At Interop You Could Watch the Network Disappear in Real Time

NEWS ANALYSIS: The network as an assembly of cables and boxes has effectively disappeared, all but virtualized out of existence. While we depend on reliable networks, the end of the network as a thing is upon us.

LAS VEGAS—I'm writing this at a table in the Media Room down the hall from the show floor of a rapidly diminishing Interop. Around me are marketing and public relations representatives discussing things like software-defined networks, virtualized network functions and virtualized servers.

If I walk out into the noisy, crowded trade show floor, I find myself among swag-toting visitors and hopeful booth attendants exhibiting what passes for networking products these days. Mostly gone are the switches, routers, firewalls and traffic load balancers that used to cover the floor of the Interop shows of yore. They have been replaced by network management packages, virtualized systems and provisioning software.

Meanwhile, across the table from me a PR representative pitches another reporter on an obscure product that might support project management software. The only reminder that a network exists in these parts is a clutter of Ethernet cables for those who still have the ability to access physical media. But elsewhere, the network has quietly melted into the background.

In his column, Eric Lundquist writes about the need to focus future networking conferences on retraining network management staff because of the massive changes coming to the technology. But the reality is that the reason such massive retraining is needed is because networking as it's been known since the 1980s is disappearing.

Let's use another disruptive technology as an analogy. Around 130 years ago, a technology called "electricity" burst on the scene, dramatically changing the way people live. It changed everything about how people worked and how businesses operated and practically everything about the industrialized world. At the time, there were magazines and books on electricity, there were conferences, there were hobbyists and there were even stores that specialized in electrical things.

Now, electricity has become one of the many background processes that we take for granted unless it's taken away. By the end of the 1930s, most of those magazines and books about the technology of electricity were gone. The same thing is true of other disruptive technologies, including public water and telephone services. They have become essential public utilities that we expect to be available when we need them.

The network, looked at as a thing, is just about there. I'm at the biggest networking trade show in the U.S., but there's hardly a mention of the network. A couple of vendors are still there showing networking gear, including Linksys, which is showing its new business-oriented networking products. But for the most part, the exhibits and conference programs are about the things that networking enables, not about networking.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...