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Executive Editor

Survey: Security cuts both ways on IT plans

Jun 09, 20037 mins

Security concerns are causing network executives to accelerate some technology deployment plans and put the brakes on others, according to the ninth annual Network World 500 survey.

Security concerns are causing network executives to accelerate some technology deployment plans and put the brakes on others, according to the ninth annual Network World 500 survey.

Not surprisingly, security spending is on the rise, fueled by an increase in blended threats and hybrid worms. Among survey respondents, 50% report their companies are increasing security spending. Firewalls, VPN software and antivirus software will top respondents’ security purchase lists over the next 12 months.

At the same time, respondents said security vulnerabilities are roadblocks to certain technology deployments. Forty-two percent said security concerns are slowing down implementation of wireless technology, as well as remote or teleworker applications and e-business applications.

As for whether technology spending in general is on the rebound, the message is mixed from the 500 companies interviewed (all of which have multiple sites with internetworked LANs and WANs and annual network-related expenditures of more than $10 million). Nearly 40% of respondents plan to spend more in 2003 than they did last year. Meanwhile, about 30% face budget decreases and 32% expect budgets to remain flat, according to the survey, conducted jointly by Network World and Research Concepts in February and March.

Jefferson County, Colo., won’t have to cut its IT budget, says Dave Gallaher, director of IT development. Its IT budget has been stable for years – it didn’t go up significantly in the boom years, so Gallaher avoided having to make drastic cuts – and it will stay that way for now. “We never went nuts when the good times were going on. We’ve always had to be extremely pragmatic and very frugal,” he says. “And we’ve been able to do pretty much anything we wanted to do because we have been frugal.”

The need for greater storage capacity appears fairly universal: On average, respondents expect to increase storage capacity by 74% in the next 12 months and 120% in the next two years.

The most common reason companies expect to need greater storage capacity is for consolidation of storage resources, which 65% of respondents cited. Other drivers include implementation of specific enterprise applications such as CRM (64%), virtualization of storage resources (62%), Web and e-business applications (58%) and e-mail attachments (57%).

The Pennsylvania State University invested in IBM’s high-end Enterprise Storage Server – known as Shark – this year to consolidate its mainframe and open systems storage. “Stand-alone storage pools are being phased out,” says Robert O’Connor, IS manager at the university in State College. The result is better storage management and improved performance, he says.

A little security

On the security front, Penn State will spend money this year to improve its network monitoring, firewall and security filtering capabilities, O’Connor says. The university also is rolling out voice over IP (VoIP) campuswide – an initiative Penn State shares with many NW500 survey respondents.

Technology developments over the last year are fueling greater interest in VoIP, according to 61% of respondents. Some users (44%) are interested in the long-term cost-saving benefits of VoIP, but most are not yet impressed by new VoIP applications – only 17% cited the promise of applications such as unified messaging as a compelling reason to implement VoIP. Even fewer cited reduction in toll charges (14%) and ease of managing a single network (13%).

Concern over quality-of-service guarantees (71%) and voice quality over the IP network (70%) topped respondents perceived drawbacks. Hardware and software costs are the sixth-most-common VoIP drawback, cited by 49%.

Waterbury Hospital has experimented with VoIP in a wireless environment, but the trial didn’t convince Jim Olson, CIO at the Connecticut medical facility. “Considering the quality of service, this project has a lot of maturing to do before we would replicate the experiment,” Olson says.

Jefferson County’s Gallaher has looked at VoIP for some time, but so far hasn’t been able to justify the equipment investment. Each time the county has explored the cost savings potential, it has been able to negotiate more favorable terms with its local dial-tone provider, he says. “Are we ready to give up our dial tones yet with our Baby Bell? Not quite, although it’s getting mighty tempting,” Gallaher says. He expects the county will begin deploying VoIP within two years.

Wireless technology also is attracting interest. More than half of respondents (56%) say wireless technology will be a top priority for their IT group over the next 12 months. The desire to increase productivity of mobile workers is driving wireless implementations.

Drivers or obstacles

But users having to weigh wireless productivity drivers against significant obstacles, however. Not surprisingly, the most commonly cited concern is security-related: 87% named encryption key and security management as a top concern related to wireless implementation. In addition, respondents were concerned about existing investments in wired networks and troubleshooting, connectivity and interoperability problems.

Waterbury Hospital is scaling back some wireless initiatives while accelerating others. The hospital is slowing down voice-based wireless implementation because cell phone interference with medical devices can cause unpredictable results and threaten patient safety, Olson says.

On the flip side, the hospital is aggressively rolling out 802.11a, b and g wireless devices, including thin client portable, desktop and handheld devices. “The two primary driving factors are improved documentation and medication administration,” Olson says. “With today’s applications, alerts can be fired that inform a clinician of an impending unintended result.”

Security also factors into respondents’ plans to deploy handheld devices. The top two concerns respondents have about the use of handheld devices are protecting data on the device (91%) and protecting the device from theft (72%).

But that’s not stopping respondents from dedicating more financial resources to such devices. In fact, 67% of respondents say they will increase spending on handhelds. Among respondents whose companies plan to purchase handheld devices, PDA purchase plans are most common (87%), followed by e-mail pagers (57%) and digital phones (56%).

Microsoft everywhere

The survey attests to Microsoft’s near ubiquity in operating systems: 98% of respondents are using Windows NT or 2000. Windows XP usage grew from 38% last year to 67% this year – where it could hold steady. Among organizations that have not deployed XP, 88% have no intention of doing so.

Respondents are divided over .Net: 46% have no deployment plans, while 41% have started deployment or plan to start deployment within the next two years. The remainder are unsure.

Among other operating systems, Linux stands out for its growing popularity. Last year, 48% of respondents reported using Linux. This year, 57% report Linux usage.

Linux is making its mark in Jefferson County, Gallaher says, calling the ROI incredible. Inexpensive hardware makes it possible for his team to build Linux servers customized for particular applications to improve performance. He says the Linux boxes are not only more powerful and less expensive than Windows servers, but also easier to manage. The county has the same number of staffers supporting its Windows servers as it does its Linux servers – even though there are 10 times as many Linux boxes in production, Gallaher says.

For its cost-saving efforts, server consolidation appeals to Waterbury Hospital. The hospital is using VMware server partitioning software hosted on Linux to support multiple test environments on a single server. Maintaining separate test and production environments is critical – and sometimes mandated – in healthcare facilities, Olson says. “We have the potential of great savings from the elimination of test servers,” he says.

In general, budget-stretching tactics are common among survey respondents – only 2.7% say they aren’t taking any steps to stretch their budgets.

The most commonly deployed tactics are spreading out purchases over the year (75%), moving functions to the Web (74%), remote management (70%), server consolidation (69%), remote software distribution (55%), using service providers (46%) and outsourcing (45%).

Senior Writer Denise Dubie contributed to this story.