IT professionals and Gartner analysts are looking beyond networks to the whole enterprise this week at the research company's Enterprise Networking Summit in Las Vegas.
Everything system and application administrators want to do affects networks, especially now that voice and other forms of communication are moving on to IP (Internet Protocol) data networks, participants said Tuesday.
That trend toward unified communications, along with richer Web-based applications and a proliferation of consumer-oriented devices, are among the key issues emerging for enterprise networks in the next few years, Gartner analyst David Willis said in a keynote address. Another looming trend is virtualization of IT resources, which Cisco Systems, Microsoft and IBM all want to dominate, he said. Together, it all spells more chaos on networks, which have always been chaotic, he said.
Don't rush into IP telephony, Gartner analyst Jeff Snyder warned attendees in a breakout session. They should have a good reason, such as replacing aging phone systems or building a distributed contact center, before moving in that direction, he said. But network experts will take on a bigger role in overall corporate strategy as the new technology comes in, he added. Voice, instant messaging and other modes of communication are being integrated into applications themselves.
For some attendees, the key question on VOIP (voice over IP) is timing. For Riverside County, California, traditional Ericsson PBXes have been solid performers, but are now ready to be phased out, said chief technology officer Greg Stoddard. The county is seeking bids for a top-to-bottom plan for its communications systems, which will inevitably include IP telephony, he said.
But Bill Leung, a network architect at a large insurance company, said that as cool as VOIP may sound, it's impossible to make a business case for it when the company's phone systems are only about two years old. They will probably stay in place for 10 to 15 years, and the new technology will probably appear first in new facilities, Leung said.
Also Tuesday, Cisco and SAP AG gave a presentation to flesh out the vision of a greater network role in applications that they announced in September. Networks are the best place to handle governance, risk and compliance, because applications can't stop some violations of laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley, executives of the companies said. That's because an application such as SAP can't control what happens in e-mail or other applications, but everything goes through the network, they said.
Both Stoddard and Leung see some value in that vision but don't expect it to become reality for years.
The presentation hit home for Stoddard. There are places in the county's operations where it seems the network could play a key role in compliance, such as when health care workers send patient information via e-mail and have to make sure they don't run afoul of health-record privacy laws, he said. But he's had to do a lot of work just to get the networking and data center teams to understand each other. Bringing them together with the application groups will be harder, he said.
Leung has been working for the same kind of cooperation and sees more work before applications are truly synchronized with his company's network to that degree. After a long effort, he said, he's finally set up a program to assess the impact of prospective new applications on his company's network.
The conference continues through Thursday.