For resellers that want to get in on the leading edge of emerging technology, over the next two weeks vnunet.com's sister publication Computer Reseller News will be featuring the technology and trends worth watching in the year ahead.
This does not mean they will all be ready for mainstream deployment. IP storage may arrive late this year or not at all, depending on who is doing the forecasting, while wireless local area networks (Lans) found a home in many applications last year and will continue to do so as standards firm up.
Biometrics, meanwhile, has gained a lot of attention, but don't count on it to move out of niche applications for some time.
This unpredictability is precisely what makes our industry attractive. These technologies may not all be ready for prime time but should make strides in the coming year.
Wireless Lans: making progress
Wireless Lan technology is poised for strong growth in 2002. It made solid gains last year while most other networking hardware sales languished amid the recession, according to observers.
Many large enterprises deployed full-scale roll-outs of Wireless Lans, but most tested the waters with pilot implementations. Many of those pilots will proceed to full scale roll outs in the coming year, resellers have said.
Gemma Paulo, an analyst at Cahners In-Stat, said that wireless Lan vendors sold 8.1 million 802.11b network interface cards last year, up from 3.3 million the year before. Paulo said she "conservatively" expected sales to reach 11 million units in 2002.
Yet the technology faces a number of hurdles. Some companies are sitting on the fence, waiting for the battle between standards to play out. Others are worried about the inherent security risks in the technology, although vendors are addressing those concerns.
Current wireless Lan products are based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers's (IEEE's) 802.11b (or Wi-Fi) standard and deliver 11Mbps in the 2.4GHz range. Products released late last year are based on the 802.11a standard. They operate at 54Mbps in the 5GHz range and are not interoperable with the installed base of 802.11b products.
To confuse matters further, an IEEE committee has released a draft of yet another standard: 802.11g. Products based on 802.11g would operate at 54Mbps in the 2.4GHz range and therefore would be compatible with the installed 802.11b products already in the field.
Security may be less confusing, but it is just as important. Orthus, an independent research company, conducted a study around London and discovered that it was capable of picking up 128 wireless Lans, 67 per cent of which had no encryption at all and whose content could have been read by anyone with a laptop, free software and a Wi-Fi PC network card.
Grahame Smee, director of EquIP, explained that the problem with wireless Lans, and arguably the major deterrent to wide scale adoption, is security. However, vendors are addressing security issues specific to wireless Lans. Companies such as ReefEdge, Vernier Networks and BlueSocket have recently released solutions that provide security for wireless Lans and address management issues.
Bluesocket has released its flagship WG-1000 Wireless Gateway product which sits between an enterprise's access points and the rest of the network and acts as a secure gateway between wireless and wired components.
"It is imperative that additional encryption techniques are applied at the network or application layer for wireless transmissions, to protect the integrity of the data transferred," the Orthus study concluded.
IP storage: setting the standards
Reality could finally catch up with IP storage hype. A wave of solutions for building new IP-based storage networks and linking together legacy storage networks over long distances will come onto the market in 2002.
Last year, vendors released limited-production prototypes and engaged in interoperability testing for new transport protocols, including iSCSI and Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP).
FCIP standards were agreed late in 2001 and iSCSI standards are expected to be signed early this year. With standards in place, the stage will be set for the release of a range of new products based on the new IP storage protocols.
"It is definitely an emerging technology," said Ian Lockhart, enterprise solutions manager at Ideal Hardware. "If people desperately want it now, it is available, but most of the larger corporates will wait until the standards have been set and the big vendors are releasing more interoperable products."
The iSCSI protocol connects storage devices to servers and each other using Gigabit or Ethernet, and FCIP connects Fibre Channel storage area networks over IP networks. The performance of most iSCSI products today suffers from being based on a software implementation for connecting SCSI storage to TCP/IP networks.
Several vendors plan to fix that problem by making a single-chip solution available this year. In the meantime, bulky multi-chip solutions are already available from QLogic and other host bus adaptor vendors.
While iSCSI is not yet up to Fibre Channel speed, it is easy to implement and will gain acceptance as the need to connect increasing amounts of storage grows, said Rich Baldwin, president of Nth Generation Computing.
Some resellers are jumping on board. In November, Nth Generation held a workshop on iSCSI which was attended by 100 potential customers.
Avnet Enterprise Solutions is also evaluating iSCSI products and expects to have products available in 2002 for clients that want to avoid the complexity of Fibre Channel, acording to John Mercier, the firm's director of enterprise storage solutions. "There are a lot of monsters pushing it, including IBM, Intel and Cisco," he said.
But not everyone agrees that the market is ready. Richard Mills, chief executive at reseller Sarcom, explained that the main task in 2002 would be getting clients ready to adopt IP storage in 2003. Lockhart believed that the market was waiting for standards in iSCSI. "It is a flaky technology at the moment, but its potential is incredible," he said.
Dan Carson, vice president of marketing at reseller Open Systems Solutions, was more blunt about the hassles of working with both iSCSI and Ethernet. "It's hard to get excited about a technology that marries bad technology to bad technology," he said.
The coming year will be a proving ground for IP storage. It is a technology to watch.
Biometrics: the next big thing?
Biometrics has been a perennial 'next big thing', but 2002 may be different. The technology, which scrutinises individuals' physical characteristics to verify their identities, has generated a considerable buzz while drawing few users.
But escalating security concerns in the wake of the 11 September terrorist strikes and the recent spate of computer virus outbreaks, denial of service attacks and online identity thefts will push companies and governments to start blending biometrics into their IT architectures, executives and analysts have said.
"What 11 September did was make security a high priority. Security is no longer a deferred expense; it demands immediate attention," said Prianka Chopra, a security technology analyst at research firm Frost & Sullivan.
The firm has predicted that the biometrics market will increase in value from $66m in 2000 to $900m by 2006. "The terrorist attacks actually provided a big driver for companies and governments to look at biometrics and see how that technology can protect their assets," Chopra said.
Lee Harrison, business development director at security distributor e92Plus, agreed. "Last year increased people's paranoia, and caused them to think beyond just traditional firewalls," he said.
Some resellers say they have received a lot of inquiries about biometrics technology over the past few months, as current and potential clients look to add another layer of authentication to their information security framework.
"Customers are asking about biometrics and what is available," said David Helfenstein, product manager of the enterprise security unit at Secure Computing. "There is a heightened awareness of security, from biometrics to smart cards and tokens."
The demand for stronger security is diluting privacy concerns about fingerprint, hand, eye, face, voice or handwriting scans, security resellers have said.
"We have turned the corner in terms of what people will tolerate. People are now more willing to give up a little personal freedom or comfort for more security," maintained Lisa O'Connor, vice president of consulting services at security services firm Guardent.
The emergence of the industry-wide BioAPI programming standard will ease the integration of biometrics, traditionally a proprietary technology, into existing IT infrastructures and add flexibility in product choices, according to Chopra. "With BioAPI, end users don't get locked into one biometrics vendor," she explained.
Cost is declining as well. Fingerprint readers, the most common biometrics device, can sell for less than $100, and hardware and software prices for voice, face, hand and signature scanning technologies are dropping, resellers have reported.
But deployment costs remain an obstacle. "Prices are dropping, and that is a good thing," said Helfenstein. "But when customers see the cost of just buying the biometrics device, and then they have to send an IT administrator to hook the device up to each PC and make sure it works, it can seem too costly."
Harrison agreed. "The maintenance costs and the skill sets needed to deploy a biometrics solution still represent a challenge and may be part of the reason it hasn't taken off more quickly," he said, adding that real deployment will take off in 2003 or 2004.
Biometrics products that can perform multiple functions and work with existing systems will draw the most interest, observers have noted. "End users want a more converged security solution," said Harrison. "They want smart cards that interoperate with biometrics and can be integrated with authentication products. They want scalability and flexibility."
Voice over IP: talk gets cheaper
Voice over IP (VoIP) has its critics, but resellers involved with the technology have said that conditions are right for significant growth in 2002.
Consider the case of Dow Chemical. The Fortune 100 company last year partnered with Cisco and EDS to roll out a corporate-wide network supporting voice, video and data. When completed early this year, the network is expected to provide VoIP for nearly 50,000 employees worldwide.
A number of carriers are also expected to get more serious about VoIP this year. Keith Olsen, vice president of global channel management at AT&T, insisted that VoIP will be the first technology the carrier pushes as an add-on to a T1-Cisco router bundle for small to medium sized enterprise (SME) resellers, in partnership with Cisco and Tech Data.
However, several resellers, analysts and carriers say they are still waiting for technology advances to ensure that quality is consistent with current telephony services.
Although Yipes has partnered with a VoIP provider on its network, the US-based provider of Gigabit Ethernet services is waiting for more sophisticated soft switches before rolling out a carrier-grade solution, explained chief executive Jerry Parrick. "Our expectation is that the equipment will be ready sometime next year," he said.
But for many customers, the time is right, insisted Mike Vrh, director of business development at VoIP integrator Ketchum Integration. "We've installed 100 to 200 SME VoIP systems, and the customer satisfaction is off the scale," he said.
Gerry Toms, distribution sales director at Avaya, said he expected take-up to be quicker in the SME marketplace. "Typical large corporates have lots of people managing their networks and their telephone systems and don't like the thought of all that data on one network. But with SMEs it's usually just one person, who is more comfortable using just one network for everything," he said.
Of particular importance is the quality of the network carrying the VoIP traffic, Vrh said, adding that Ketchum advises customers to partner with carriers carefully and secure latency and packet loss service level agreements. "[Poor VoIP quality)] is a non-issue if you manage your wide area network traffic carefully," he said.
Toms agreed. "Users have to be convinced that they will not see any difference between traditional voice and VoIP. That is the future of its success: making people realise its advantages," he explained.
VoIP minutes have grown from less than 0.5 per cent to two per cent of outbound international calls in four years, according to research firm TeleGeography.
And Synergy Research Group expects the VoIP equipment market to grow to a value of $1.7bn by the end of the year, a 32 per cent increase compared with 2000, and to reach $13.3bn by 2005. That is a clear signal that growth is on the horizon.
XML: part of the landscape
XML's transformation of internet computing is still at an early stage, observers have said, but 2002 will be the year in which the industry starts to see widespread implementation of the technology.
"I can't find a customer who says 'XML? No, we're not using it,'" said John Matranga, chief technology officer at Omicron Consulting. "We will be seeing numerous progressions of XML-related technology for years to come."
Bob Lytle, chief technology officer at integrator Centrifusion, agreed. "People are really starting to ask about XML. In a year's time, people won't even be thinking about XML any more; it will be a given," he predicted.
Resellers have said that XML will find some of its greatest adoption in web services and databases in 2002.
In 2001, web service applications that automatically communicate over the internet sparked a huge buzz as the industry recognised the potential of XML for transferring data and linking legacy systems to internet-based technology. But the reality of web services is that very few companies actually have the infrastructure to make them work.
That could change this year, however. The use of XML for web services will mature as the industry begins to not only agree on standards but to use them to build systems supporting services, observers have said.
"Web services are still at a very early stage, but many big firms will go to the web services platform in the next six months," Lytle said. "They are going to start playing with it."
In 2002, XML-based data storage will also become more prevalent to support these services, according to resellers.
To help create web services, middleware products are beginning to support the transformation of application code into XML. But those messages are delayed when they are sent to relational databases because there is no native way in the database to support them.
XML databases can make this process more seamless, said Khurram Zafar, vice president and senior technical architect at eForce. "If we can have native XML support in memory storage of some sort, it will speed up applications," he said. "It will be a big performance improvement."
Additional reporting by Sara Driscoll.
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