5 Networking Trends To Watch In 2008

New technologies and practices are sure to impact the network and the VARs that offer networking gear in 2008. Advancements in unified communications, network security, green networking and the addition of an Ethernet switch from a vendor that has yet to offer one, will have the channel reeling with potential.

According to Yankee Group senior vice president Zeus Kerravala, a former reseller himself, 2008 will be a big year.

"Next year will be an interesting year for the channel, especially the networking channel," he said.

Peter Doggart, senior director of LAN and WAN infrastructure for Marlborough, Mass.-based 3Com Corp., agreed.

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"In 2008, people will just want a nice, secure and power efficient network and they just want it to run," Doggart said.

Here are some key trends to expect in the coming year:

1. Unified Communications

Where VoIP was hot in 2007, using VoIP to tie other communications tools into the network and its applications will be top of mind next year as unified communications continues to take hold.

With major vendors like San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems and Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft pushing their unified communications solutions hard into next year, there are major opportunities for VARs to offer clients new tools to enhance business process.

"It's the logical next step for many people," said Jeff Hiebert, CEO of San Juan Capistrano, Calif.-based solution provider ROI Networks. "We're going to be focusing a lot of effort around creating offerings in that space."

Kerravala, however, said vendor hype needs to be put aside in order for unified communications to truly start gaining traction in the New Year. He said a robust UC deployment will be a nice thing to have for those who have deployed and it will be of strong interest to those who haven't.

"You'll have a lot of interest in it, but low deployment numbers," he said. Kerravala said the small numbers of deployments will mainly be due to the lack of a clear definition of UC and the fact that there are just too many ways to implement it.

Challenges will arise because most network initiatives will be driven by unified communications, an area many networking VARs have only dabbled in lightly in the last year or so.

"You've got to understand a broader variety of things than you did in the past," Kerravala said, adding there will be different buyers of different influence. Partners will be charged with talking to different people within organizations, not just the networking guys they sold routers and switches to in the past, meaning they'll have to become familiar with a broader ecosystem.

"You can't sell VoIP without talking about UC and you can't sell UC without considering the Exchange and desktop environments," he said. "For VARs, when they see something interesting in UC they'll pitch it to their customers. But the vendors and the VARs need to come up with better ROI stories and use examples of what UC has accomplished. You hear Avaya talk about business-enabled communications, but show me a company that's really done it."

Overall, Kerravala said 2008 "is the year we start figuring out what unified communications can and can't do for us."

2. Network Security

Kerravala contends that many security initiatives for 2008 will focus mostly on regulatory compliance and adherence, and some will focus on biometrics. Hiebert, however, said network access control (NAC) is topping many of his clients' wish lists for 2008, noting that ROI Networks is currently in the midst of its very first large NAC sale.

Hiebert said NAC competition will continue to heat up between major players like Cisco and Microsoft, and the Trusted Computing Groups Trusted Network Connect solution will also gather steam.

Doggart said 2008 will also be a big year for embedded security, such as putting intrusion prevention and deep packet inspection capabilities in line and adding the ability to monitor "every bit and byte at wire speed."

Sean Johnson, business development manager for Hayes Computer Systems, a Tallahassee, Fla.-based solution provider, said one goal for security in 2008 is to find better and easier ways to configure security solutions and thwart and contain potential outbreaks with IPS/IDS tools.

"2008 has to be the year to get these in," he said. "You have to see what's going on in your network. In 2008, I'm helping my customers ensure they have the proper security to get a hold of their network and know what's going on."

NEXT: Going Green, Mobility And A Juniper Switch

3 . Going Green

As companies and vendors become more and more environmentally conscious, going green will be a strong focus for vendors and VARs, with potential incentives for offering power efficient tools and solutions.

3Com's Doggart estimated roughly two to three percent of all commercial power is in networking and connectivity, not including servers and other devices computers.

"How can we help costs through power?" will be a big question next year, Doggart said. "If you don't need power, don't buy it. Go bare bones. Companies will have to weigh their carbon footprint over performance."

Rany Polany, president of San Jose, Calif.-based systems integrator and managed service provider PWT-IT Solutions, added "being green is something a lot of companies are going to start to look at."

Kerravala agreed that green will be huge next year.

"2008 will be the year green IT hits the US, driven a lot by initiatives in Europe," he said.

According to Kerravala, there are few companies today that don't have a corporate social responsibility officer, but so far IT hasn't fallen under that umbrella. The focus next year will be in energy efficiency, and some powerhouse vendors may lose out if they haven't made their green initiatives clear. For example, a Cisco shop may not again buy Cisco gear once a refresh begins, unless Cisco can present a compelling story around going green. In recent months, Cisco has stepped up its green initiatives for 2008.

"Cisco plays lip service to it, but going green has really just started to touch networking," he said, adding that green initiatives currently focus on the data center, but "the network will come next year."

4. Mobility And Fixed Mobile Convergence

A lot was said about fixed mobile convergence (FMC) in 2007, but 2008 will be the year that mobility initiatives take strong hold and dual mode devices will enable access to the network regardless of connection type, whether it be Wi-Fi, cellular or something else entirely.

The ultimate goal of FMC is to offer single number access and single voicemail capabilities. But FMC is not just roaming between the Wi-Fi and cellular networks, it's also wrapping in VoIP, presence and unified communications, all while ensuring the best method of connectivity at a given time and location.

"Dual mode is really heating up," Hiebert said. "The ability to come in and automatically and transparently do a hand off between wireless networks will really bubble up next year."

Hiebert said FMC will play into many intelligent communication strategies.

Along side FMC will be the mobilization of applications other than just email, Kerravala predicted. He noted, however, that mobile workers will be less interested in the applications themselves and more concerned about what mobile data those applications can present.

"The thing that vendors don't understand is people don't want mobile applications, they want mobile information," he said. "You don't want mobile SAP, you want your info from SAP on a mobile device. I don't think users give two hoots about the application itself, they want the information that's provided by the application.

5. Juniper's First Ethernet Switch?

Kerravala said 2008 will also likely be the year Hurricane, Juniper's long-awaited Ethernet switch, makes its public debut, something the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor's portfolio has sorely lacked.

"They've never had one before," he said. "It'll be based on JUNOS technology. I'm not sure if the world needs another Ethernet switch, but it could act as a replacement for Cisco or Foundry switches."

Juniper has declined to comment on the possibility if adding an Ethernet switch to its lineup, saying "Juniper has a policy not to comment on rumor and speculation."

ROI Networks' Hiebert, a Juniper partner, said an Ethernet switch from Juniper would round out the vendor's offerings give it, and its resellers, the ability to offer more end to end solutions.

"We would love to have just one Ethernet switch to support," he said, adding he also works with Extreme Networks because Juniper lacks an Ethernet switch. "In order to be viable, you need a more end to end solution. We think an Ethernet switch from Juniper would be received very well in the enterprise space. It will minimize the number of vendors they have to deal with."

Hiebert said Juniper solutions are ROI Networks' fastest growing products in terms of revenue and going to market with an Ethernet switch would make that grow further.

"To be a formidable #2 to Cisco, you need an Ethernet switch play," he said.