Phil Smith, Cisco's business development director, has the task of pointing the company in the right direction by anticipating market trends. The picture he paints of the developing networking world is one of convergence driven by optical technology, of businesses benefiting from increased mobility, the rise of intelligent networks, and legacy networks getting a new lease of life.
In his vision the network is all-pervasive. "We have moved on. To not do networking is not an option," he said.
Smith sees Long Reach Ethernet (LRE) as an important new technology because it allows companies to run IP services over existing cables. "Telephone, television, almost anything - even barbed wire or coat hangers," he explained.
LRE is easy to deploy and costs are low, making it ideal for businesses that cannot justify ripping out existing infrastructure. It works in a similar way to digital subscriber line technology, in that it makes use of bandwidth capacity inherent in cable which older technologies could not exploit.
LRE delivers up to 15mbps over a distance of 1,500m. Early adopters include hotels, such as the Heathrow Crown Plaza which delivers voice, data and television to its guest rooms using IP over LRE.
"It could even be a technology that could bypass the local loop log-jam," said Smith. "LRE repeaters could be installed in street cabinets to take signals to homes."
There is also increased mobility being built into the newest networks and a pervasiveness that is developing as the network extends to more devices, said Smith.
"Users are building in a percentage of mobility, such as wireless access points, when networks are designed. It is now a given that there will be people who are not fixed to workstations but need access," said Smith.
Higher up the networking chain, Smith identified the metropolitan area network as this year's key networking technology for business. Greater accessibility to optical technology has seen businesses buying dark fibre and lighting it up with their own equipment rather than relying on renting capacity on a network provider's backbone.
This is firing a convergence-type phenomenon as areas such as storage are able to take advantage of the increasing bandwidths available from optical technology, said Smith.
With the increase in magnitude of possible bandwidth, storage, like voice and data before it, is now able to merge with the mainstream network.
Greater local bandwidth means companies can easily expand during merger and acquisition activity, for example. Cisco is one of the companies that is exploiting this bandwidth to allow maximum flexibility.
"Often projects are stalled because the infrastructure overhead makes them too costly," said Smith. "At Cisco, the network infrastructure is provided by the whole group while applications are the responsibility of business units."
Alongside this, Smith predicts the rise of the intelligent network, which he sees as a consequence of the increased prominence of the distributed computing model. "Cisco expects to see more distribution of computing capability around the world. At the moment, we rely on connectivity between A and B but things like Napster and Gnutella show the possibilities of the distributed model. But what is needed to make this a reality for business is the intelligent network," he said.
Smith sees a situation where greater levels of intelligence than are found in today's quality of service (QoS) technologies are built into the network, enabling it to determine, for example, where traffic is coming from, the bandwidth required and the security needed or available for portions of its route.
"The network needs to get smarter. We have had QoS and policy at a box-by-box level for years. But we are not there yet. Wouldn't it be better if policy was all encompassing?" asked Smith.
If a networking giant like Cisco has something like this on its wish list, it is definitely a space worth watching.
Technologies to watch
- Long Reach Ethernet (LRE)
LRE lets companies run IP services over existing cables. LRE is easy to deploy and costs are low. It works in a similar way to digital subscriber line technology, in that it makes use of bandwidth capacity inherent in cable which older technologies cannot exploit.
- Metropolitan area network (Man)
Bigger than a Lan but smaller than a Wan, a Man is a network that covers a geographic area such as a city or suburb. Greater accessibility to optical technology has seen businesses buying their own dark fibre and lighting it up with their own equipment rather than renting capacity on a network provider's backbone.
- Intelligent networks
Cisco sees a situation where greater levels of intelligence than are found in today's quality of service technologies are built into the network, enabling it to determine, for example, where traffic is coming from, the bandwidth required and the security needed or available for portions of its route.