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Cutting through the confusion

Unreliable internet service providers, too many plans, and a server market that intends to replicate the mobile phone market... could it get any more confusing?



commentary Unreliable internet service providers, too many plans, and a server market that intends to replicate the mobile phone market... could it get any more confusing?

First off, I have an amendment to make to last month's column. Only a couple of hours after sending it to the printers, our IT department came through and made the company network available over the VPN, which made working at home much more efficient. After that, the only problem I experienced was my ISP, which had frequent bouts of unreliability, but on the plus side it gave me an excuse to get out my Buffy DVDs (although, really, who needs an excuse to watch Buffy?).

But I am back in the office now, hobbling around, and last month's experience of working from home seems like a world away. Aside from the incessant ringing of my phone, I actually like being in the office, but I think there are a lot of people who would rather work at home if given the chance, even if it was only for a couple of days a week. As technology advances and use of mobile devices increases, there really is no reason why you need to be tied to the office.

Instead of buying a server, companies will sign a contract with the vendor and receive the server either for free or for minimal cost.
I know of a company that uses it as a reward -- work hard and once a month you can spend Friday working from home. A pretty good idea, I think. I used to work for a company that still had rostered days off -- oh, how I miss those. Working from home is the next best thing.

So if you aren't doing it already, then no doubt someone in your office is going to raise their hand soon. This month we have included a guide to remote working, outlining your options for setting up employees to work away from the office.

One prerequisite I would say of high importance is reliable Internet access, but is it actually possible? I am using a popular ISP which has a good reputation, but am suffering reliability problems. When the service is up it is great, it is just the frequency of uptime that is bothering me. Either the service has really gone downhill or this level of service is just the norm regardless of the provider.

Problems like this make it nearly impossible to know which ISP to pick. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a try-before-you-buy offer, so you could do a proper assessment before signing on to a provider and one of their million plans?

It is cold comfort to know that I am not alone in my confusion. In this month's issue we highlight a survey by the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) that says many small businesses are still confused when it comes to sorting through the heap of ISP plans.

It is welcome news then that the ACA will be pursuing ISPs to standardise pricing and billing information, but I can't help thinking that we already went down this path with mobile phone plans. It seems some regulatory body is always assessing the mobile phone maret and yet we are still inundated with about 500 different call plans per provider with each one measuring costs a different way!

So the thought of IT vendors modelling their business on the mobile phone market is a little scary. Talking to Sun's COO Jonathan Schwartz recently, he predicted the server market will eventually be similar to the mobile phone market -- instead of buying a server, companies will sign a contract with the vendor and receive the server either for free or for minimal cost but will pay monthly plan and maintenance costs.

The question is whether IT managers will buy into it. While Schwartz readily admits it will be hard breaking the current pattern of IT buying, he predicts that it will be a five-year shift. He says there is no question in his mind that it will take off as the preferred way to purchase servers. Personally, I wouldn't have thought the mobile phone market would be one anyone would want to replicate. Brace yourselves for more confusion!

Natalie Hambly is Editor of Technology & Business. Drop me a line at edit@zdnet.com.au.

This article was first published in Technology & Business magazine.
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