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Get ready for a rocking '08 in networking tech

Networking technology turned out to be one of the more interesting stories in 2007. Jon Oltsik offers a look ahead to the new year.

During the holiday season, snow isn't the only thing we analysts shovel. With that in mind, here's my look forward on networking technology and related industry trends in 2008:

1. 802.11n
While several vendors including Aruba Networks, Cisco Systems, Meru Networks, and Trapeze Networks are already shipping products, this yet-to-be-ratified IEEE Wi-Fi standard will create a bigger buzz in 2008 than cheap New Year's Eve champagne. Why? 802.11n is the first wireless networking technology with the bandwidth and feature set to replace today's standard wired Ethernet. While most users will retain their wires for now, 802.11n equipment will still be sold in droves to replace existing legacy Wi-Fi equipment--especially at universities, hospitals, and manufacturing companies.

2. 802.1x
Yet another IEEE standard with a catchy name. Think of 802.1x as your laptop's name tag at the network party. No name tag, no access to the party. Deployment of 802.1x has always been an expensive kludge, so it has seen limited success. This will change in 2008 with more widespread implementation of Windows Vista and 802.1x in mobile devices. Look for this activity to be further driven by the OpenSEA Alliance's work that seeks to do for 802.1x what Firefox did for the browser.

3. Windows Server 2008
Look for Microsoft to really turn up the volume on Windows networking. Windows Server 2008 truly advances Microsoft offerings in network activities like DNS/DHCP, IPSec, and Network Access Protection. Expect to see Microsoft create a networking-centric "Windows light" version to compete with all of the Linux appliances sometime late in the year.

4. Identity-based networking
This has been around for a while, but now that Cisco has introduced its Trusted Security (TrustSec) Architecture, we are bound to see and hear lots more. Basically, TrustSec and its industry cousins marry identity, role, location, and policy together so IT can create user-based networking rules depending upon multiple parameters. Despite the neat sound bites, the biggest identity-based networking activity in 2008 will simply authenticate devices and check their health status. Hey, didn't we call this Network Access Control (NAC) just a few months ago?

5. Data center 10-gigabit Ethernet switching
The Ethernet crowd (i.e. Cisco, Extreme, Hewlett-Packard, etc.) will really push 10-Gigabit Ethernet switching for the data center, especially with the introduction of 10-Gigabit over copper early in the year. Driven by the server virtualization frenzy, large organizations will buy a load of these new switches next year, further driving down the price per port. This will have a ripple effect through the storage world. With all of this new 10-gigabit equipment, large organizations will finally eschew Fibre Channel in favor of IP-based storage.

6. Traffic management
Look at some recent networking trends: P2P, YouTube, service-oriented architecture, IP telephony, etc.--every one of these can potentially wreak havoc on network traffic at a moment's notice. This is only going to get worse as we add more video, IP storage, and dynamic IT virtualization to the traffic mix. Leading-edge companies understand that legacy network management technologies don't cut it anymore. Now it's time for the mass majority to follow by purchasing new tools that help them with traffic spikes, capacity planning, and application tuning. Good news for Arbor Networks, Mazu, and Xangati, which should see big deals and/or acquisitions.

7. Network infrastructure breakdown
As large organizations embrace the latest networking gadgets, their network services infrastructure will begin to fail. Think of the dull guts of the network like IP address management (IPAM), DNS/DHCP, and Radius that are often managed using spreadsheets, scripts, or ancient NT 3.5 servers. As noted earlier, Microsoft will make a lot of noise in this space, but expect specialists like Blue Cat, Identity Engines, and Infoblox to shine as well.

8. IPv6
We will see both push and pull in 2008. As of June 30, all federal government agency backbones must be ready to transmit both IPv4 and IPv6 traffic. This in turn means that every supplier to the government must also support IPv6. Vendors will want to get a return on this R&D expense and will therefore push IPv6 hard into the private sector. While this will produce limited results, the IPv6 buzz will really heat up toward the end of 2008 as mobile and "smart" device penetration leads to a new panic about IP address shortages. Look for widespread deployment at the twilight of the decade.

9. Fixed wireless convergence
FWC will enable your cell phone to switch among cellular, Wi-Fi, and WiMax networks without missing a beat. Very cool, but this technology creates an industry "battle royale" as it pits the equipment provider proponents who have everything to gain (i.e. sell new equipment) and the cellular providers who have everything to lose (i.e. lose valuable cellular voice plan revenue). By the end of 2008, progressive carriers will realize that fixed wireless convergence is inevitable and begin to change their business model accordingly. Until then, expect a lot of visionary hype and limited activity.

10. Open cellular networks
Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon claim that they will open their networks soon, look for AT&T to make a similar announcement early in 2008. No, Linus Torvalds isn't providing advice for Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon. All of these carriers simply need unbridled flexibility to respond to an avalanche of impending wireless communications and standards, WiMax, and new handheld platforms like Google Android. Look for the cellular carriers to begin abandoning retail outlets and outsource break/fix services in late 2008 or early 2009.

I'm sure that I missed a bunch of trends but there is always next year. Peace.