Connecting to the Business Revolution
Improvements in personal computers and a growing fascination with the Internet are triggering an explosion of intranets, more novel client applications and greater demand for communications hardware. And network management will play the pivotal role.
In the arcane world of switches, hubs, bridges and routers, business is booming, executives are grinning and investors are eyeing the stock charts. The digital mantra that echoed widely several years ago, before the popularity of the Internet -- so little information, so much bandwidth -- now reverses with the deluge of multimedia and the battle of the browsers.
If anything, there is too much information and too little bandwidth. Enter frame relay, asynchronous transfer mode and a host of new acronyms that will define the data communications landscape of the future and bring a whole new sense of the digital experience.
The frenzied pace of change in personal computers, economically and technically, and the attendant fascination with the Internet signals continued explosion of intranets, more novel client applications and increasing demand for communications hardware. Add a few other ingredients, such as the demand for remote access, the need for process re-engineering and plain old competition for markets, and you're in the middle of a business revolution. And network management plays a pivotal role.
Just look at the data on InterNIC domain statistics, compiled by Mike Walsh of InterNet Info (the discussion group address is email@example.com). On Aug. 2, the total number of domains registered with InterNIC was 490,759, with '.com' the leader. According to Walsh, the increase appears steady at about 45,000 to 50,000 registrations per month.
These numbers signal future growth in this age of wide area, high-bandwidth communications -- real-time video, audio, animation and conferencing, not to mention mounds of textual data. Innovation on the Internet pops up more frequently than replays of Michael Johnson's Olympic record run in the 200 meters. Scarcely a day goes by when a merger announcement is not made, a stock's price does not ascend or descend dramatically based on the most recent earnings forecasts or figures, a major company doesn't join the Internet frenzy or key personnel don't find greener pastures on the other side of the highway.
Peter F. McCloskey, president of the Electronic Industries Association, writes in an editorial titled "The Embryonic Web" (found on the pages of the association Web site at http://www.eia.org/), "Currently, the Web's primary access is through the PC, but the potential is there for high-definition television (HDTV), Internet Computers (ICs), Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), Personal Computer Televisions (PCTVs), even Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), or a host of other electronic devices yet to be developed.
"The fact is this entire industry is driven by Moore's Law, with semiconductor breakthroughs appearing every 18 to 24 months. The miracle of the chip has and will continue to fuel industry development and drive costs down. While a computer may cost $2,000 today with more power than was available to NASA when it put men on the moon, the next decade's more powerful PCs will be cheaper still.
"In the case of the Internet, we have caught a glimpse of what is possible, but the improving telecommunications infrastructure, specifically the ability to offer economical, fast digital connections, is just now becoming available. It is this technology that will prove to be the greatest opportunity for the Web. The explosion of users and growth that will come with convergence of technology will significantly increase Web activity."
Another person who does not shy away from forecasts is Michael B. Gordon, a communications technology analyst for Alex. Brown, Baltimore (http://www.alexbrown.com/). For Gordon, the hot WAN topics for 1996 are Internet, frame relay to ATM service interworking, systems network architecture (SNA, introduced by IBM in 1974) traffic over frame relay, T3 frame relay, international deployment of frame relay, WAN access and ATM at T1 speeds.
For 1997, Gordon sees increased WAN access, ATM as a backbone technology, the emergence of Internet protocol switching and a continuing focus on technologies that solve the bandwidth crunch, such as asymmetric digital subscriber line, cable modems and wave division multiplexing.
For many industry observers, ATM is an evolutionary step in networking, a technology that more efficiently ties together different types of data and will co-exist with other wide area services. Thus, growth will persist for frame relay simply because it's now available to solve the basic network problem of tying together LANs and WANs.
National Information Infrastructure
Another perspective, different in tone and approach but not in content, comes from a recent National Research Council report, "The Unpredictable Certainty: Information Infrastructure through 2000" (for the introduction and summary, see http://www.nas.edu/; ISBN 0-309-05432-X). Its authors, the National Information Infrastructure 2000 Steering Committee, considered the direction in which the national information infrastructure is heading. The committee aimed to "characterize the technology deployment, market expectations, and proposed activities of communications and information facilities and service providers over the next 5 to 7 years." It was chaired by Lewis M. Branscomb of Harvard University and was part of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board of the Commission on Physical Sciences, Mathematics, and Applications of the National Research Council.
Given the rapid advances in, and acceptance of, a broad range of technologies, such as ATM and frame relay, and the availability of key components, such as computer storage and memory, at affordable prices, the committee chose to define the national infrastructure in broad and inclusive terms: "The national information infrastructure is the collection of all public and private information services -- both facilities- and content-based -- operating as a complex, dynamic system. It exists today but is and always will be in a state of flux."
Among the critical hardware, software and userware issues in the deployment of infrastructure technology the committee noted were: access (future connections to homes and small businesses); flexibility and interoperability (such as the consequences of the use of hybrid fiber coax, or HFC, by many cable companies for two-way bandwidth even though some question its ability to support large up-channel capacity); user sense that they were always connected (versus laborious connection process); users' ability to make multipoint connections on the network; support for mobile users; adequate network security; and mixing different media, especially real-time and traditional data.
The committee's observations highlight the division of skills and powers among those intimately entwined in this business revolution. For simplicity, we can view the participants in three groups: those in front of the monitor -- the end users, generally technically inexperienced; those behind the monitor -- the network and system administrators and programmers who seek to keep the connection seamless; and those straddling the monitor, as it were, sitting astride the network card -- the communications industry and the Internet service providers.
With the breadth of alternatives supported by the NII definition and the range of issues identified among the different groups, it's no surprise that industry initiatives to cooperate are coming to the fore. Among the more recent efforts is one involving BMC Software Inc., Houston; Cisco Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.; Compaq Computer Corp., Houston; Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.; and Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash.
Called the Web-Based Enterprise Management standards, this initiative lets administrators use any Web browser to manage disparate systems, networks and applications. Its intent? To encourage the development of tools that reduce the complexity and costs of enterprise management and to integrate existing standards into an architecture that can be managed with any Web browser.
The benefit for administrators and end users is obvious: an integrated low-cost management solution that covers their systems, networks and applications while supporting embedded investments in existing management standards and protocols.
For the companies that produce the WAN hardware, it represents a path in the wilderness. What follows are thumbnail sketches of 10 companies near the edge of the ledge of this technology who will form and contribute to the solutions.
Ascend Communications Inc.
For Alameda, Calif.-based Ascend, the name of the game is "bandwidth on demand," producing high-speed remote networking access products. These cater to Internet service providers, telecommuters, mobile users and other corporate staff who require remote access to the LAN, videoconferencing, multimedia, imaging and Internet connectivity. The bandwidth-on-demand concept, founded on high-speed switched digital connections, allows bandwidth, duration and destination adjustments to meet users' specific applications needs.
Ascend offers three product families, targeted to major applications: MAX for WAN access to corporate backbone networks; Pipeline for telecommuting, remote office and Internet access; and Multiband for videoconferencing and multimedia networks.
Like other network management companies, Ascend is forming and fostering relationships to pave the path for the future. In August, it announced a partnership with NetManage, an intranet solutions provider. And in July, it inked agreements with North American Internet and Ziplink.
Bay Networks Inc.
The result of merging SynOptics and Wellfleet, Bay Networks Inc., Santa Clara, Calif., targets the internetworking market with products that support seamless communications across local and wide area boundaries. The audience is enterprise groups, small offices and mobile workers. Bay offers LAN and ATM switches, intelligent hubs, multiprotocol routers, remote and Internet access solutions and network management products.
The company claims an installed base of more than 31 million desktop connections, with major market share for a number of products: intelligent hubs (24), switches (13), routers (15), remote access (23) and network management (46).
Not surprisingly, with the battle of the browsers and servers underway, Bay announced that its new line of remote access servers offers native support for Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0. This simplifies administration and configuration tasks by integrating support for local and remote users. Earlier in the month, Bay announced enhancements to its frame relay access solutions for IBM networks. In July, it agreed with Lucent Technologies to deliver next-generation multimedia networks.
Cascade Communications Corp.
One of the industry's certified high flyers, Cascade's stock price careened over the last several months, a roller coaster ride mostly up but with at least one dramatic drop.
In frame relay and ATM, this Westford, Mass.-based company produces multiservice WAN switches worldwide for enterprise networks and Internet service providers as well as companies that are migrating existing technologies to ATM. Its switches support on a single platform the three major broadband packet services, that is, frame relay, switched multimegabit data service and ATM as well as the major WAN protocols, Internet protocol, systems network architecture and point-to-point protocol.
One of the company's newest products, the Cascade 500 High-Scalability Multiservice ATM Switch, can reportedly handle 64,000 nodes per network and supports next-generation speeds of 45, 155 and 622 Mbps. Bell Atlantic said it intends to use the switch to support its network backbone expansion to ATM.
To expand its product line, in May the company acquired Arris Networks Inc., which develops remote access technology for carrier class networks. This purchase, according to company records, extends Cascade's strategy to expand the reach of its broadband packet switching products to the edge of the network, running the gamut from backbone to access.
On another front, Cascade and Motorola are working together on high-speed Internet access to end users via cable. Their agreement amounts to putting their heads together on industry standards for open systems solutions for high-speed Internet access over cable.
Cisco Systems Inc.
Like the only bidder at a communications auction, industry leader Cisco seems to buy everything with network in its name or description. In July, Cisco acquired StrataCom and recently announced it intends to acquire Nashoba Networks Inc. and its token ring switching technologies as well as Telebit's MICA Technologies. Earlier this year, it acquired TGV Software Inc. This activity follows last year's purchase of Combinet Inc., a manufacturer of remote access networking products, Internet Junction Inc., a developer of Internet gateway software, Grand Junction Networks Inc., a manufacturer of fast Ethernet (100BaseT) and Ethernet desktop switching products and Network Translation Inc., a developer of address translation and firewall products for Internet access use.
Founded in late 1984 by computer scientists from Stanford University, the company shipped its first product in 1986. It now produces routers, LAN and ATM switches, dial-up access servers and network management software. Cisco is a, if not the, major player in intranet and internetworking solutions worldwide. The company is also a strong force on the global Internet; it claims that more than 80 percent of the backbone routers are from Cisco. A fact more enviable than surprising, Cisco also says it provides more than 70 percent of its customer support via the Internet.
Carving out its niche, the company's recent announcements included an agreement with Pacific Bell to jointly develop and sell computer communications packages targeted to small- and medium-sized businesses and telecommuters. Pacific Bell will provide the pipelines, the transport services, such as integrated services digital network, while Cisco contributes the remote access routers. Clearly, the name of the game here is one-stop shopping for digital communications needs.
The StrataCom purchase strengthens Cisco's presence in frame relay and ATM switching equipment markets. StrataCom also markets communications switches and network access devices that integrate multimedia communications over high-speed connections.
General Signal Networks
General Signal Networks of Mt. Laurel, N.J., part of General Signal Corp., offers advanced fiber management systems for building host networks and improving WAN and LAN connectivity and performance; intelligent, in-line monitoring systems; and integrated monitor/test systems to monitor, diagnose and restore data and telecommunications networks.
The company, formed by merging GSN's three network technology companies, Telenex, Data Switch and Tautron, addresses all parts of the network. Telenex produces large-scale, matrix-based switching systems for WAN and LAN, digital network test access, monitoring and diagnostics products. Data Switch offers data center connectivity, including solutions for high-speed switching, channel networking and infrastructure management. Tautron offers performance monitoring and test systems for digital and analog telecommunications networks.
Telecommunications customers use their products to monitor and test signaling systems and subscriber circuits. Disaster recovery service companies use the matrix switching systems to quickly set up and provide critical backup networks for clients. Intelligent hubs and switching systems allow users to be added or moved around a LAN and assigned to logical, specialized workgroups by merging or splitting network segments or rings.
Companies can extend channels via fiber optic or WAN links. GSN's protocol analyzer/emulators allow lines to be monitored or tested, for example, for protocol compliance or performance efficiency. It boasts it can test and emulate virtually any WAN protocol.
In July, the company won a $2.6 million Matrix Switch Order from the Social Security Administration.
According to Cliff Oberholtzer, a GSN marketing manager, the company's particular advantage is scale, with switching systems that accommodate tens of thousands of ports in WAN and LAN configurations. He agrees with Alex. Brown analyst Gordon that the important issues through 1997 will be WAN access, ATM as a backbone, Internet protocol switching technology, the bandwidth problem, asymmetrical digital subscriber line, cable monitoring, and wave division multiplexing.
Newbridge Networks Corp.
Newbridge Networks offers total networking solutions, including ATM, frame relay, time division multiplexing and X.25.
The Kanata, Ontario-based company claims it enjoys nearly 50 percent market share worldwide in the key ATM WAN and T1/E1 multiplexer markets.
Newbridge just announced it acquired the French networking company, OST, a European supplier of switched Ethernet, X.25 and frame relay products. The purchase helped it strengthen its presence for LAN and WAN solutions in the French market; gain an Ethernet switching platform to complement its product line; and assist customers for X.25 and LAN switching systems with a migration strategy to ATM.
In July, Newbridge acquired a 30 percent equity stake in Applied Silicon Inc. Canada and announced that Tele Danmark had selected it for one of the largest domestic ATM backbone networks in Europe. Just the month before, the company said Qu?bec-T?l?phone contracted for ATM for an extensive telemedicine network to cover the eastern portion of Qu?bec.
Other conquests include a deal with iSCAN, a consortium of 22 local telephone companies in South Carolina, for a new statewide ATM network as well as a deal with Alcatel Telecom to enable carriers and corporate customers to deliver SONET, or synchronous optical network, services from the public backbone network directly to customer premises. Bell Canada, the largest telecommunications service provider in Canada, awarded Newbridge a multiyear supply agreement for ATM equipment.
Premisys Communications Inc.
Premisys, Fremont, Calif., offers integrated access devices known as the IMACS suite of products to allow service providers to supply access to new and emerging services and technologies on the public network. IMACS can provide analog private lines and digital data services; carriers can also provision frame relay, ATM and ISDN or a combination of traditional and advanced services.
Its patented bus structure simultaneously supports circuit, packet and cell switching in a single platform. In addition, the product sustains a powerful array of built-in network diagnostic and troubleshooting tools, including: optional integral cross connect for best use of bandwidth; small size and low power consumption; modular architecture; broad range of user interfaces for voice and data services; design for service provider environments; and resilient product architecture.
TCSI provides object-oriented software to the telecommunications industry worldwide for managing broadband, wireless and intelligent networks. A flagship product is Object Services Package, a complete development and run-time environment. The Berkeley, Calif., company also develops and licenses software systems for wireless consumer products. Its product, SuperTalk, offers high voice quality and extended battery life in digital phones sold to U.S. and Japanese consumers.
OSP offers an integrated environment for graphical user interfaces (X11/Motif and Windows), object services (distributed object management and CORBA), and communications gateways (SNMP, CMIP and proprietary). It also provides persistent data storage in several relational databases.
According to the company, the popularity of object technology follows from the market's demand for reusable software that protects the customer's investment. What makes TCSI different, claims the company, is its elimination of the need for bridge code in its software. This is done with object frameworks, such as Network Management Object Framework, that give overall structure and processes for designing distributed object management systems. At the base of each object framework is an object model blueprint that contains libraries of reusable, production-quality objects and well-defined relationships between objects.
Government Systems Inc. recently ordered its Object Services Package, which will be used to build a 120-site agency intranet for the Federal Aviation Administration. FAA is replacing its Agency Data Telecommunications Network (ADTN2000) X.25 technology with higher-speed T1 backbone connections. The ADTN2000 carries FAA data traffic and connects 50,000 FAA users worldwide.
The granddaddy of this group of network management companies, Tellabs was founded in 1975 and supplies the communications industry globally. Tellabs offers voice and data transport and network access systems used by public telephone companies, long distance carriers, alternate service providers, cellular and other wireless service providers, cable operators, government agencies and businesses.
In April, Tellabs acquired Steinbrecher Corp., a privately held provider of wideband wireless communications systems near Boston. Targeted applications for this new product group, now known as the Tellabs Wireless Systems Division, include indoor wireless and wireless local loop telecommunications in both developed and newly industrialized nations as well as cellular digital packet data applications.
This Lisle, Ill.-based company announced that it will begin construction in the second quarter of this year to more than double the size of its manufacturing and research and development facility in Bolingbrook, Ill. It is scheduled for completion in fall 1997.
Tellabs evolved from a manufacturer of analog-based products for the domestic telecommunications industry to a growing supplier of digital systems to service providers worldwide. While Tellabs supplies network access systems, such as digital and analog line treatment products, the company's strategy is focusing on the development of managed digital transport and access and service enhancement systems.
Tellabs' flagship product is a family of digital cross-connect systems. Internationally, its integrated access and transport system finds application in conventional digital networks, cellular networks and emerging personal communication service applications. The company also offers a system to cable operators of an integrated cable television and telephone service delivery system.
Tellabs also develops and supplies products for improving the quality and performance of transmission networks. In July, the company acquired the Sonet product line from Transys Networks Inc.
Seemingly a company on the industry's fringe, both in products and markets, Uniphase deals in optoelectronics, working on laser subsystems, laser-based semiconductor defect examination equipment and fiber optic telecommunications equipment. According to company data, Uniphase, of San Jose, Calif., has shipped over 1 million lasers and is a leading supplier of laser subsystems for original equipment manufacturers in industrial process control and semiconductor wafer inspection.
Its role in communications comes by acquisition, with its purchase last year of Uniphase Telecommunications Products Inc. UTP focuses on high-speed external modulators and transmitters for fiber optic networks, for example, cable television industries. This past May, Uniphase Corp. bought GCA Fibreoptics Ltd. and Fiberoptic Alignment Solutions Inc. to further bolster its position in fiber optic networks.
As the Internet extends its tentacles, cable will be drawn deeper into the market. Fiber optic cable are increasingly accepted in upgrades and new installations of cable television and telecommunications systems to improve performance, flexibility, reliability and lower installation and operating costs.
Already, UTP won a government contract to develop and produce fiber optic transmitters to be used for military aircraft. Deliveries of the transmitters are scheduled for mid-1997.
For information on network management, consider the following sources:
- Network Management Forum
- National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative
- Eltronic Industries Association
- National Institute of Standards and Technology's
Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory
Glossary and References
For definitions of network management terms, see the searchable online reference at http://www.ora.com/reference/dictionary/, Dictionary of PC Hardware and Data Communications Terms by Mitchell Shnier (O'Reilly & Associates Inc., 1996).