Like generals who always seem to fight the last war, US federal officials are busy trying to regulate yesterday's networks. Listen to the buzz in Washington and you'll come away feeling the Internet was invented in approximately 1995 and has stayed static ever since - and that corporate networks haven't changed much over the past decade, either.
Wrong on both counts. Take corporate networks: In 1995, the vast majority were frame relay, with voice neatly segregated off in "voice VPNs". VOIP was talked about but never deployed. MPLS was still on the drawing board. And only a handful of companies were rolling out services such as ATM that promised to integrate voice and data. The challenges in those days were things such as cost (voice and data services were nearly an order of magnitude more expensive than today), coverage (few carriers could handle international sites), and service monitoring (providers didn't typically offer end-to-end response time metrics or service-level agreements [SLAs] that included bounded latency).
Today, the majority of enterprises have deployed or are moving toward MPLS. Most are seizing the opportunity to deploy VOIP. And the big challenges are capacity (most enterprises see their bandwidth requirements doubling and even tripling year-over-year), resource management (with voice and critical corporate applications competing for the same network, server and compute resources, effective resource provisioning and management are now essential), and flexibility (contracts and SLAs need to reflect ongoing rapid technology changes).
What's next? Look for presence-based services and real-time communications dashboards that combine video-, web- and audio-conferencing at the user interface, offer unified messaging capabilities, and enable find-me-follow-me services that track users by where they are and how they'd like to be reached.
As for the Internet, current regulatory models assume passive users getting spoon-fed content and services by the "cloud in the sky". Nothing could be further from the truth - as highlighted by Web 2.0, service-oriented architectures and grid/distributed computing. The Internet of the future reverts to its roots as a network linking a grid of active hosts, each capable of running software and applications, and relying on the 'Net as an exchange network, not a distribution network.
That has profound affects on businesses, too. With Web 2.0, enterprises are engaging in active conversations with users, or prosumers (professionals/consumers). This can dramatically affect how products and services are designed, created and delivered.
What should IT executives do? First, make sure you're focusing enough time and attention on your corporate networks. Plan to enable effective application and resource management, ensure enough capacity (particularly at the critical local loop), and strike deals that give you the flexibility to leverage emerging technology. And assess the possibilities presented by Web 2.0 for modifying interactions with customers, suppliers and partners.
Second, keep an eye on the regulators. As noted earlier, flawed metaphors lead to faulty policy - and faulty policy can limit the effectiveness of your network.
Johnson is president and senior founding partner at Nemertes Research, an independent technology research firm.