For many years, networking looked like a sure thing. Whatever the state of hardware and software, those assets had to be connected—the faster, the better.
So how to explain the ongoing, near-death experience of nearly all sectors of networking, from services to equipment? This weeks NetWorld+Interop show in Las Vegas is as good a time as any to take the pulse, or check for one, of the industry that is to data what the circulatory system is to the body.
Its clear that the dot-com bust hit the networking industry hard. Vendors ramped up production of the last generation of equipment and services in anticipation of a buying spree, which was quite real for a time. The bursting of the bubble left those vendors with an investment that will never be recovered and a glut of networking hardware that is still depressing the market. These days, it seems, eBay is the most successful networking hardware vendor around.
Where to go from here? The networking industry is caught between existing development efforts in important, but slow-growth technologies, such as IPv6, Gigabit—and 10 Gigabit—Ethernet, and quality-of-service features on the one hand and a global sag in demand for new backbone hardware on the other.
Although bloodied, companies should plunge ahead and invest in new edge-of-the-network technologies, where innovation is desperately needed. The industry needs fast wireless links that dont require elaborate hoop-jumping to deploy securely. We need ways to take advantage of cost-effective broadband network connections without losing the management and reliability benefits that leased lines and frame relay have provided for years. Its also clear that IT will continue to invest in voice-over-IP and virtual private network technologies. Vendors should find investments in these areas fertile ground.
A vast amount of work lies ahead in making the dream of the next-generation Internet reality.
The industry is, fundamentally, still young, and vendors that dont recognize that and fail to invest for the future will find themselves relegated to the past.