Infrastructure progress: A mixed blessing?

Infrastructure was the theme of Atlanta's NetWorld+Interop, and, true to the theme, some of the biggest players in the industry are finally delivering products that truly bolster IT organizations' capabilities and options. Just as Wal-Mart and the other big brick-and-mortar companies are coming back on the Web to challenge the Internet upstarts, the same is happening with the Internet infrastructure.

Infrastructure was the theme of Atlanta's NetWorld+Interop, and, true to the theme, some of the biggest players in the industry are finally delivering products that truly bolster IT organizations' capabilities and options. Just as Wal-Mart and the other big brick-and-mortar companies are coming back on the Web to challenge the Internet upstarts, the same is happening with the Internet infrastructure. The difference in Atlanta was with the big companies offering the foundation upon which the more nimble upstarts could build applications.

Both AT&T and BellSouth talked about major, new DSL offerings across the country. DSL has quickly moved from a "maybe" to a "gotta have" for many small businesses and telecommuters. Has AT&T learned from its ISDN deployment blunders? Will all those smaller companies now offering DSL service to businesses soon find new competition from the big carriers? Sure looks that way, and if history is any guide, the price wars between DSL offerings and alternatives such as cable modems are just beginning.

But if all those new data pipes are poked into your company, how are you going to keep the enterprise secure? Lots of new products and plans are coming in this area. Novell is tying the firewall into the directory, which makes a lot of sense. Network Associates has a box that will tie anti-virus wares, firewalls and virtual private networks into one box, which could make sense, depending on how well it fits in with an existing framework. Intel is talking about taking security back to the chip level, which makes sense only if you can maintain some sense of network management. A fully encrypted network can be a nightmare for someone trying to sniff out network problems or overloads.

The data pipes, security and scale are racing ahead of network applications. IBM, Sun and AT&T are bringing out products and data centers capable of hosting network applications. At present, however, there are not a lot of application service providers that are actually providing applications. This is one example of where the infrastructure may outpace the service. This could be a first in computing, where IT may have the capacity in place ahead of the demand. Even if you want to hand off all your data worries to an outsourced data center provider, AT&T and others are racing to build those capabilities as well.

While the behemoths work on infrastructure, smaller companies have been working with the cool applications that will make use of the capacity. Ezenia (www.ezenia.com) is bringing multimedia communications to the enterprise. Latitude Communications (www.latitude.com) is bringing audio and videoconferencing to IP networks. The big companies providing the underlying foundation and the smaller companies providing the applications that make use of the expanded network may be the most important combination the high-tech industry has enjoyed in many years.

Comments? Contact Eric Lundquist at eric_lundquist@zd.com.

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