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Convergence - The "Final Frontier"

Wide Area Networking Alert By Jim Metzler and Steve Taylor, Network World
September 28, 2011 12:00 AM ET
Jim Metzler
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Insightful analysis by consultants Steve Taylor and Jim Metzler, plus links to the latest WAN news headlines

So here we are. After more than 13 years and considerably more than 1,300 semi-weekly newsletters, it's time to move on to alternate assignments and alternate communications modes. And if pressed to single out a trend that, more than anything else, has been the hallmark of change over the duration of this newsletter, we would have to say it's "convergence." (Of course, the non-specific and ever-changing meaning of the term makes that a bit easier.)

So let's start by looking at convergence from some of the aspects that we've considered. "Network convergence" has to be addressed up front. When we began this bi-weekly exercise, the network consisted of several distinct - and largely overlapping areas. The world of the LAN and the world of the WAN were distinctly separate. And within the world of the WAN, there were fierce battles on-going between the communities favoring leased lines (dedicated transport services), frame relay, ATM, "private" IP-based VPNs, Internet-based VPNs, and even still a hint of SMDS.

So, as these transport technologies have grown, matured, and evolved, one is tempted to ask: Is the WAN still relevant?

Of course, we believe that the answer is still "yes." While the WAN and the LAN are increasingly similar (for instance, with Ethernet services), the simple fact remains - and will remain for the foreseeable future - that in the WAN bandwidth is considerably more expensive, delays are a major factor, and the connectivity is provided as a service. By contrast, the LAN still has essentially "free" bandwidth, delay is a negligible factor, and it is primarily deployed by and under the control of the networking staff.

But even though the LAN and the WAN are still separate, they are in the process of converging and the overall area will continue to grow.

Voice is another area that has undergone continuous cycles of convergence. We began with a voice network (that was converged) in that all data flowed over the voice-based services, starting with modems and then evolving to digital transmission services (e.g. T-1/E-1 and T-3/E-3 services), We then "unconverged" as packet-based services that were optimized for data came along while voice continued to flow over the legacy network. And, over the past 13 years, we have seen the reconvergence of voice and data, with both voice and data flowing over a packet based infrastructure. Will they "diverge"? We think not. (More below.)

But what about applications?

In the early and mid-2000s, Jim and Steve conducted literally several hundred seminars in which we shared a simple slide. It was a Venn diagram that had three circles representing the LAN, the WAN, and applications. Each of the three circles had an intersecting area, with a central portion that represented the confluence of all three. And we stated in each seminar that only when all three facets became indistinguishable would we see true convergence.

With the advent of "Anything as a Service" in the cloud, we are coming closer and closer to that reality. Indeed, any well-designed application now must account for the fact that the performance must be consistent - or at least acceptable - worldwide. Application delivery and application performance should become a non-issue as we move toward that converged world.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Jim Metzler is vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates.

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