Greg Enright:For this industry, 2001 was a definite odyssey

From the Editor

Ever since Stanley Kubrick released 2001: A Space Odyssey back in the 1968, people have wondered just how close a match the real 2001 would be to the filmmaker’s depiction. Now, with the year in question nearly at a close, we can see there were in fact a few differences. No monoliths uncovered on the moon, no manned space missions to the moons of Jupiter. And about the closest thing we might have to a power-tripping HAL 9000 is a supercomputer that can beat anyone at a game of chess.

Nevertheless, some aspects of today’s world are all too frighteningly similar to the movie. Some sectors of the real-world economy, for instance, did indeed have as horrifying a 2001 as that endured by Kubrick’s astronauts. Look no further than the networking and telecom sectors for proof.

For these sectors, 2001 was a year of slashed budgets and withering workforces; of strategy refocusing and subsidiary selloffs; of flared tempers and gloomy forecasts. Looking back on the events of the past 12 months, it becomes apparent that they formed what turned out to be the latter stage of a wild networking roller-coaster ride. That ride had reached dizzying heights during the “ascent” years of 1998 to 2000. The corkscrew fall that was 2001 was long, frightening and nauseating.

As the industry downs its proverbial Pepto Bismol and gets on with life in 2002, it’s interesting to ask, “What next?”

Those immersed in the world of networks will tell you, probably quite accurately, that life will go on, and it might even be quite enjoyable. Routers, switches, cables, servers and all of the other old-guard components that business has become so dependent upon will continue to be purchased and installed. And innovative improvements to networks, such as wireless LANs and IP phones, will go a long way to making the network an even more crucial element to the overall business process.

Great news for vendors and their employees.

But when we look at how the industry could potentially be perceived by those outside the networking universe, a different picture emerges. It wasn’t too long ago that mainstream newspapers were filled with stories of up-and-coming networking entrepreneurs, with 1,500-word explainer pieces about the finer points of such complex topics as fibre optic cabling. And how about all those ads on TV touting the power of networks?

We don’t see much of either anymore. As far as the everyday citizen who has heard nothing but gloomy news is concerned, the networking industry should be about as disgraced as Richard Nixon was ’round about 1974. Will the industry ever be able to return to being the darlings of the business sections across the country? Perhaps, but there’s a good chance we’ll be finding a monolith on the moon before that happens.