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Progress does have a down side

Today's technology may be spectacular, but lack of communication is preventing some organizations from maximizing their ROI.


March 1, 2006  


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To remain profitable, any business needs to be progressive, but when it comes to the networking and communications sectors, the speed of progress is without comparison.

Change is happening so quickly in both these areas that it has become almost impossible for organizations to develop a long-range business plan of five years or more because so much will undoubtedly happen during that period.

This current phenomenon is not totally unexpected because the last 100 years have seen a myriad of pivotal technological developments, some by accident, some by design.

Alexander Graham Bell wanted to help the deaf and in the process invented the telephone; von Neumann wanted a calculating machine that could make decisions based on previous results, and so invented the computer; the scientific, military and educational communities in the U.S. wanted a free exchange of knowledge and so they invented the Internet.

There are those who would include Ethernet in this list of landmark inventions. Originally the brain child of a PARC think tank, Ethernet has revolutionized the way we approach networking and is now the basis for almost all office and many industrial applications.

Once perceived as the poor cousin of real networks, Ethernet has shown itself to be robust, inexpensive, versatile and scaleable.

When it was first deployed on twisted pair copper cable, Ethernet ran at the blazing speed of 10 Mbps. Now, 15 years later, the standards for10 Gigabit Ethernet on UTP are close to becoming final. That is an increase of 10 times the speed in each five-year period, and an example of what can occur to invalidate any but the most fanciful business prediction.

It would be an understandable mistake to think that making progress of this magnitude is easy. Designing a network interface to operate at an information transfer rate of 1,000 million transitions per second is a technical marvel.

Getting “good old twisted pair” copper cable to transfer electrical impulses to achieve this transfer rate is a step beyond the imaginable. Even the capability of what was once considered the ultimate medium — fiber optics — is challenged at these speeds. And although this may not be rocket science, it is not far behind. If you don’t agree, take a look at the latest 568.B-2 standards released by TIA.

Computing and networking products today are examples of very advanced technology. What’s more, they are built to standards intended to promote harmony throughout the industry and to encourage competition and price reduction for the consumer.

If the old saying is true, then “familiarity breeds contempt,” and what could be more familiar than copper twisted pair, the RJ45 plug, and all the other familiar connectivity and cabling components and the electronics that they connect.

The technology used today in everyday networking is truly spectacular, and the effects of a well-designed and carefully executed installation can provide rewards for many years.

But so many business users give no thought to truly thinking through or engineering their computing systems or network, but instead depend on snippets of knowledge gathered from a sound byte here to the latest blog there, believing that their network is nothing more than Lego for grown-ups.

In 1990, it was easy: Category 3 was all there was. Now, the options are numerous, and although Augmented Category 6 is close to standardization, it is not the only kid on the block.

IT managers have a wide range of choices, with options in media types including wireless, transmission bandwidth, network convergence, and more importantly, can now decide the term over which they want their returns to be effective.

Of course, having all these options does not mean that they will necessarily be considered.

This is unfortunate because as practitioners in the networking and communications field we come from diverse backgrounds and have abundant skills, all waiting to be applied: we are installers, contractors, and designers; we are technologist, engineers and scientists; we run businesses, and design test gear; we analyze, apply and innovate, we build and we sell.

With these skills at hand, the business manager can be guided to carefully assess the desired level of performance of an IT system, taking into account immediate and future needs, and truly make a business decision on the right system to use and the right product to buy.

This industry has experts. Business managers should seek their advice in order to maximize the return on investment.

Peter Sharp is a senior consultant with Giffels Associate Ltd., past chair of three TR42 subcommittees for the TIA and a member of the CNS Editorial Advisory Board.