New in 2003: What's hype, what's ripe?
A virtual panel of integrators and resellers discusses how six of the most talked-about new technologies may be used -- or not used -- in the government market this yearWho still remembers push technologies? In 1997, push was one of the hottest concepts in information technology. "Kiss your browser goodbye," Wired magazine crowed that year in an article that explained how push systems would deliver the data right to a user's desktop. Six years later, the term is little-mentioned, even though remnants of the technology remain in some Internet solutions. Every few months, a new bumper crop of whiz-bang technologies pops up in the business press and on the trade-show floor, each promising revolutionary change in how business is done. Some, such as the World Wide Web, live up to the hype. Others, such as push technologies, fade into niche markets. The government systems integrator's survival depends on divining which new technologies will be useful for their customers and which will be too difficult to implement, won't show a return on investment or will simply fail. To evaluate the technologies that look to be hot in 2003, Washington Technology assembled a virtual panel of experts. In separate interviews, each was asked to evaluate the merits of business intelligence tools, collaboration software, grid computing, voice over Internet protocol, Web services and wireless fidelity. Which technologies will make money for them this year? Which ones are they taking a wait-and-see stance with?Not everyone agreed on which technologies will bear fruit in 2003, but all provide glimpses into how they are grappling with the possibilities. WEB SERVICES Value to integrator: These standards allow integrators to build software for computers to trade information more easily. Vendors include BEA Systems Inc., San Jose, Calif.; Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash. Petchon (Accenture): I can't think of a technology [with] such a rapid takeup in the marketplace as I have seen with Web services. It really is quite astounding. There are live Web services we have implemented for our customers.Gordon (Pricewaterhouse-Coopers): There's a big difference between the vision and reality of Web services. The vision is to have pieces of software describe what they can do for other pieces of software, so you can assemble an application on the fly, using resources from all over the world. That's nice, but we're a long way from being able to do that. The kinds of things that Web services do today are very primitive. The ability to find software that has a given service capability is very rudimentary. So to the extent that Web services are being implemented, [they] are as low-level integration plays within organizations.Richards (Vredenburg): The first applications for Web services will be in the low-level utility type of solutions that we all have to build in our applications that would be much better served in one place over the Web.Fritzson (Booz Allen Hamilton): Reusability has been the Holy Grail of software for the past 25 years. It was always one step out of reach. Web services allows you to reuse functionality. In the defense world, I think you will see some larger scale efforts this year. Certainly, we'll be building some various-sized systems. There is so much push to receive better information. It used to be "sensor to the shooter" was the key phrase, but "power to the edge" is the dominant theme coming out of the office of the assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, and coming out of the Defense Information Systems Agency. Web services is going to be the enabler for that.VOICE OVER INTERNET (VOIP) Value to integrator: The voice over Internet protocol allows data networks to carry voice traffic, eliminating the need for a separate phone system. Vendors include 3Com Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.; Juniper Networks, Sunnyvale, Calif. Fleming (Verizon): Verizon Federal Network Systems does $100 million [in revenue] annually. We're expecting 80 percent of our business to involve some elements of voice over IP. I would have to qualify that 80 percent to say it is not enterprisewide, but specific user communities within an enterprise.Thuman (NextiraOne): We're on an upward curve, but I don't think we will see the majority of our work be VOIP for a number of years. Just about every agency has been experimenting with VOIP. Few have moved it out of the labs. We have seen some momentum in new buildings. If you are building a new facility, it makes sense to put in the infrastructure. And we've seen small offices put in VOIP.The issue is that the traditional voice side has done such a great job at reliability that everyone just demands 100 percent uptime of dial tone. So a company must be very careful in placing VOIP, because we're still at the front stage of this technology.Gowen (WorldCom): Voice rates are so cheap that a lot of agencies haven't gone toward a converged network. The ability to do so is there, but the economic imperative isn't.There is a lot of discussion that in the follow-on to General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service 2001 contract, the traditional voice rates will be a little bit higher. Most of the competition has gone bankrupt, and where there isn't competition, you start to see prices go back, which is exactly what is happening with all the local exchange companies. Federal customers see that, and that is why many of them are looking at VOIP in a prototype phase, so when the economic imperatives arrive, they will know how to transition. GRID COMPUTINGValue to integrator: Grid allows computing jobs to be broken into many parts and completed by computers in remote locations. Vendors include IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.; Sun Microsystems, Santa Clara, Calif. Manchise (Anteon): The concept is terribly exciting, and it will take a big company such as IBM to pull it off. Before integrators will implement this technology, it has got to prove itself that it works.Sanders (BearingPoint): It's not here yet. We do see it in a lot of research areas, but we don't see it being used in government for another couple of years. Most servers today run at about 25 percent capacity. Grid computing uses all this unused capacity that is sitting around in the client-server world.A lot of the governments are still in the transition from legacy mainframe systems into client-server systems, so they are not concerning themselves with how to get the maximum amount of performance from their servers yet.Petchon: We just haven't seen widespread use of it yet. BUSINESS INTELLIGENCE TOOLSValue to integrator: This software allows customers to analyze large amounts of data in simple-to-use graphic interfaces. Vendors include Cognos Corp., Ottawa, Ontario; Informatica Corp., Redwood City, Calif.Boese (General Dynamics): We've been monitoring the marketplace and evaluating the tools that are out there. We're putting together integrated knowledge management offerings for several customers, so they are looking to us help them keep up to date in what is happening in this area. Many Defense Department applications collect a variety of numerical information. So numerical datamining tools could be something of value in that they could detect trends or connections in those datasets that wouldn't ordinarily jump out.Manchise: We've done some work with business intelligence tools. One of the problems we see is that in order to make this tool useful, you have to have create the database in the proper way. It has to be a multidimensional, multitagged database that will let you sort the data quickly in every possible combination imaginable. I've seen this built, and it takes a lot of resources. But once you have it, you can really find some intriguing patterns.Richards: The early stage for datamining was for generating reports. A lot of people are using those tools. I think in the next wave we see, our customers are going to be asking more ad-hoc questions of their data repository. And the tools are getting better and better to be able to do this. COLLABORATION TOOLSValue to integrator: This software allows remote partners to work on documents. Vendors include eRoomSystem Technologies, Inc., St. George, Utah.; Groove Networks Inc., Beverly, Mass. Petchon: Collaboration is a very hot area for us. A lot of our clients are looking for Internet and extranet portals that provide collaboration capabilities for employees.Boese: To us, this isn't a new area. We've been using collaborative tools in our integrator offerings for six years now. From our perspective, especially with some of the transformational programs coming in the Defense Department, collaboration tools pretty much need to be part of the offering. It does not make sense to do the kind of things the Defense Department is doing without them.Fritzson: The collaboration tools that we use most often are moving to the peer-to-peer platform. Peer-to-peer implementation means that everything in the shared space -- the calendars, documents, discussions -- are replicated on each machine [in contrast to] the thin-client server, where everything is based on one server. We have people who travel a lot, their connectivity is still intermittent.In the coming year, we expect to be bridging these two types of platforms. There's a huge push on in the government for a concept called "power to the edge," which comes from [Defense Department CIO] John Stenbit. It means having a bridge between the edge and center-based architectures, bringing peer-to-peer and thin-client [platforms] together. Richards: There are a lot of what we call external referrals, where one agency needs to send an action item to another agency. I think peer-to-peer computing is the technology to do that. WIRELESS FIDELITY (WIFI)Value to integrator: This hardware can set up wireless local area data networks. Vendors include Linksys Group Inc., Irvine, Calif.; Netgear Inc., Santa Clara, Calif. Williams (Micro Warehouse): We will probably sell twice as much WiFi equipment this year as we did in 2002. Public-sector sales wasn't a huge success in 2002. Agencies were still setting up labs for testing. But tools for data integration and encryption have come online in this last quarter, so we see a lot of growth in this arena.Manchise: It is almost a commodity now. It has gotten so easy to implement. I wouldn't be surprised if we started seeing wireless access kits being sold in hardware stores and pharmacies.As an integrator, we do not propose using the WiFi by any of our customers until the security problem is solved. We do implement WiFi in limited cases for our customers only after we discuss the pros and cons on the lack of security and privacy. When there is some guarantee of privacy, then it will be easier to justify implementing WiFi into comprehensive solutions. *Staff Writer Joab Jackson can be reached at email@example.com.
- By Joab Jackson
- Jan 09, 2003
Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.