Building smarter networks [Day One]

SearchNetworking ANZ's Consulting Editor Ian Yates chats to Dimension Data's Paul Wilkinson about changes in networking technology and how businesses are adapting to the new possibilities they create.

Ian Yates: So what do you see as being the networking hot buttons for businesses today?

Paul Wilkinson: I was catching up with an old friend recently who was telling me he's working on the 100GB over copper bandwidth at the moment, still going through all the committees and everything, but they're actually starting to work on products that are going to be two years out. And that's why they're trying to get 100GB over copper.

Ian Yates: Good luck.

Paul Wilkinson: Yes, he said it looks more like noise when it comes to more than about 50 meters at the moment, but I'm sure they'll get it. Probably the average office is not going to need that for just doing email and moving some Word documents around. Although increasingly we're seeing video to the desktop, things like Tandberg video phones, Cisco's video enablers on their phone. You can buy a little camera, and stick it on. So certainly, the bandwidth requirement is growing. Take a look at high definition video conferencing.

Ian Yates: Yes I've been watching that segment.

Paul Wilkinson: The video quality is amazing, but the sort of bandwidth you use up, at the moment it's just unreasonable. But I think one of the things we've always found with bandwidth is whatever you provide, someone discovers some application that can consume it.

Ian Yates: Yes, I believe data should be described as a gas. It expands to occupy all available space.

Paul Wilkinson: Yes. Certainly one of the things we are seeing with our customers is not so much interest on actual speed but on making the infrastructure smarter. They're trying to authenticate or validate a machine before it gets onto the network. Segmenting people into virtual layers so maybe a guest can plug in and get access to some level of service on the internet, and someone who's brought in their laptop from home and plugs it into their desk, it won't get anywhere because it's not a certified machine.

That's definitely of interest to a lot of people. It's probably an area where there are some issues at the moment, some problems. The other area where we're doing a lot of work is helping people to do what we call zero-plus deployment, so the network boots the machine and having it install itself with a managed image. The problem is then you get a conflicting requirement because you want to have a really smart network that can validate the machine, but at that point when the machine is doing a network install, it's really dumb. Its BIOS hasn't got the fancy client it needs to be able to do that sort of stuff.

You find there's a Catch-22 about what's actually possible, because you want to net boot off your actual directory and your file server infrastructure. And that's all stuff you're trying to protect. But it needs to be on the exposed internal LANs so you can net boot off it and get an image on there. There are some challenges there.

Ian Yates: Are we putting embedded smarts in the NIC to handle that sort of thing?

Paul Wilkinson: Yes, that's going to happen, I mean the boot ROM that's on the motherboard or on the NIC today is probably not that much different from the boot ROM that was around when we were running diskless work stations back in the mid 80s.

Perhaps it's even going to require vendors like DELL or someone like that to get involved so that when they build your machine for you, they can code some specific keys or user password into the hardware.

Ian Yates: So some sort of corporate identity for that machine.

Paul Wilkinson: Yes, so I can't just go and buy a machine at say, Dick Smith, and plug it in and have it use itself with my corporate image. That's the sort of stuff that all has to be worked out for standard use.

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