologies like wireless broadband, VoIP and even the Internet itself are changing the way people think about networking, according to one industry expert -- and could create more headaches for network managers.

At last week's Burton Group Catalyst Conference, Dave Passmore, research director for the Midvale, Utah-based analyst firm, said the Internet is increasingly becoming subject to the influence of financial, political and regulatory concerns. As a result, enterprise networks are more greatly affected by new developments in consumer and residential computing.

"The Internet is no longer a sandbox for geeks to play in," said Passmore,. "It affects everybody."

Passmore told the crowd that the rules governing the networking game are indeed changing. He then went on to describe those new rules one by one:

Telephony will be assimilated

Voice and telephony in general continue to be an important piece of the enterprise puzzle, but the model for delivering these services is changing. Today, Passmore said, voice communication is emerging as just another network data application, albeit a highly significant one.

More companies are taking advantage of applications that allow voice, video and text communications to be assimilated into the network.

Passmore said the proof of this transition can be seen in the many enterprise instant messaging applications, which now incorporate the Session Initiation Protocol for transmitting voice and digital communications.

Ultimately, the analyst added, this assimilation will lead to increased use of "highest common denominator communications," where each party has video cameras and/or microphones integrated into desktops and handheld devices.

"Probably the biggest impact of this is going to be on service providers," Passmore said. "We're seeing millions of phone lines being dropped every quarter," he added.

Wireless broadband access everywhere

The advent of ubiquitous 802.11 wireless LANs, 802.16 fixed wireless broadband networks and powerful mobile data networks mean that everyone will soon be able to access their company networks from just about anywhere at any time.

Passmore said that the biggest effect of this will be on the available radio frequency spectrum.

"Today, the RF spectrum is sort of a scarce commodity," he said. "That is likely to change as we start to see more use of (division) multiplexing and ultra wideband, where the same spectrum can accommodate multiple types of users simultaneously."

As a result of this change, Passmore expects to see a devaluation of the cost of purchasing and using individual radio frequencies, as well as increased competition for the wired communications industry.

Globalization of IP networks

The world is currently experiencing exponential growth in the area of IP networking.

Passmore said that in the first financial quarter of 2004 alone, there were 9.5 million new DSL lines added worldwide. As it stands today, there is about one broadband connection for every 100 people in the world, and this number is growing. By the end of this year, Passmore said, that number is expected to increase to one connection for every 50 people.

As the worldwide infrastructure grows, Passmore said, the decentralized nature of the Internet means that there will be no single points of failure. But on the negative side, there are few ways to catch people who use the Internet to covertly launch spoofing, spamming and virus attacks, which can be dangerous to enterprise network infrastructures.

Users empowered by IP networking

Because of the ever-increasing popularity of the Internet and of the telecommuting it makes possible, enterprises are increasingly affected by what happens in the consumer and residential environment.

For years, enterprise networks have been managed in a top-down fashion by IT departments and phone companies. Today, however, business users in remote locations are now able to host their own applications and services from the edge of the network and beyond.

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"In some sense, the consumer/residential environment becomes sort of the tail that wags the dog," Passmore said. "This is where much of the future growth and advancement of bandwidth is going to come from."

This also means that going forward, proper security will become more important than ever before, Passmore said.

Conference attendees interviewed generally agreed that the networking game is changing at a rapid pace.

One attendee, a senior architect for a San Diego area systems integration company who asked that his name be withheld, said that if the current trends continue as expected, service providers will need to fine-tune their business models to stay afloat.

"I think that at this point, if you're just providing circuit-switched voice, that is going to go away over time, so you'd better find another business to make money in," he said.

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