Just The Stats: 2008 State Of Technology - Networking

Everything Channel's Institute for Partner EducationDevelopment (IPED) surveyed more than 200 solution providers to get the whys, hows, and what's nexts in networking, VoIP, unified communications. Here is what we learned.

Networking remains the most dominant technology practice in the IT channel. Of all solution providers surveyed in this State of Technology study, 65 percent sell networking products and/or services, and 43 percent of the average networking solution provider's revenue comes from networking-related solutions and/or services.

If there's a particular customer segment where the savviest corners of the networking channel have focused their efforts, it's small business. Of those who responded to the survey, more than 50 percent stated the greatest growth potential is among businesses with 20-99 employees ("small business") and businesses with fewer than 20 employees ("Very small business").

There's no question that Cisco Systems continues to dominate the networking channel. Still respondents agreed that no one vendor "owns" that channel. Some 65 percent of respondents said they usually mix best-of-breed and best-value products from multiple vendors on a single network solution. What does that suggest? While vendors won't work together, VARs are happy to mix-and-match to come up with customized solutions.

Once again, survey respondents see the most growth potential in the small business market, particularly where wireless solutions are concerned, and also in wired data networking and VoIP solutions.

Based on a rundown of what technologies they already sell vs. what they plan to add this year and next, wireless technology remains the most prevalent. But IP videoconferencing is definitely on the rise. Is IP videoconferencing finally ready for its close-up?

Most solution providers surveyed said their focus is on building the network. If there's any growth area with particular buoyancy, it's been the addition of VoIP services.

Asked to pick which networking products, technologies or services would generate the most growth in 2008, solution providers were offered up to three answers. Resoundingly, VoIP was the one most commonly mentioned as fastest growing, but narrowly came in second to network management as the most profitable technology.

What's driving VoIP adoption at such a productive rate? Glad you asked. Solution providers said it's all about lowering costs and making business practices more efficient. But there is also plenty of drive with the need for increased productivity, customers' interests in expanding their infrastructure and new technologies and innovations.

As solution providers again re-emphasized, VoIP and unified communications adoption is largely a two-horse vendor race, with Cisco leading the charge. Microsoft's entry into the space in 2007 has certainly bolstered its appeal among solution providers, while other vendors like Avaya, 3Com, AT&T and Cisco's Linksys division can also claim presence.

When asked what will be the top drivers for wired data network infrastructure business over the next six to 12 months, solution provider responses were all over the map. The most commonly cited drivers are the customer's need for increased network performance and the customer's expanding infrastructure. There's no shortage of interest in integrated services, either.

In the wired networking space, Cisco rules the roost. But it's a dogfight for second place between Cisco's Linksys division and HP ProCurve. The latter company's top executive, John McHugh, recently departed after 16 years as an HP stalwart, leaving many partners to speculate on the reasons for his leaving and who will replace him in an increasingly more vital HP role.

Videoconferencing is getting sexy -- specifically IP and IP in HD videoconferencing. Solution providers responding to the survey suggested that customers' needs to improve productivity and collaboration are the top drivers for its popularity. But it's tough to ignore the economic implications of the responses, with other top drivers including customers' needs to cut travel costs.

In IP videoconferencing, solution providers don't yet have much choice in vendors. As in most things networking, Cisco is the power player, but the survey also drummed up favor for Microsoft, Polycom and Tandberg.

The top drivers for solution providers' wireless LAN business in the next year or so begin with the customer's need for expanding infrastructure. But new technologies and innovations are also in mind; more than 53 percent of surveyed solution providers looked to cutting edge technology as their most important driver.

Cisco, Cisco and more Cisco -- the networking titan claimed the top two spots (top for itself, second for Linksys) when solution providers were asked which wireless LAN vendors are best able to deliver the technologies and products their customers need. SonicWall, D-Link and NetGear were also frequently cited in survey respondents' top threes.

When asked about top drivers for network management software, solution providers again looked to lower costs and greater efficiencies in their business practices and those of their customers. Increasing security threats and loss prevention were also concerns creating big opportunities for network management software.

No Cisco here. The clear leaders in the network management software market are Microsoft and HP OpenView, and, according to survey respondents, there's also love for Ipswitch, IBM Tivoli, EMC and 3Com.