Funny, the Internet is looking more and more like a LAN.
Although everyone enjoys the Web for its generally easy access and the breadth of information that it makes available, it hasn't been an easy business tool to use. Many companies use it for business transactions and information distribution, but its massive extensiveness and chaotic state have impeded corporations from fully integrating it into their infrastructures.
However, help may be on the way. Combinations of software, existing hardware, and service providers, shown at last week's NetWorld+Interop, will make the Web and Internet more business-productive. This change will help in much the same way that this combination caused LANs to become the business infrastructure they are today.
Looking back at the PC industry, information transformation was an impressive accomplishment. When PCs first arrived in the early '80s, they quickly became isolated islands. With information contained in word processing documents, financial spreadsheets, and personal databases, corporations quickly became aware of the challenge of collecting and assimilating these nuggets of knowledge into meaningful insights. It was clear that LANs could address this problem, but they had historically been oriented to share (then) overpriced peripherals, such as hard drives and printers.
In the mid-to-late '80s, things began to change. Applications became more integrated with LANs and hardware, and improvements in services made application usage more practical. We are seeing this slip into the solutions surrounding the Internet. Core hardware offerings are beginning to expand in focus to allow for localised software to make them even more productive. Take routers, for example. We are now seeing directory services and transaction facilitators extend to the router and share the main task of shipping bits around.
With core infrastructure leaders such as Cisco and IBM taking the lead, corporations should start planning to leverage this push of software into the network. By leveraging these extended devices, traditional corporate environments should be able to integrate with the Internet more easily. Advances in system management will further simplify the management of this expanding integrated solution.
But the software integration goes beyond the hardware platform. Vendors are beginning to push software "glue" layers out to hosting services such as ISPs. As the demand for business-to-business transactions grows beyond Web site hosting, these service layers will grow in importance.
Their participation becomes critical because when their usage is combined with the increasing demand for these layers, it easily could become the de facto standard of business-to-business transactions. With this standard, companies can overcome some of the challenges for corporate interconnections to more easily facilitate transactions.
On the surface, this seems like a pipe dream. However, many naysayers said the same thing about e-mail. During the early LAN days, sending e-mail required very detailed knowledge about the infrastructure and the gateway information between the two communicating companies.
Of course, we all know that today, e-mail is as easy as sending a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.