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Small ComNet soldiers on

Feb 03, 20037 mins

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The ComNet Conference & Expo last week celebrated a bittersweet 25th birthday: Sessions and exhibitors focused on the hottest industry subjects from security to convergence to Web services, but the energy level was low because of sparse vendor and attendee turnout.

Missing from the event were industry bellwethers such as Cisco, Nortel and AT&T, that have made ComNet a network industry mecca in years past. But like other trade shows, ComNet has been hit hard by tight corporate travel budgets and the industry downturn. The crowd appeared to be much smaller than the 30,000 attendees expected by show organizers. The 141 exhibitors on hand represented a two-thirds drop off from two years ago.

Nevertheless, the show went on, featuring Daniel Mehan, CIO and assistant administrator for IS at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), among its keynote speakers (hear a rebroadcast of his talk). Attendees heard firsthand how the agency is attempting to secure its 40,000-seat network while relying increasingly on the Internet.

Mehan spent much of his speech discussing security issues, including the recent MS-SQL Slammer attack. A combination of keeping up to date with patches, keeping workers trained and using a variety of antihacking strategies prevented the FAA’s important computer systems from being harmed, he said. At the same time, he knows the agency isn’t infallible.”We can’t promise you’ll never get a cold,” he said of the agency’s security system. “But we have to make sure it doesn’t spread to pneumonia.”

Web services debate

The security theme that Mehan emphasized was also evident also at Network World’s Web Services Showdown, which pitted representatives from BEA Systems, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle in a debate about the promises and reality of Web services (hear a rebroadcast of the showdown). John Gallant, Network World president and editorial director, and Tony Picardi, senior vice president of software research at IDC, fired questions at vendor participants.

Security must be inherent in any Web services architecture, said Bob Sutor, IBM’s director of Web services.

“Businesses want to use [Web services] to connect to the Internet and to partners,” he said. “You want transactions with security and [to] not throw out [the infrastructure] you have.”

Microsoft’s Neil Charney, director of platform strategy, said that while customers can secure Web services today using technology such as Secure Sockets Layer, deeper security needs to be built into Microsoft products. “You will see security in all our products,” he said.

Key to Web services are tools that let businesses make their applications accessible via the Web, says Oracle’s Ted Farrell, architect and director of strategy for applications tools. “You won’t see Oracle out writing a database or tool for specific applications. We want to wrap the [application] layer with Web services and offer any application as a Web service,” he said.

Agreement on standards for Web services is essential to success, the panelists said. Once the technology is solidified, it should rightly assume an unglamorous role, said Adam Bosworth, BEA’s senior vice president and chief architect for advanced development. “It’s going to be part of the core plumbing,” said Bosworth, who created a minor stir when he said that this summer his company plans to release an ambitious new version of its WebLogic Workshop development tool for Java environments.

More with less

A theme running throughout the show was the need to do more with less to run enterprise networks.

The FAA’s Mehan lamented not being able to buy all the intrusion-detection, VPN and antivirus software he might want, and instead having to buy a mix of what he could afford.

Conference sessions with titles such as “Doing More with Less” and “Closing the Deal on Peak Infrastructure Performance” attracted substantial crowds and initiated much discussion.

“The days are gone when you could buy a tool and let it sit on the shelf collecting dust,” said Michael Kennedy, a managing partner with Network Strategy Partners. “Technology needs to get integrated into the business so that it will support [delivery of] end-to-end services.”

On one panel, representatives from vendors Packeteer, RouteScience Technologies and Peribit Networks attempted to explain how their products could help companies support new applications without greatly increasing bandwidth outlays.

“With new traffic such as [voice-over-IP (VoIP)] and streaming media, simply getting a bigger pipe doesn’t solve the problem anymore,” said Todd Krautkremer, vice president of worldwide marketing at Packeteer. He said he favors traffic management and quality-of-service (QoS) metrics that would prioritize applications such as order-entry programs over, say, music file-sharing programs.

One audience member asked the panel how spending money on their software – which can cost from $5,000 and $50,000, depending on network configuration – is less expensive that doling out cash for increasingly less-expensive bandwidth.

“Bandwidth can still be cheaper in some cases, but it doesn’t take into account the performance of various applications,” Krautkremer said. “Sometimes more bandwidth isn’t enough to support certain applications.”

Among other companies aiming to help customers better support new applications was Viola Networks, which launched software called NetAlly designed to gauge a network’s ability to handle VoIP traffic.

The server and agent software simulates VoIP traffic on customer networks before IP telephony gear is installed, letting network executives determine how extensive a network upgrade might be necessary to support VoIP . The software checks for packet loss, latency and jitter on the links that would carry voice.

Viola’s one-time network evaluation service costs $500. The software costs about $50,000, depending on the number of sites in the network and the number of tests supported.

Separately, Opnet announced a network traffic-analysis tool, dubbed IT Guru 9.1. The software lets network managers test the effect an application will have on a production network before rolling out the application.

The software can offer suggestions on how to design network infrastructure or rewrite application code to improve an application’s performance on the live network.

Another vendor, Allot Communications, showed a new version of its NetEnforcer appliance that can enforce QoS standards. It also is designed to help limit the bandwidth that peer-to-peer applications can grab on network connections.

Called NetEnforcer 202, the appliance will replace the 201 model. New software on the box targets the Kazaa file-sharing application Kazaa 2.0, known for its bandwidth-hogging.

NetEnforcer 202 will cost $5,500 for a version with 2M bit/sec throughput and $7,500 for one with 10M bit/sec throughput.

Also at the show:

• Network World hosted an awards ceremony for winners of its 2002 User Excellence Award competition (read more on the winners). In its 18th year, the program honors organizations that have adapted mainstream technologies creatively or have applied newer infrastructure technologies to solve pressing business problems.

Commercial insurance firm Royal & SunAlliance USA won top honors. The company crafted a money-saving self-service operating-system upgrade program that had 7,000 employees move from Windows 95 to XP while the IT team simultaneously rolled out Active Directory as the core of a new identity management system, switched to a new software distribution server and implemented self-service password management.

Representatives from runners-up, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Wells’ Dairy, also were on hand to receive awards.

• Attorney Richard Wiley moderated his annual “town meeting” session, at which Washington telecom experts concluded that regulators would continue to have some control over telephone rates after the Federal Communications Commission finishes a review of telecom competition next month.The experts stopped short of making specific predictions, but agreed that the less regulation, the better.

The IDG News Service contributed to this story.