Bell Labs: Enabling mobile Internet is key challenge for the enterprise

Bell Labs' president of research Jeffrey Jaffe discusses the security and performance issues involved in untethering workers

As president of Research and Advanced Technologies at Bell Laboratories, the R&D arm of Lucent Technologies, Dr. Jeffrey Jaffe is charged with helping Lucent's business units develop and deploy new technologies. InfoWorld Senior Analyst Wayne Rash spoke with Jaffe about the work his company is doing to identify and advance the next big advances for network communications in the enterprise. 

InfoWorld: What is going to be the next big thing for the network in the enterprise?

Jaffe: I think that one of the key things is going to be the enablement of the mobile Internet. Everything about the enterprise, the entire value chain that companies face was totally transformed by the Internet, and now that we're having third-generation high-speed data through cellular access, it means that your entire enterprise workforce suddenly becomes untethered, so your sales folks are out there and they can get access to enterprise data off of the server in a secure fashion. That's going to be the next transformation of what IT managers need to worry about for their companies.

InfoWorld: What is going to be required for these IT managers to plan for this?

Jaffe: First and foremost is enabling the applications. In terms of the wireless infrastructure itself, the service providers will be providing very high-speed data capability. And then the enterprises need to make sure that that access is secure; they need to buy data cards for the 3G technology for their PCs. But they'll also have to focus on the applications themselves, the enterprise applications, sales force automation, procurement, making sure that it's enabled for that new infrastructure that's coming from the telecom industry.

InfoWorld: What is required by enterprises to enable this?

Jaffe: Thankfully, a lot of it is just planning and testing; once you have the high-speed wireless link, it should in principle be no worse than a high-speed wired link. It really should be plug-and-play capability. But to get it to really work requires planning the infrastructure, planning the service from the service provider, and making sure that the thing is well tested before it's deployed on a mass scale.

InfoWorld: How big is the security problem and how close is it to solution?

Jaffe: In the last few years [there's been] a substantial increment in what's available in terms of security products: firewalls, intrusion detection devices, anti-virus software, and things like that. In the product space we're in pretty good shape [for security]. Where we need more focus is not in buying a product, but in making sure that systems and networks have had the appropriate security assessments done. Securing an enterprise is not the same thing as buying a product. It has to do with policies, implementation, practices.

InfoWorld: What kinds of changes will the enterprise have to make to implement the necessary security steps?

Jaffe: It's more of an evolution than a revolution. In other words, enterprises have been focused on security for some time now. But when you start enabling yourself into the mobile Internet, it just adds another level of concern. We certainly want to make sure that we don't start getting spam on our cell phones and things like that. That would a disaster, so that would the kinds of things that we need to plan for.

InfoWorld: Isn't that already happening to some extent?

Jaffe: Yes, as I said, it's more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary approach to security.

InfoWorld: What are the other critical issues that have to be dealt with?

Jaffe: Performance is certainly an important issue. Even in the wired world, when lots of people are using the Internet to get access off of the Web, there are performance issues. There was a period of time when the World Wide Web became the World Wide Wait, and so tuning the systems to make sure that the mobile user who's trying to get data off of Web servers gets it with adequate performance will be a critical issue.

InfoWorld: There's a lot going on that's going to affect the enterprise when it comes to their networks. What are some of those concerns they're going to have to deal with in addition to security and the mobile Internet?

Jaffe: One of the things that's happened, especially with the increased use of video, IP telephony, and the like, is demands have grown, the amount of bandwidths required has grown. What I'm seeing is increasingly enterprises are saying, "We need to introduce more than just simple Ethernet switching architectures, we need to have a full SONET optical capability to manage the amount of bandwidth that we have inside of our network and out to the service provider." So optical technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds; we're seeing 40 gigabits as standard on a nationwide network and 10 gigabits, 2.5 gigabits as standard for a metro or an enterprise solution, and that's an area where certainly a lot more focus is required as well.

InfoWorld: So we're moving into a new area to make better use of what bandwidth we've got now?

Jaffe: Yes, better use of the bandwidth that we've got and also we need to do it because the bandwidth demands are growing. With video becoming a standard thing that people are passing around throughout the Internet, we're going to see an enormous leap in the bandwidth requirements on enterprises. And again, the best solution is the increased involvement of leveraging the optical technology into enterprises themselves.

InfoWorld: I know video is going to be important to home users who want to download movies, but how much demand is there going to be in the enterprise? 

Jaffe: From a vertical point of view, there are certain industries -- medical in particular -- where you'll want to actually pass video around between experts in different places as a way of having a new level of collaboration for those vertical applications. From a horizontal point of view, increasingly training material is going to be sent [on video]. And the other thing which is happening is that personal video conferencing, another very important horizontal application, is going to become popular. The main reason that we haven't used videoconferencing more in the past is simply bandwidth. The bandwidth is coming though, it's coming down in price, becoming more and more available, and that's going to just drive another level of usage to enterprise applications, as well as infrastructure requirements on the IT and the telecom organizations within enterprise.

InfoWorld: What is going to be the single biggest challenge for the enterprise in the near term from a communications point of view?

Jaffe: One of things that we've seen is a plethora of technology choices, and selecting between those is often a challenge. You've got your DSL connections, optical T1, wireless; making those hard decisions is a rather complex art.  Designing the networks, architecting the networks is a complex art. Very few enterprises, I think, have the skills that really go after that entirely. In Lucent, we have our Worldwide Services Organization that's available to partner with enterprises to do your network planning. I think if you have the right architecture for a network, like the rest of it, the implementation can be relatively straightforward. Getting the architecture wrong can set back a company for years, and that could be very harmful.

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