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What customers want in this new year

Jan 09, 20064 mins
Computers and PeripheralsNetworking

Heightened communication, standards, disaster recovery and virtualization are just a few of the areas IT managers are focused on as they chart their courses for the coming months. Purse strings are still tight, so products and services with big price tags are out. Instead, the themes in 2006 will be about increasing efficiency, tightening security and enhancing communication.

This wish list for 2006 was compiled from discussions with more than a dozen IT managers:

1. Security inside.

Security is a top issue for most IT managers, with some wanting a heightened focus on cybercrime and others bringing in open source tools to augment proprietary security approaches. Others are looking for devices that put security power into the guts of LAN switches to make security deployments easier. Jeff Crawford, manager of networking and security for East Grand Rapids, Mich., public schools, says vendors that offer multiple, single-purpose hardware devices for network services – whether it’s security, telephony or management – should make the products they offer look more like a Swiss Army knife.

He has tested new gear that consolidates WAN routing, firewall, intrusion-prevention and intrusion-detection features into a single box – 3Com’s X505 network devices.

Crawford says the Swiss Army knife approach undoubtedly will save money. He estimates he can eliminate clusters of gear that cost about $5,000 with such combination equipment.

2. Standards.

With more business being done electronically, the need to share information and services is on the rise. That kind of collaboration requires standards.

The auto industry, for example, is pushing for a standards-based method for sharing critical logistics documents electronically, so manufacturers and governments worldwide can more quickly and easily expedite freight. “A lot of products coming out today are built on proprietary ways of doing things,” says Pat Snack, the General Motors executive who heads up the e-commerce committee of the Automotive Industry Action Group. “We need things that are standards-based.”

Craig Paul, systems software analyst in the Applications Technology Group at the Kansas University Computer Center in Lawrence, says one of his big wishes for 2006 is to get local, county, state and national disease-reporting databases linked and integrated into a disease screening and reporting system, which will require a standard way of inputting and sharing data.

“The head of public health in nearby Kansas City repeatedly has stressed that by far the largest homeland security threat is a pandemic that’s undetected in its early stages,” Paul says. “The problem is twofold: uninsured people won’t visit a doctor until they’re desperately ill; by that time, the disease likely will have already spread. While there is some progress in linking [distributed] disease reporting databases, it’s not nearly enough.”

3. Cool servers.

While servers are becoming increasingly powerful, end users are grappling with how to keep these fasterrunning systems cool. “I can see a push for low-power AMD Opteron systems as cooling and power become more and more of a factor for an energy-conscious IT world,” says Chris Schwerzler, IT operations manager at online weather service Weather Underground in San Francisco. “For that matter, I can see a growing demand for more-efficient yet cost-effective CPUs in general.”

4. Faster, better disaster recovery.

With the Internet keeping business running around the clock, enterprises are under growing pressure to keep operations active 24/7. Boscov’s Department Stores in Reading, Pa., recently moved to a new data center. Joe Poole, manager of technical support, says he hopes to use the “perfectly functional computer room” the move left behind to enhance the company’s disaster-recovery plan in 2006.

“I would really love to be able to sell a twin disaster-recovery site to the business,” Poole says, explaining that he would put another processor and another IBM Shark storage server in the computer room. “Production data could be mirrored synchronously. If we had a disaster, we could be back up in a matter of hours rather than days.”

5. Virtualize virtually everything.

Server virtualization continues to make headway, and analysts say it should really take off this year, especially as IT managers focus on consolidating hardware and boosting efficiencies. Jim Klein, director of information services and technology at the Saugus Union School District in California, has a lengthy to-do list for 2006, and virtualization is at the top.

“We plan to consolidate the data center at the district office and move to a fully virtualized environment through the use of blades, shared storage and open-source virtualization software [Xen],” he says, adding that by summer he hopes to have eliminated two full racks of servers, “consolidating them into an efficient and scalable platform.”

Users had plenty more to wish for. See their wish list.