Call it the end of an era. For the past three years, we've been writing back and forth about the trials and tribulations of learning more about IT and networking. I hope I've offered you half as much education as you've given me. It's truly been a learning experience hearing about the challenges in keeping up to speed on technologies and helping to educate users.Our Network World 500 Study reveals what activities you are going to find important over the next 12 months. Top of the list is to bolster IT security company-wide. More than 80% of respondents said they find this either extremely or very important.Our recent Security Technology Tour proved that IT managers are becoming very savvy about how to handle all the security pressures they face. Attendees of the tour said they still come up against reluctance by the company purse holders to finance strong security, but they simply point to all the recent headlines dealing with breaches at big-name companies. Attendees said this helped free up some money.Interestingly, the second area of importance for IT managers is to "ensure we are in compliance with regulations." This has been a biggie this year. It's getting to the level of prominence that I'd liken it to the brouhaha surrounding Y2K. Compliance has just as much on the line for companies as the government is setting down strict guidelines. And where the government lets off, there is self-governance going on in the private sector. Customers are demanding to know what their service providers' compliance plans are. Other companies are feeling the pressure to put in place compliance measures that their peers have. It's definitely a "keeping up with the Jones'" mentality. And the vendors are cashing in. They are quickly adding compliance tools to their offerings and sending out press releases to let everyone know. It's the buzzword du jour.The third area of importance for IT organizations is to improve or update data center infrastructure and operations. Couple this with the fifth area, which is to consolidate data centers\/servers\/storage-area networks, and you see where the industry is moving. Companies can no longer support hundreds of data centers spread out all over the globe. They need a more centralized approach to managing servers, applications, data storage and the like. Less personnel and less money for physical infrastructure has turned the tide. Companies are trying to get more from their investments and to make their architectures smarter. You'll see more of this as the era of lights-out computing hits its stride.Supporting mobile workers is the fourth area of importance. There is so much involved in allowing workers to roam beyond the network that it's no wonder IT organizations are perplexed. Applications must be adjusted to whatever device users are employing to access the network. Those devices must be supported and updated and have licensed software. And support for all users has to be extended to full-on 24-7 as you never know who's accessing what when. That's a pretty tall order.Hand-in-hand with this is the onslaught of wireless LANs, which come in at No. 6. WLANs are either a hindrance or a help, depending on who's using them and why. That's why IT organizations are trying to get a handle on their deployment. They are also trying to integrate them into existing networks without jeopardizing network security.The seventh area that's listed as important for IT groups is the convergence of voice and data infrastructures. We've been talking about this forever. But I do see great strides being made recently. Maybe it's the mix of wireless that's helping or the expiration of some big legacy phone equipment. I'm not sure. But folks seem more up to the challenge of moving to a VoIP architecture and melding voice and data in the network.Are these the same areas you find of interest? Are there others that have you scratching your head? As I hand over the reins to my able colleague Linda Leung (some of you have probably met her on the Technology Tours), please be sure to send her your comments at mailto:email@example.com If you'd like to reach me, I'll be at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org Take care and good luck with all your educational challenges.