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Why Network People Worry About the Future

I worry about the future.  Newspapers carry stories about a tough economy, rough job market, and a future that is difficult.  Things are changing and change creates worry.

Abner Germanow, a technology analyst at IDC, is worried about the future of the network.  He writes about change in the network and the worries we need to address to build networks that are ready for the future.  His ideas are captured in a free white paper called “Demonstrating the Value of a Foundation Network”.

Change is everywhere.  Video, voice, and collaborative applications are now part of the IP network.  We are facing problems with security and the deployment of virtual private networks (VPNs).  Mobile devices are moving in and out of wireless networks, creating complexity.  The network is now more important than ever before.  It’s changed from a nice thing for the business, with a single point of failure, to a mission-critical part of business with redundant components.

How can you understand the change? What has changed in the role of the last five years? What could happen in the next five years that would affect the network?  What would be the long-term impact of buying the minimum capabilities today just to meet demands without an eye for the future? With so many elements of the network changing so quickly, it makes everything seem like a blur.

To understand the change and the problems it creates for networks, IDC classifies change into four categories:

  1.    Scalability;
  2.    Processing capacity;
  3.    Visibility and control;
  4.    Complexity.

We need to worry about the future of the network.  The enormous changes we see in the network are driven by equally rapid changes to business processes.  For example, the popular concept of just-in-time manufacturing is putting new strains on networks.  A future-proof network is needed to future-proof businesses.  Without a flexible network, the business won’t be flexible.

Preparing for the future doesn’t mean replacing your network.  There are many things that can be done with your existing network.  IDC lists four areas where new services and capabilities can be enabled now without a major network refresh:

  1. New voice deployments;
  2. Security functions;
  3. Quality of service and the ability to prioritize traffic based on business needs;
  4. Virtualized services.

Within the next five years though, you will likely need to address a few specific areas.  The IP network will have to prepare for the widespread deployment of these services:

  •     IP voice;
  •     Unified communications;
  •     IP video conferencing;
  •     IP video surveillance;
  •     ”The next video thing.”

In the near future managers of IP networks also need to be prepared for collaboration and social networking, use of the network to reduce energy costs and minimize the carbon footprint of the enterprise, and increased uses of Software as a Service and Cloud Computing.

IDC comments that Cisco assumes that the network will be continually presented with new application demands and the need for reliability, resiliency, and control, so our products are well suited to deal with these changing pressures. The Cisco Integrated Services Router (ISR) and Catalyst 4500 and 6500 are great examples of the flexibility that Cisco builds into network components, designed for a growing number of services and support for a wide range of service modules.  A quick look at the recent technologies that Cisco is integrating with the core network include WLAN access point controllers, flow control, security blades for firewalls, intrusion detection, and VPN, and a blade for IP PBX.

Building your network to be future-proof is an important consideration and becoming even more critical as use of the network continues to change.  Cisco always encourages customers to plan for the future.  A flexible networking foundation will help the network to scale flexibly, easily, and inexpensively.

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