Four steps to more effective network services

If you're clear about your needs and priorities, choosing the best network services for your company doesn't have to be mind-boggling.

 By Paul Strauss
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Illustration: Daniel Guidera

As the 20th century ends, most organizations find themselves involved, one way or another, in upgrading or extensively revising their computer networks. Chances are, this trend will continue for at least the first decade of the coming century.

This will be a time of tremendous opportunity for creating networked applications that can save or make organizations millions of dollars. It will also be a time of turmoil, in which firms can easily mismanage their networks and waste much more of their network budgets than they could have expected.

We all know the short-term reasons for the current stress on networks. Among them is the rapid rise of the Internet and its opportunities for low-cost global communications, electronic commerce, and potential mergers between voice and data communications. But today's networking trends are merely part of a long march toward more available, more flexible electronic communications.

If we look at pictures of city streets in the first decades of the 20th Century, we see that they are jammed with wires--thousands of wires on hundreds of telephone poles. Our need to make our computers communicate is a modern parallel to our grandparents' need for better telephone communications.

Networking trends are unstoppable, and somewhat frightening. At the turn of this century, a company could get by for a decade or so without a telephone. Now it's likely that in developed countries, companies will go out of business in a year or two unless they intelligently use the Internet.

But that doesn't mean all new networking approaches have to be adopted uncritically. For the foreseeable future, IT's job must be to make sure networking applications and services contribute to overall organization performance. This means selecting the right network services to carry the flow of information. And, despite rosy predictions of virtually free WAN communications within a couple of years, it means finding ways to keep expenses down.

The fourfold path

Making the right network services selection isn't an impossible task. In fact, the issues involved are relatively simple.

Match your network configurations to your traffic.

Any organization reviewing its network services must, as a first step, match its network configurations to its overall flow of information.

Note the word "overall." It may well turn out to be economical to waste money on a circuit or two, or even give some parts of the organization poor communications services, as long as the bulk of communications is handled economically and efficiently.

Plan your networks for the future.
The second step is to plan for the future. The trends are already clear. For starters, organizations are using more bandwidth than ever before; per-organization use of WAN bandwidth is increasing at 25% to 40% per year, according to various surveys.

And don't bank on WAN communications being virtually free anytime soon. Technical savants say that by 2001, optical communications technologies such as Dense Wave Division Multiplexing (DWDM) will greatly drive down the cost of wide area networks. This is indeed possible, but the introduction of lightwave communications didn't drive down prices overwhelmingly--so why should DWDM?

Other trends to bear in mind:

     Organizations are increasingly relying on the Internet.

     Organizations are finding that they need secure and robust communications.

     And organizations are preparing for increased access by mobile and home workers.

Take stock of what you've already got.
The next logical step is to check the economics and technical suitability of the network services your company currently uses. It's a truism that communications facilities, once installed, are rarely removed. So your firm likely has legacy technologies along with the latest new technologies.

This article was originally published on Sep 1, 1999
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