Jumping the Standards Gun Isn't Good for Anybody

Network News Break: When over-aggressive vendors start pushing too much too fast, it's time for networkers to push back. Also: XP SP2 is gold, AOL buys into anti-spam's most annoying tool, Novell's in for a penny/in for a penguin, and our tip of the week gives you some notions for how to handle that sick router from the comfort of your bunny slippers.

By Michael Hall | Posted Aug 6, 2004
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We knew someone who bought into home wireless fairly early, back when it took several hundred dollars to put up a home wireless network, and the tell-tale black-and-red of a Lucent card sticking out of a laptop was a sign of geek chic.

Note that we didn't saw "bought into 802.11 fairly early" or "got into WiFi" fairly early, because that's not what he did. He bought into a dead-end technology that had kind-of-sort-of implemented a set of proprietary extensions to 802.11. Then the company got out of that particular business, his access point died, there was no way to replace it, and into the trash went an expensive object lesson in buying into a tech that's still in its cooling stages.

It's been several years since the first wave of wireless networking products began working through the market, and our friend's experience was doubtless echoed many times over. Even as things have cooled, there's still a wide array of choices, confusing obfuscations of standards and expected performance, and a general sense that wireless networking is sliding into a confusing alphabet soup.

Take, for instance, concerns from the WiFi Alliance that vendors are packing too much potentially incompatible acceleration tech into the boxes they're pushing out. The organization is considering yanking certification in extreme cases. Consider also the clamor for WiMax, even if current implementations aren't even able to be compliant with the as-yet-unfinalized standard. A report out of ABI Research says the industry's rush to hype product before standards are even ratified could do some real damage:

"Right now, we're in danger of WiMax being horrendously over-hyped," [the analyst who drafted the report] says. "It is a wireless technology, one among many, and it's going to have its place, but I think to cavalierly say that it's going to in a wholesale sense replace cable and DSL is a bit of a stretch--but that actually is happening."

As with a lot of tech trends, it's tempting to sit on the sidelines, wait for the vendors to figure out which way they're headed, then buy in. But as we're continually harping on in this space, that's a real danger: Networks don't do well when they're cluttered with roadblocks to interoperability. Further, networkers with some say in what gets bought and what doesn't ("purchasing authority," in the lexicon of the marketing people) can take a hand in this matter: Companies push the line in terms of standards and implementations because we let them.

Customer push-back is the surest way to communicate that overhyped, underdone product isn't of interest. Maybe WiMax will be a good place to start drawing that line.

Elsewhere:

» You may already be aware that the past week saw a Linux World Expo come and go. The Novell fans in our audience will probably be interested to note that the company has, for all intents and purposes, become one of the most major Linux players going. internetnews.com has a summary of Novell's Linux offerings, and ServerWatch has an overview of LWE, including tidbits from Sun and HP.

» We're not sure if there's any form of spam-fighting tech more obnoxious than the challenge-response approach, but AOL's bought a company that specializes in just that, so we suspect we'll be seeing more bounced messages and fouled mailing list archives in the coming months.

» There's an interesting article on the legal situation behind VoIP wiretaps at internetnews.com. Something you'll probably be dealing with soon enough, too. Especially if notice that shifty-eyed guy down in accounting with tickets to Bermuda in his pocket.

» Another subject of some harping here, Microsoft's XP SP2 has been announced.

Tech Tip:

It's 4:26 in the morning and the pager on your nightstand goes off. A bleary look at the pager's LCD later and you know you're dealing with a dead router. Or is it? As far as your monitoring box knows, the router is no longer responding to ping. Shuffling off to your laptop (you did remember to bring your laptop with VPN software home, right?) you verify that the router is, indeed, not responding to ping. It looks like it is going to be a dark and lonely drive to work.

But you could have saved yourself some of that heartache.

Let's face it, sometimes routers loose their brains and need some attention at the console, or even just to flip the power supplies off and on. And that can be done without all that late-night driving.

Consider for your remote pleasure a Cisco Terminal Server. This product allows you to easily access your console lines from the network just like you're sitting there with a console cable and laptop.

And for power, NetSwitch by Sinetica is a power-strip that lives on the network, allowing you to remotely power-cycle your gear. It can even send an alert if the room temperature gets too hot.

Between these two tools, you can reboot a sick router and watch the console error messages you can't get just from telneting in. Remember that sometimes the most informative messages pass into and out of existence before the router has enough intelligence together to log, much less have the TCP/IP stack operable.

Unfortunately, if the management network your NetSwitch and terminal server sit on is also the one that gets flaky, looks like it's a midnight trip in to the office.

Here's hoping there's a donut shop along the way.

The Week in CrossNodes

» Virus-Hunting Knoppix Gives Windows Machines the Once Over

Windows virus worries? Boot into a CD-based Linux distribution and nuke the viruses from Tux: It's the only way to be certain.

Network News Break is CrossNodes' weekly summary of networking news and opinion. Please send your comments and suggestions to the editor.

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