Wi-Fi, virtualization drive network evolution

Although Wi-Fi, virtualization, and 10Gigabit Ethernet made significant gains in 2002, this year will see these technologies further shake up the enterprise landscape.

On the 10GbE front, much of the disruption will be economic. Simply put, 10GbE is too expensive. But that will change quickly as the prices of optics and other components continue to plummet. According to some estimates, the cost of 10GbE equipment is expected to drop by at least 30 percent by the end of 2003.

And an affordable price tag coupled with the fact that servers will increasingly come standard with 10GbE ports means the need for more 10GbE as an aggregating technology will grow. Cisco Systems, Foundry Networks, and Extreme Networks are expected to launch boxes this year based on a new architecture. Each vendor's current 10GbE products rely on old designs. They've reached capacity limit with the boxes and will likely attempt to bring out new, denser boxes in the way startup Force10 Networks has.

Wi-Fi will prove to be a disruptive technology as it continues to impact a broad spectrum of the IT landscape. Wi-Fi's integration into the corporate network will bring big changes from both technology and business perspectives. As hot spots in public places increase along with wireless LAN connectivity on campus, corporate IT is already struggling with building the technology for seamless roaming between sub-nets without dropping data or having to re-authenticate its users.

And now that employees have almost continuous access to data both on and off campus, senior management must decide how to change business processes to leverage the potential for increased productivity.

In the telecommunications industry, the sudden appearance of hot spots has threatened to take potential customers off their networks and onto Wi-Fi networks for access to data. Down the road, carriers face additional loss in revenues as voice customers find their way onto Wi-Fi networks using VoIP (voice over IP) run by such nontelecom companies as Boingo, Gric, and Cometa.

In response, the wireless carriers are buying, designing, and building out the technology to give mobile users the ability to roam between wireless LANs and the WANs. The moves signal the onset of what's becoming known as mesh networks that link users around the country in ad hoc peer-to-peer networks.

On the virtualization front, vendors will strive to better articulate their definition of a sweeping term that is hazily defined as a means to make multiple technologies seem as one. In the storage management space, vendors will continue to jockey for position in a market saturated with products touting the virtualization moniker. However, enterprises will reap cost savings as the technology permits improved management and reduces the number of heads required to manage a SAN.

Most significantly, the concept of virtualization will rear its head as a technology employed in the datacenter. Look for vendors such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard to further disaggregate the components that make up a server, thus helping enterprises drive down server costs.

Instead of self-contained boxes, we'll continue to see platforms that permit the virtualization of computing resources across multiple servers in a distributed computing paradigm. Vendors will also introduce virtualization devices for servers, giving servers the capability to borrow resources from distributed compute resources. Start-ups including InfiniCon Systems and Topspin Communications are focused on this space.

-- Scott Tyler Shafer and Ephraim Schwartz

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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