Networking's New Year

Gigabit infrastructure

VoWLAN is poised to hit big as customers place more value on mobility and seek to leverage the investments they're already making in wireless and VoIP.

"There is a lot of growth in the small-business market because organizations believe there will be a lower ongoing cost for the infrastructure," said Steve Immerman, president of Premier Network Solutions, a Cincinnati solution provider whose VoWLAN hardware sales have more than doubled over the past year.

Site survey software designed to eliminate dead spots in VoWLAN coverage will be another growth area. These tools help administrators determine service levels needed to support increasing user density within enterprises, and the right combination of management tools will result in a best-of-breed architecture in terms of planning, said Joel Conover, an enterprise infrastructure analyst at Current Analysis.

"The big question is whether companies will use that architecture for troubleshooting and management as well. That's where companies that partner tightly or architect their own tools have a big advantage," he said.

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Also in wireless, the ratification of the Mobile WiMax standard will drive the convergence of mobile devices, with a flood of sample chips with integrated Wi-Fi and WiMax due in early 2006. Intel, Santa Clara, Calif., plans to begin selling motherboards with integrated WiMax by early 2007, according to Tom Tofigh, chair of the WiMax Forum Application Working Group at AT&T Labs.

WiMax, which provides peak speeds of up to 20 Mbps and a range of 1 to 2 miles, has the integrated Quality of Service needed to run high-bandwidth applications such as IPTV and videoconferencing, and uses licensed and unlicensed spectrum, Tofigh said.

With the expected proliferation of wireless access points and IP phones, Gigabit Ethernet with Power over Ethernet to the desktop will likely gain attention, said Mark Thompson, global sales and marketing manager for the ProCurve networking division at Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto, Calif.

"The perception is that it's too high end, too futuristic, but I think we will see prices and use models to support it," Thompson said, hinting that a low-cost powered Gigabit switch is on the company's near-term road map.

At the same time, networking VARs will be called upon to develop more application skills, from tying call center or integrated messaging applications in with VoIP to adding application acceleration technologies to their WAN portfolios.

Networking leader Cisco Systems has already begun pushing its partners to build up applications skills through various incentive programs as it builds out its Integrated Information Network (IIN) strategy to add more intelligence into its infrastructure products. Ahead of its next Cisco Partner Summit, slated for March, the vendor is considering how to modify its broader certification requirements to support partners' shift to the IIN strategy, said Keith Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels at San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco.

"Our program will evolve to recognize the investment needed on the part of our partners to get ready for it," Goodwin said.

As networking requirements become more complex, solution providers will be seeking ways to simplify infrastructure build-outs and device management.

To meet those demands, vendors will continue to roll more functionality together into integrated appliances, said Mark Weiner, director of marketing at NetDevices, Sunnyvale, Calif. NetDevices makes the SG-8 Unified Services Gateway line of integrated networking devices.

"Security is not going to be its own sector over time. It's going to be a core portion of what everyone does," Weiner said.

The sophistication of network threats posed by hackers and organized cybercrime rings in 2006 may require more effort and resources from VARs to protect their customers.

VARs should begin looking at anomaly-based security rather than relying strictly on signature-based defenses against malicious code, said Paul Langway, founder of PVP Sales, a solution provider in Ringwood, N.J. Using anomaly-based securitywhich can be assisted by products from vendors such as Network Instruments and Fluke Networksto detect network attacks requires more network event inspection, Langway said. It will also likely require companies to either hire dedicated security administrators or have such services retained via a managed service provider model, he added.

David Perry, global director of education at Trend Micro, Cupertino, Calif., said solution providers should watch out for an increase in Bot Nets, and be aware that viruses and denial-of-service attacks are far more intelligent than ever before. "It's organized crime out there now, not just lonely hackers. This means attacks can have much more serious consequences," Perry said.

DAN NEEL contributed to this story.