Networking: what does 2009 hold?

The networking world finds itself in the position of being at the bleeding edge of an industry that prides itself on cutting through to the next way to speed up life and business processes.

The networking world finds itself in the position of being at the bleeding edge of an industry that prides itself on cutting through to the next way to speed up life and business processes.

In conversations using words such as "collaboration" and "convergence" it is the networking players that are able to provide the infrastructure that will underpin the future direction for IT.

For those in the networking channel the year ahead will be one where they are encouraged to engage with the messages coming out of the major vendors and for those in the driving seat to practice more of what they preach.

At its most recent channel conference in November Cisco not only talked of the need for collaboration between partners, promoting a number of websites that link partners to partners as well as one that allows dealers to put their business in a virtual shop window to customers, but also of the need for more skills in the channel.

These tools are still at an early stage, but with more development and promotion from the likes of Cisco they should have more impact in 2009.

Search for skills
If there is one issue above nearly all others that has been lost in the downturn it is the concern about the number of skilled engineers that still need to be found. In the case of Cisco there is a considerable number that need to come through training courses and the vendor's own university and into resellers over the next 12 months to keep its growth plans on track.

For many customers the world is still limited to voice and data, but the increasing popularity of video will put pressure on networks and require some to be refreshed.

One market area that has already been identified as a place to target resellers' energies is the SME space. Companies in the mid-market will be courted heavily in the next 12 months with specific products and channel promotions.
But there are also other challenges in the year ahead in the form of increasing the support that is given to remote workers, allowing them to access the network in a variety of ways.

In some respects the technology is now not the main issue, it is the way that it is used - and that returns the discussion to the word "collaboration".
With most partners and vendors being encouraged to join or establish online ecosystems, the number of resellers getting a taste for partnerships will increase and the number of customers that have purchased collaboration formed services will also grow.

Consolidation to continue
The other feature of the landscape next year that is a safe bet to predict is further consolidation. As the networking world bumps up against security, storage and other specialist fields, the chances are that those with the funds will strengthen their position through acquisition.

But in the long-term, away from the current scrutiny on share price and financial performance, the industry will move towards a situation where more customers are pushed up the technological development curve.

Unlike the last downturn, which was rather self-induced after the industry had told customers to invest in dotcom stocks and protect themselves against the millennium bug, this time technology can help drive customers towards better performance.

There is still a great deal of ageing technology in the market and as customers ask about VoIP and video networking the straight answer is often going to be to invest in new technology.

Despite everything, that is going to remain next year as more customers realise that by embracing and using technology they can help drive down costs and collaborate with other providers to ensure they offer the best services and support to their customers.

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