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No Frills and Route if You Must

I was reading about the latest airline cutbacks due to the skyrocketing price of oil. Fewer routes, fewer perks. Charges for checked baggage, for pre-assigned seats-even for pretzels. There’s even some speculation about coin-operated toilets. And this was in the Washington Post, no less. Here on the ground, the price of oil is also running roughshod with our daily lives. People are wondering if they can afford to drive to work. Something has to give. And interestingly, according to Associated Press writer Michael Hill, the U.S. House of Representatives just approved legislation requiring the head of each federal agency to set policies allowing qualified workers to work from home or another convenient location. High gas prices was one factor cited. All this reminds me of the decade-old debate on routing versus switching.Remember ‘route if you must, switch if you can?’ In the end, both won. And, at least in the campus, the lines between the two have blurred. The same thing will occur across the enterprise when it comes to worker models. Telecommuting, TelePresence, and other ways to limit travel are already viable alternatives. But this will change as it has already in some countries. You’ll first consider how to accomplish something by staying put. Then, if you need to be there in person, you’ll jump in the car or onto the plane. I’m not saying that we’ll all turn into homebodies. But we will rely on the network much more. So what does this mean?Employees across the enterprise, when interacting with their colleagues in the same city or twelve time zones away, will want that ‘presence.’ Bandwidth demands will grow by an order of magnitude from what we have today. To illustrate how bandwidth demands increase, here’s an example Geoff Daily poses in his blog, App-Rising.com:”-When a user goes from watching a YouTube video to watching a full-length episode of Lost in HD, that’s not just a doubling in demand for bandwidth, it can be a tripling or quadrupling.” Sure, we’re not watching Lost at work. But we are collaborating with video and bandwidth-hungry rich media. Telecommuters will need to be just as effective as if they were in the office. DSL and VoIP lines are just the beginning. Soon enough, employees will be able to pop in and out of offices and conference rooms, all from the comfort of their home offices. Seamless, efficient, productive. Will we even need a term to distinguish between telecommuters and regular workers?This transition also implies a major shift in connectivity, given that today’s DSL and cable modem connections offer limited upstream bandwidth. So, it’s not just the bandwidth that counts, it’s the intelligence behind the bandwidth. It’s that level of connectivity that enables us to know who is where, and the best means of contact. And that keeps enterprises fully connected, from branch office to campus to remote sites. Given globalization, it may also make life a bit easier. No more late-night conferences in the office with colleagues on the other side of the globe -now we can conveniently do this from home. Which gives us better work-life-balance, a topic I’ll touch upon next week.

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