Avoiding the convergence distraction

I’ve always been amused by the ability of marketing executives for telecom-oriented vendors to promote benefits that only appeal to people exactly like themselves, or even to nobody at all.

Whenever I’ve heard a pitch for unified messaging, the standard scenario is a sales rep road warrior rushing to an airport pay phone to “listen” to his e-mail via text-to-speech, then responding via voice mail to his administrator asking her to fax some crucial document to the next airport’s frequent-flyer lounge. None of which explains why companies should fork out hundreds of dollars per seat for unified messaging for their legions of desk-bound employees.

I’ve heard pitches from competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) with no new idea other than a promise to cater to “small to midsize businesses,” by which they often mean small businesses, period – 90 per cent of which may be unaware that there’s anything wrong with the regular phone company.

I’ve seen the big carriers mess with endless variations on T-1 convergence and integrated access even as their most important customers soared past T-3 to OC-3 and beyond, begging for cheap bandwidth for pure data and never mind the nonproblem of voice traffic.

That’s why it’s fascinating to see a new carrier come along such as GiantLoop Network Inc., which is promoting the idea of enterprise optical networking. It’s a variant on some of the new metropolitan-area Gigabit Ethernet players such as Yipes Communications and Telseon, only GiantLoop is designing multiprotocol support for IP, ATM and Gigabit Ethernet, plus storage-oriented protocols such as Fibre Connection, Enterprise System Connection (ESCON) and Fibre Channel.

I have searched this vendor’s Web site and I can’t find any mention of voice over IP. I see no new T-1 integrated-access services to save you pocket change. No way to click on your buddy’s name to save the two seconds it takes to dial his phone number.

What GiantLoop does care about is that “large businesses will add an average 22 terabytes of on-line storage per company this year.” Now that’s something to lose sleep over.

In GiantLoop’s literature, you won’t find much about Our Converging World. Instead, you’ll get apparently retrograde but valid observations about the continuing balkanization of corporate voice, data and storage architectures. That’s why GiantLoop is touting the idea of using dense wave division multiplexing that’s protocol- and bit-rate-independent to consolidate ESCON, Fibre Channel and Ethernet circuits on the same optical fibre.

Sound intriguing? Maybe it’s because GiantLoop wasn’t founded by the usual merger fallout of telecom has-beens. Two of its four co-founders are ex-EMC executives; one comes from Comdisco. So far GiantLoop has been light on the service details. But in 2001, every time you see a me-too CLEC go bankrupt, remember that there are new carriers with new ideas relevant to today’s market coming up to take their place.

Rohde is managing editor of The Edge section of Network World (U.S.). He can be reached at drohde@nww.com.