Greg Enright: Entrenching views in ’03

We’ve reached the halfway point of 2003 and it’s hard to say that the way the year has unfolded in the networking industry represents a big surprise to anyone. Back in January, it was only the most optimistic observers who predicted any kind of earth-shattering turnaround in spending levels for network and telecom gear. Most insiders agreed that any upswings in technology adoption would be minor at best; and many of those experts also warned that things could actually get worse for punch-drunk gear manufacturers.

Perhaps one of the biggest developments in the first half of this year didn’t come in the form of a spectacular buyout or killer app technology, but moreso in an overall, industry-wide acceptance of the current situation as normal. Wearied by constant comparisons of the tenuous conditions to rosier times of a few years back, industry pros seem to have put today’s realities in focus.

While that picture might not be as pretty as the one that represented the boom times of the late 1990s, at least it’s clear. Even vendors have seemed to realize that that now-long-ago period was somewhat of an aberration and have largely given up trying to convince customers that big spends are the way to go. For proof, witness 3Com’s and other hardware hawkers’ admission that profit will not be grown by making new sales, but rather by stealing business away from competitors.

The first six months of 2003 have also been marked by a growth of the importance of IT in the minds of senior executives. Not too long ago, a major concern for network managers and other IT decision makers was making chief executive officers and chief financial officers aware of the importance of computers to the health of the enterprise.

Today, this does not seem to be as gigantic a hill to climb as it did only a few years ago. Whether it was because they got burned by careless overspending during the boom period or because IT folks have been so persistent in gaining their ear, the enterprise upper crust has IT on their corporate map.

While the benefits associated with technology deployments might not always be clearly evident (indeed, they’re often buried under much complexity), at least executives are becoming cognizant of their existence. This ingrained knowledge can only help IT-savvy network pros in pleading their cases for new toys.

The crucial function that IT security products play within the enterprise has also moved closer to becoming common, “no-brainer” knowledge amongst IT decision-makers in 2003. No doubt, there are still firms who would rather keep their wallets thick by not spending much on security offerings and hope for the best. Those outfits, however, are becoming harder to find amongst large businesses.

With the proliferation of convenient but relatively riskier communication infrastructures such as wireless LANs and virtual private networks, the need for tight security measures has increased substantially. This requirement has helped to drive home the urgency that surrounds security.

We’ll see just how more entrenched these realizations become in the second half of ’03.