Editorial: Protecting Networkers From the Dot Com Bomb

We are now approaching the fourth quarter of the landmark year of 2001. Landmark, because it heralded the beginning of a new century, perhaps a millennium (according to some), and what appeared to be continued growth in the New Economy. It was anticipated by science fiction writers and futurists as a point at which we would arrive in The Future. However, I don’t think too many folks envisioned what has in fact come to pass.

Images of a glittery future, which seemed all too real a couple of years ago (if you went by the hype) have been replaced by layoffs, companies folding, and a general recession in the computing industry. Basically, the Boom Dot Bust phenomenon has caused a tech backlash which has spilled over distrust of networkers and products, although they have been the backbone (no pun intended) of the computing industry. Even the NY Times ran an article supposing that the failure of some recent high tech films like AI may be due in part to distrust of the computing industry with which it is associated. How has this come to be?

First, a lot of people (including purse-holding CFOs) don’t easily distinguish between enterprise networking and the Internet. Vendors (with a little help from their friends in the media) have positioned enterprise products as being for the Internet, and Internet products as being for the enterprise — in other words, they have fuzzied up those lines even where there was no connection. While there is certainly overlap, these are distinct categories, and should not be confused with the likes of e-commerce products.

Second, marketeers for networking products have been using similar techniques to sell their wares, and as their market recedes, many are getting worse instead of better. The hype hasn’t stopped, even though it has been largely responsible for the bust when VCs’ expectations weren’t met.

That is what we have to fight. I’d like to recruit you, the networkers, as the vanguard in this propaganda war. Wherever the computing goes, be it ELToIP (Everything Little Thing over IP) or managed systems or closed systems, networks will need to continue to provide services to companies and increasingly to individuals. It is therefore incumbent upon us to get the facts right. So here are some Freundly tips — do with them as you will.

  • Don’t oversell potentials of new technologies and systems you put into place.
  • Be careful about those ROIs. Return of Investment quotes are often wrong when the truth about a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) finally becomes apparent.
  • Don’t be too quick to write off “legacy” applications and systems. Often enough, new technologies and products being touted don’t provide a whole lot more than something you may already have in place. For example, does a 10-person office really need a VPN when something like PC Anywhere can run from their home-based cable modem into the office?
  • KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. Don’t baffle them with BS and technocratic nomenclature. Non-technical people who ultimately pay the bills are likely to think that something (either hidden cost or some other agenda) is hiding behind what they don’t understand.

I’m hopeful about the future. I believe that ultimately we will weather this storm and get back to a point where we’re not fighting for our reputations (and therefore, our jobs). Perhaps even next quarter. But we need to show that networkers have been there all along helping businesses be productive and save or make money, and will continue to do so.

Maybe, in time, we can create the 2001 that should have been.

Jim Freund is the Managing Editor of CrossNodes.

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