Orchestrate your LAN

FRAMINGHAM (10/23/2003) - The economy seems to be coming back to life and much of the technology overkill that helped our networks survive a few tough years is being used up. Yet, if any one lesson was learned, it was that, for the foreseeable future, we'd need to "orchestrate" our LANs very carefully - optimizing assets and choosing compatible architectures.

That's precisely why "LANs: Orchestrating Your Network Assets" is the theme for this year's Network World seminar tour.

During the first two weeks of November, we'll explore the topic with groups in Boston; Washington, D.C.; San Francisco and San Diego.

Joining Network World's Sandra Gittlen and me will be speakers and exhibitors from Adtran Inc., Allot Communications Inc., Avocent Corp., Canon Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Foundry Networks Inc.

As the "wrap-up" tour for the year, we'll be taking a forward-looking stance at how you can build an effective strategy for 2004. And, as an "umbrella" tour - we take a high-level, cross-technology approach - we can explore how decisions in one area, say, wireless LANs, affect your options in another area such as security.

For my part, I'll explore several areas in my morning keynote that should be able to help you deal with any and all the LAN/WAN (wide area networks) technologies you'll need to grapple with in 2004.

My talk will be centered on what I call "the new food chain" in IT - that is, the way that technology makes its way from inception - to your doorstep.

Economic conditions have accelerated what already had been a growing trend toward outsourcing. In the past, vendors commonly would pull specialty pieces of code - SNMP, for example - from vendors that specialized in that area. Alternatively, they would just "OEM" or relabel another vendor's product in total.

Now, we are getting something in between those two extremes.

There's a whole new pack of hardware and software vendors that make a living providing pieces to the finished product for vendors that we know and love.

These are vendors such as S3 Group (Silicon and Software Systems Ltd.) or Instant802 layering features on to Intel network processors with the goal of reducing time to market and increasing box vendor profitability.

There are some vendors that serve only as designers. They decide what the product specifications are and farm out 100 percent of the work to others. There is a thriving business in Taiwan (and elsewhere) doing just this. And some big-name brands use this approach very successfully.

For end users, this approach provides an opportunity to understand much more about the product you are buying - if you can find out what the "components" are. The component vendors do a nice job of discussing what they offer their vendor customers - and ultimately you.

If a product you buy is based on a particular vendor's network processor - with its own capabilities and limitations - your product automatically inherits those same attributes.

However, that doesn't mean that all products built on the same network processor, for example, are the same. That would be too easy. Network processor hardware/software vendors provide a platform upon which to develop. And, as everywhere else, they'll be some vendors that do it the right way and some that take the easy way out.

Like it or not, you can't ignore the situation. The network you are trying to architect ultimately will be built with components architected by who-knows-how-many different vendors. Understanding the lineage will give you an upper hand on building the best network.

Tolly is president of The Tolly Group, a strategic consulting and independent testing company in Boca Raton,Florida. He can be reached at ktolly@tolly.com.

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