Your network future could be in the cards. In the drive to gain some control over the total cost of PC ownership, the lowly network interface card (NIC) may hold the key. Both Intel and 3Com are working on robust next-generation cards that will allow customers to run more intelligent networking software on a PC card.
These technologies are critical developments in the struggle both to hold down costs and to improve network performance.
The cost-cutting value of these new NICs is obvious. They will provide a portal through which network management software can finally manage your PC across a WAN.
Although we've seen a lot of advances in this space over the past two years, a new class of cards will really make these devices intelligent by delivering more management software at the point of the problem.
Just as appealing is the prospect of adding software that will help improve performance by developing tools that can analyse network traffic as it passes over the network card. These tools could then be used to prioritise traffic, allocate bandwidth, and maybe even bill for actual network usage. Imagine a world where you could use policy-management software to charge people for sending you spam.
So, although most people will be talking about how Intel is going to trounce 3Com in the NIC business, it is important to note that this type of competition does indeed spur innovation. In fact, both these companies have a very clear understanding of what really needs to be done in this space, so it is highly unlikely that either vendor will completely dominate.
Although it is true that Intel enjoys an edge over 3Com in terms of brute manufacturing force, 3Com has more networking experience that is likely to result in higher-value products over the long haul.
So how does it look from where you stand? Are NICs the missing piece in the total-cost-of-ownership puzzle? Or are they just another low-cost complication in a growing network maze?