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Revving the e-commerce engine

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E-commerce, voice/data convergence and virtual private networks (VPN) are technologies everyone already talks about.

And, according to a new Network World survey, a lot more of that talk is going to become action over the next two years.

E-commerce promises to be an especially potent force for change. Two years from now, companies surveyed expect e-commerce to bring in an average of 41% of their total revenue, and they'll be dedicating an average of $83 million per year to their e-commerce efforts, the survey indicates.

Interviews with network executives support the findings.

"We've got a major thrust into e-commerce," says Mike Ackermann, manager of network planning and design at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan. "I don't think our precise strategy has solidified, but we have dedicated a lot of resources - personnel, finances and otherwise."

The Network World 500 survey polled 500 network professionals and covered topics ranging from network operating systems (NOS) and wireless networks to network management. The results paint a picture of what networks may look like in a few years.

The convergence of voice and video on data networks figures prominently for many companies. About 57% of respondents said convergence makes sense in LANs and WANs; another 17% said it makes sense in just WANs; and 11% said it makes sense in just LANs. Only 13% said convergence doesn't make sense in either network.

More than 80% of respondents believed convergence will reduce operational and infrastructure costs.

Nevertheless, many companies aren't quite there yet.

"We've been gearing up our networks to accommodate streaming video," says Dennis Butcher, network consultant at oil company Atlantic Richfield in Los Angeles. But his voice network is likely to remain separate for some time. "We've enjoyed not having any issues with our PBXs," he says.

IP is it

IP is the best protocol for voice to travel over, according to 42% of respondents. Another 35% preferred ATM, and 9% opted for frame relay.

IP's popularity is also reflected in the responses concerning VPNs. VPNs are already used by 42% of those surveyed, and another 36% said they will use VPNs within two years. In fact, 58% said it's at least "somewhat likely" that VPN services will supply all their organizations' remote access needs in three years.

The network professionals we surveyed generally looked favorably on Windows NT and Active Directory. For e-commerce servers, 70% of respondents said they are using or will use NT, while 59% said the same about Unix operating systems. When asked what NOSes are installed at their organizations, 93% said NT, 71% said Unix, and 57% said NetWare.

However, NT runs neck-and-neck with Unix operating systems as the NOS in which respondents have the most confidence. About 39% chose NT, compared with 38% for the various types of Unix and 15% for NetWare.

NT's niche

Some see NT as a fit for specific applications.

"I still don't think Windows NT is to the point where I'd want to run my Web site on it," says Brent Ayers, director of engineering and operations at Holiday Channel, which provides ways to let users shop for gifts online.

In the future, Ayers says he'd feel more comfortable using a free, open source operating system such as Linux, in conjunction with Apache Web server software.

Still, he acknowledges that NT works well for the company's internal applications.

Despite the fact that Active Directory has yet to ship with Windows 2000, it already has users' attention.

About 36% of respondents said they plan to implement Active Directory in the next 12 months, compared with 20% for Novell Directory Services.

Other highlights of the survey:

In network management, respondents valued the basics. We asked them to rate different management capabilities, and troubleshooting and event notification came out on top, with 92% calling the capability "important" or "very important."

More concerns

Other top concerns among respondents are storage management and the comparison of performance against service-level agreements. At the bottom of the list are software distribution and asset/change management.

Handheld devices will become more important in the workplace, according to the survey. About 51% said they will purchase handheld devices for employees within the next 12 months, and another 10% will support employee device purchases.

The time for wireless networks hasn't quite arrived. More than half of those surveyed said they have no plans to use wireless LANs.

Network professionals continue to be in extraordinarily high demand. About 24% of those surveyed said it's "difficult" to find qualified technical personnel, and another 38% said it's "very difficult."

The most telling statistic may be this: Fully half of those surveyed said they have received five or more calls from companies or headhunters about job opportunities in the past 12 months.

Contact Senior Editor Jeff Caruso

Other recent articles by Caruso

Related links

Research: E-commerce
Links to resources on doing business online.

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