Seeing the bottom

Underlying currents run deep and clear through this year's list of Technology of the Year winners

ONE LOOK AT this year's list of Technology of the Year winners tells all you need to know about the immediate future of enterprise computing. Specifically, the safe money seems to be on distributed architectures.

The fact that technologies such as Web services, peer-to-peer computing, WLANs (wireless LANs), and next-generation handhelds are still grabbing headlines indicates that the concept of the ever-expanding, open enterprise is more than just a passing fancy.

Those channels are also being pushed ahead by portal, CRM, and NAS (network-attached storage) vendors, who continue to churn out products that help administer and maintain distributed solutions.

Starting to plan for building and managing distributed environments today will ultimately help your company realize superior flexibility and take advantage of broader opportunities down the road.

Of course, none of this should come as a major newsbreak for our regular readers, as these technologies have been at the heart of our Test Center coverage throughout the year.

But that's not to say there weren't some eye-openers on the list. I was particularly surprised to see the strong showing of 802.11 WLANs. Yes, wireless networks are easier to deploy, and they offer a greater range of layout configurations than wired networks, but I still think of the WLAN as a niche solution. If, say, your company always needs to set up and break down ad-hoc conference rooms, then 802.11 may make sense. But for plain-Jane enterprise computing, I'm frankly not convinced the technology is ready.

That's not meant as a slight against WLAN vendors or their products. After all, it's not the technology that poses concerns about long-term ROI; it's the standards. For starters, the 5GHz equipment that conforms to the more robust 802.11a standard is not backward-compatible, which forces enterprises to invest in either dual-channel access points or the 802.11g standard (due later this year). And the WEP (Wired Equivalent Protocol) security-encryption algorithm is a less-than-comprehensive security measure. To really lock down security, you must still install additional solutions, such as VPNs.

The good news is that, during the coming year, new standards for interoperability and security will help strengthen the capabilities of WLANs.

The same is true of Web services. In 2002, we can expect to see a significant strengthening of Web services architectures, as vendors flesh out many of the unresolved necessities for broader adoption beyond the confines of in-house EAI (enterprise application integration) solutions. Issues such as security, messaging, and QoS (quality of service) will all be stronger by year's end.

In fact, given the potential that Web services possess for shaping IT, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Web services ended up a repeat winner in our next Technology of the Year showdown.

What are your thoughts on our Technology of the Year winners? What changes might you have made? Write me at james_borck@infoworld.com and let me know what you think.

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