Small News from N+I

Sturdevant: Show needs to adapt to the changing needs of IT managers and execs.

Wireless and security, separately and together, were the name of the game at Networld+Interop in Las Vegas this week.

The biggest news at N+I (relatively speaking) was the Wi-Fi Alliances announcement of WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access), the security architecture intended to replace WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy).

And a bevy of wireless vendors with a fondness for atmospheric names—AirWave Wireless, Air Broadband Communications and AirMagnet, to name a few—along with AirFortress from Fortress Technologies, demonstrated why they alone had the answer to the truly vexing problem of securing wireless networks.

At a rather understated Birds of a Feather meeting, a panel including Broadcomm, Cisco, Intel and Intersil, among others, introduced WPA. Although commercial products that use WPA to manage encryption keys and user authentication are likely to appear soon, WPA by itself is not likely to be the holy grail that lets enterprise IT implement wireless with abandon.

For example, Fortress Technologies AirFortress will continue to develop strong encryption gateway switches in part because the company believes that WPA is a pre-packaged SOHO solution that is unsuited for corporate networks, said Ken Evans, VP of Marketing.

He has a point, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is working on 802.1x authentication to augment WPA. See more on this in an upcoming Technical Analysis by eWEEK Labs Francis Chu.

The smaller show still packed in some interesting technical sessions. Storage, security and wireless topics dominated the small number of educational sessions. Although a spirited debate about the best transport for storage networks pitted proponents of Fibre Channel against the iSCSI believers, it was clear that most implementation questions boiled down to matching technology with existing talent while controlling costs.

Other sessions reflected the evolutionary nature of networking technology. Re-runs of debates held at last years show, in particular IPSec vs. SSL as the best way to secure remote connections, showed that best practices for VPN implementations are still in flux. VoIP continues to beg at the door of IT, and several sessions dealt with implementation and application questions. Its still not clear whether this means that IT managers are actually interested in the technology or that vendors are unable to desist from pushing a technology nobody wants.

Its easy to explain the longevity (more than five years) of VoIPs siren song. Why maintain two communication systems when, technically, one will do? It appears that planning and network remediation still outweigh productivity gains.

N+I needs to adapt to the changing needs of IT managers and executives to regain its reputation as a "must-attend" show. As it is, the event I just attended was N+I 2000 in the extra-small version. Key3Media Group should beef up the vendor-independent educational sessions on a broad range of bread-and-butter IT topics. More events styled on (but shorter than) the daylong network forensics seminar would be a good start. And more tips-and-tricks discussions with industry experts would go a long way to replacing the dwindling number of vendors and new products that were the hallmark of the show at the turn of the century.

Senior Analyst Cameron Sturdevant can be contacted at