Some prognostications for the year to come

Out with the old news and in with a new set of prognostications. In the fine tradition of year-end IT industry predictions, here are four possible news items, which may be key highlights of – depending upon your point of view – the last or first year of the new millennium.

Network convergence will take off this year.

IP telephony will gradually weave its way through the enterprise as both the quality and cost of voice over IP continues to improve. Businesses also seem intrigued by a new generation of PBX replacements, commonly called business communications servers, that will allow the mixing of communications services like voice and e-mail data access through both telephony and computer equipment. Certainly many equipment providers are anticipating a breakthrough year for IP telephony equipment sales in the enterprise, claiming many users want to move as quickly as possible away from PBX gear and adopt unified messaging services. Network convergence has most definitely taken off in the carrier and communications provider space and the coming year may see the evolution to multiservice IP. Many carriers have already built data service IP networks and multiservice – voice, data and video – offered through these packetized network infrastructures is just around the corner. However, at least one major barrier to this breakthrough is the ability to effectively manageme these inherently connectionless IP environments. Network administration has been a black hole for the enterprise. It’s a difficult set of tasks and often an expensive undertaking, coupled with the fact that there’s limited intelligence and no ability to manage business processes with the current generation of enterprise tools. But changes will come this year. Both OSS (operation support systems – the management tools of circuit-switched voice environments) toolmakers and enterprise management solution providers, including Tivoli, Computer Associates and Hewlett-Packard are developing more intelligent management systems to meet the need for everything from automated element management to high-level business process administration. Roadmaps have already been announced, so in 2000 expect to see the rollout of management tools such as billing, order entry, provisioning, fault/trouble management and customer care for multiservice IP.

Newbridge Networks will not find a buyer.

The odds against a purchaser stepping up to acquire Newbridge seem to diminish the longer that the company remains unsold. History has shown that IT mergers and acquisitions typically happen when the industry buzz is relatively quiet. It seems that when people start talking about purchases, they usually don’t happen. In the case of Newbridge, there’s a great deal of speculation, but one must seriously wonder who is prepared to ante up. Consider that Newbridge is a company in decline and the strength of both its product sets are in the rapidly outmoded TDM (circuit-switch) equipment provisioning space. While the company has announced plans to roll out IP-based equipment, Newbridge is much too late out of the gate and that has contributed to the market perception that the company is no longer the technology leader it once was. Interestingly, three years ago Newbridge made a play to expand its scope by purchasing enterprise networking pioneer UB Networks, a once prominent company. The deal proved to be a disaster, largely because UB was a company long past its prime and brought virtually nothing in the way of products or customers to Newbridge. Ironically, as time goes on, Newbridge runs the risk of being the next UB – a company that has fallen completely out of step with the pace of a changing industry. If a Newbridge sale doesn’t happen within the first few months of 2000, then the odds are that it probably won’t happen at all.

Cisco will continue its skyrocketing growth.

Most definitely. In the past, I was among those who speculated that, in order to hedge its bets on declining equipment margins, Cisco should think seriously about establishing a direct services organization now. It was a belief based largely on the model and experience of IBM – a company that transformed itself from a hardware and software company to one that now generates more than 50 per cent of its revenues from IT services. However, Cisco has no immediate plans to go that route, nor should it, when you consider how the company has achieved its almost unprecedented success and the fact that there is still so much network innovation still needed. Cisco is the undisputed king of market perception in the networking space. Is there a networking company that is considered more of an innovator, leader and dynamic organization? Cisco is arguably the equipment maker most directly responsible for the advent of network convergence. It has fearlessly shaken the very foundation of the industry by reaching way beyond an overwhelming leadership position in the enterprise market to moving against the likes of powerful Nortel and Lucent in order to gain a significant share of the carrier and communication service provider market. Cisco never hesitates to leap directly into the fray of emerging markets and new innovation. Technologies and products that can’t be developed quickly enough in-house are acquired. Cisco is aggressively pushing carriers to ditch their circuit switched equipment and move to multiservice IP much, much faster than any TDM solution maker would like. Cisco is always on the leading edge. Through its aggressive partnering and acquisitions, Cisco seems to have a finger in every innovation and new IT development. It’s how the company has become a powerhouse and how it will continue to stay on top.

Wireless will emerge as the next area of major focus in network.