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Gartner: CIOs can't ignore technology convergence

At this week's Gartner Symposium ITxpo, one expert said cutting-edge networking issues like MPLS and VoIP are transforming enterprises, paving the way for application convergence.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Five new trends in communications are transforming enterprise networks, and experts said CIOs who don't want to be left behind should begin planning for these changes immediately.

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Speaking at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo this week, Kathie Hackler, a research vice president at the Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm, said underlying communications technologies are beginning to merge with applications, and it's causing a ripple effect throughout the industry.

"Recognize that the convergence of applications to technology is a reality," Hackler recommended. "More and more, you need to integrate. Don't compartmentalize your network."

According to Hackler, the five biggest trends in enterprise communications that can't be ignored are:

1. IP everywhere

Hackler said everyone is talking about IP Internet Protocol these days, and that is ultimately a good thing when it comes to technology convergence.

"When you start to think about all the applications that you have to put together on a case-by-case basis, it's costing you time, it's costing you money, and it's adding complexity," Hackler explained. "As we start moving to more of an IP environment, then you start having more commonality to build on."

Hackler said Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) technology, a standard for speeding up network traffic flow, is starting to enable more use of IP across both LANs and wide area networks.

Increased use of IP will also affect service providers, who will become better able to offer integrated, end-to-end applications capabilities.

2. Ethernet

Hackler said CIOs can expect Ethernet technology to spread beyond the LAN because it's standards-based, and highly flexible and scalable. It's also a simple technology that many people understand.

She added, "The cost of Ethernet technology has gone down over time. We expect to see that continue."

3. Network and application performance

The move to Web services and service-oriented architectures will have an impact on network and application performance. It's important, she said, for companies to find out what that impact is for them, and to plan accordingly.

"You need to be talking to networking companies, and you need to talk to service providers about what their roadmap is [for dealing with] the demands that are going to be placed on networks because of these types of applications," Hackler said.

She said her company is seeing a shift from the traditional client/server network architecture to an architecture that has application awareness. Among other things, this means that traditional data warehouse functionality seen in switches may be moved into the network.

"You want to be thinking about these possibilities as you start building your applications," she said.

4. Industry consolidation

Gartner has been paying close attention to service provider consolidation, and this trend shows no sign of stopping, Hackler said.

There is a lot of talk today about whether service providers like AT&T and MCI will be purchased or broken up into smaller pieces. At the same time, Hackler said, smaller providers are popping up that offer services and applications that are based on buyers' technology platforms.

5. Technology convergence and migration

Going forward, companies can expect to see a sharp increase in the spread of IP telephony or voice over IP, expanded use of broadband and more of a convergence of fixed and wireless services and applications.

"You have to be thinking about how these technologies and applications come together," Hackler said.

Technology convergence considerations

Conference attendee Mike Hay, senior director of network services at San Francisco-based Gap Inc., said his company has already begun dealing with convergence issues. The use of MPLS has been a considerable boon to the clothing retailer's business, he said.

"We had a lot of trouble with applications coming back from our data center in Rockland, Calif.," Hay said. "After putting MPLS in, all of a sudden they're very usable, so it's a direct business contribution."

John M. Heuvelman Jr., IT director for the North American offices of Vesuvius Group, a manufacturer of industrial ceramics in Brussels, Belgium, said his company is in the process of rolling out MPLS.

"We were faced with having to replace a couple of key switches that were destroyed as a result of Hurricane Ivan," Heuvelman said. "We thought it made sense to looks toward the IP side."

Heuvelman explained that MPLS allows his company to specify different classes of services running over IP. For instance, he said voice applications can be given higher priority in terms of bandwidth than asynchronous data.

"It worked extremely well on a global basis," he said. "It's kind of the next generation after frame relay."


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