Tech moves that matter - for good and bad

Selected by readers, bloggers and others, here’s what the industry got right and wrong in ‘07 and why the moves matter

The industry's focus on virtualization, collaborative technologies and next-generation networks has been all right, while vendor NAC, net neutrality and Vista snafus have been all wrong.

On balance, 2007 was a pretty good year for the network industry. Some might even say many companies hit their stride this year, finally shaking off the torpor of the dot-com bust.

"In technology, we go in cycles," says Josh Hinkle, manager of network management and security for the American Heart Association, in Camp Hill, Pa. "And we’re in one of those cycles again where we’re ramping up. After the boom of the late ‘90s, we leveled off and people weren’t hiring or paying as much, and there wasn’t much innovative technology happening.

"But now, companies have decided they’ll invest. So everyone is starting to innovate with technology again and companies are buying into that innovation."

And some of those innovations were things the industry clearly got right in 2007. For example, the focus on virtualization, collaboration, next-generation carrier networks and green network initiatives all landed on the "right" side of this year’s good/bad ledger.

The bright side

1. Virtualization

Virtualization really hit the mainstream in 2007. In addition to the hugely successful VMware IPO (see "The smartest and dumbest moves of 2007"), which put virtualization on Wall Street’s map, more enterprises began not only implementing virtualization, but also finding innovative ways to tailor it to their businesses.

"Adoption of virtualization by far has been one of the better moves we had in 2007," Hinkle says. "We looked at virtualization, and that led us to look at WAN optimization and data shaping. And we realized we could get rid of services in remote areas that we don’t want to support, and give people speedy access to our central location where they can reach not only their one server, but true enterprise applications. Virtualization is really making things happen here."

Adopting virtualization by far has been one of the better moves we had in 2007 [It] is really making things happen here. Josh Hinkle

2. Collaboration

This year the industry got collaboration right, too — or at least this is the year when new and emerging collaborative technologies, such as blogs and wikis, actually gained an enterprise toehold. (Learn more about Collaboration products from our Collaboration Buyer's Guide.) Although the verdict is still out on the value of consumer-based social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace (see sidebar), the collaborative tools they popularized are fast making inroads, and that’s all good, experts say.

"Where I work, all of our documents are in wiki and SharePoint," says Michael Morris, technical team lead and network architect at a $3 billion high-tech company and a Cisco Subnet blogger. "I’m a big fan of wiki because of its ease of use, its openness and its simplicity. It makes sense."

By embedding wikis and blogs in SharePoint 2007, Microsoft also helped get collaboration right, says Susan Hanley, an independent consultant and a Microsoft Subnet blogger. "Because [SharePoint 2007] makes it so easy to take advantage of emerging collaborative technologies, it gives enterprises an opportunity to start a dialog with executives who may not have been exposed to wikis and blogs or who may not have been willing to try them. Now, it’s so easy to do, it lets them see the value of using the technology," she says.

3. Next-gen networks

The industry, especially the carriers and equipment manufacturers, also got it right in 2007 when they began training their focus on building out true next-generation networks (NGN).

"For the first time, the industry began to look at what NGN really means and requires," says Tom Nolle, president of CIMI and a Network World columnist. "Up until this year, probably 80% to 90% of the industry visualized the future as everything collapsing into the Internet, and that never had a shred of a chance of working. This year, the carriers have begun, through their RFP and RFI processes, to turn the software and equipment vendors in the direction that next-gen networks really require," including toward technologies such as hybrid IP, Ethernet and optical networks.

And that leads to some healthy spending. "That’s why you see Cisco and Juniper doing so much better this year," he says. "The carriers are providing the blueprint to follow, and that’s a good move."

Right and wrong deals

4. IPv6 gets taken seriously, in the right places

Those industry players that will be affected the earliest by an IP address shortage finally got IPv6 right in 2007. "This year, the companies that are dependent on a steady supply of IP addresses finally truly understand that they really are going to need IPv6," says Jeff Doyle, principal of Jeff Doyle and Associates and a Network World blogger  on IP. IPv4, as a resource pool, is going to run dry in the next couple of years, probably by 2010 to 2011, Doyle says. And although that doesn’t mean much to enterprises yet, carriers looking to support thousands upon thousands of smart phones and other Internet gadgets will soon feel the sting.

"[Internet Routing Registry] is starting to put out advisories and is making it very clear that the pools will run dry. It’s recommending IPv6, and people are finally listening," he says.

5. Going green

And finally, the industry got going in the right green direction in 2007.

"Vendors and enterprises are finally paying attention to energy consumption issues in IT and hopefully, [those who are] paying attention have done so before the problem spiraled completely out of control for them," says Andreas Antonopoulos, founding partner at Nemertes Research and a Network World columnist. "In general, green IT initiatives, such as the Green Grid, the efforts by chip manufacturers to reduce energy consumption, and the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s] Energy Star initiatives are all good moves." What’s new in 2007 is that the industry is finally realizing green initiatives are not only good for the planet, they’re good for business.

"This is not people hugging their blade servers — it’s purely profit-driven," he says. "We can’t afford to do this the old way."

The flip side

Lest you believe all was rosy in 2007, the industry made its share of wrong moves this year, experts say. These were in security, especially the contentious network access control (NAC) initiative, the net neutrality brouhaha, the dubious focus on Internet properties, problems with the broadband marketplace, and the large thud that was Vista.

1. Network access control (NAC)

Rather than rallying around a single NAC standard, the industry once again fragmented its support. "The industry really screwed up there," says Joel Snyder, senior partner at OpusOne and a Network World tester. "This was the time when it could have done the right thing and it didn’t."

Instead, Cisco refused to participate in the Trusted Computing Group (TCG) initiative, leading the IETF to charter a different working group for Cisco. All is not lost, however.

"The good thing here is that Microsoft and the TCG are joining forces," Snyder says. "That reduced a lot of uncertainty for people who want to go forward and be compatible with Vista, which is obviously the most important thing for NAC in the next five years. This is one of the few cases in memory where Microsoft is the good guy and Cisco is the bad guy." (Learn more about NAC products from our Network Access Control Buyer's Guide.)

2. Net neutrality

This year, the industry really got it wrong on net neutrality. "The carriers made net neutrality an issue again, by doing pigheaded censorship and creating a storm of opposition, when the issue had just died down," Nemertes’ Antonopoulos says. "This was a trifecta of AT&T censoring Pearl Jam, Verizon censoring a pro-choice political committee and Comcast messing with BitTorrent and Lotus Notes traffic. Net neutrality had gone out of conversation until they started doing stupid things."

The real issue isn’t about charging more for better tiers of service, he says. "The carriers are not just saying if you use too much traffic you’ll be off, and of course, ‘too much’ is never defined. But they’re looking at specific applications, content and destinations — that’s the issue with net neutrality."

3. The next bubble

Another area where the industry seems to be getting it wrong is in Internet "advertising," CIMI’s Nolle says, likening this activity to the dot-com craziness. This Internet advertising phenomenon shows itself in two ways. First, companies of all sorts are scrambling to place ads on social networking sites. Second, industry veterans are aligning themselves with the sites — think of Microsoft’s stake in Facebook, for example. The focus on this type of advertising is just "plain wrong," Nolle says. "The truth is we don’t have any good idea about how Internet ads could become a replacement for television ads or anything like that — the statistics on advertising effectiveness are not much better than Ouija boards or Magic 8 balls. There has never been since the bubble so much [merger and acquisition] and so much venture investment made on such nonsensical numbers as we’ve seen here." 

Carriers and cable companies aren’t as exciting as start-ups, the Facebooks and the MySpaces that are banking on this influx of cash from Internet advertising, Nolle says. But the carriers are the ones who are "quietly building their own incumbency market position," he says. "The rest of the market — the start-ups and innovators that we hear about — is building stuff that will never be useful. Just like the bubble. And the common carriers will win because they didn’t get trapped up in this mythology that caught everyone else."

4. Broadband

A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks the United States at No. 15 out of 30 member nations in per-capita broadband use, well behind most other developed countries. "The U.S. continues to lag industrial countries in broadband speed, quality and availability, and we’re falling further behind so the distance has become greater," Antonopoulos says. "That’s definitely wrong." He blames the carriers and the FCC.

"Neither the FCC nor the carriers have fulfilled the promises of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which gave the carriers huge subsidies for what they promised would be lightning fast, widely available fiber-based broadband. Neither the carriers have delivered on the promise, nor has the FCC done anything about it," he says. The FCC’s recent franchise ruling "is too little, too late," he adds.

5. Vista

Like with most things Microsoft, Vista debuted with much noise and fanfare, but it’s been eerily quiet since then. "Most enterprises have been underwhelmed and with good reason," Antonopoulos says. "Its main features cater to fixing mistakes of the past and eye candy."

Microsoft made a wrong move here, and now it’s opened up the playing field to the point where enterprises have to make a deliberate choice on the desktop operating system, which can be a good thing and a bad thing. It requires more evaluation time, but opens up the competition.

"The pain of the upgrade to Vista can now be comparable to switching to Linux or even Macintosh, so Microsoft has erased the advantages it built up. You go from an environment in which Microsoft has pretty much been the only desktop [operating system] vendor for the enterprise to suddenly having three choices [Mac, Linux desktop and Vista], and all three need to be taken seriously."

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