As 2008 draws to a monotonous close, there is still a sliver of time left for me to make my 2009 networking predictions. Yes, money will be as tight as a Minnesota Senate race next year, but there certainly will be a number of bright spots. Here is my list of 10 technology areas to watch in 2009 (in no particular order):
Managed network services. Unlike other IT infrastructure areas (servers, storage, security equipment) large and small organizations have been buying network services for years (think Frame Relay, Centrex, etc.). This comfort level will persuade frugal chief information officers to pad contracts with additional services in 2009. Network service providers like AT&T, BT, and Verizon will prosper as IT managers eschew internal efforts and instead dabble in areas like managed network security, remote access, and WAN (wide-area network) optimization. I expect increasing quarter-to-quarter growth in many managed network services in 2009 and beyond.
Phat networks. While many IT projects will be put on the back burner, I still believe that we will see a lot of network backbone upgrades next year. Why? All of this Web 2.0/IT consumerization stuff generates a lot of traffic and the load isn't getting any lighter. Like it or not, CIOs will have to spring for 10Gb core switches and routers to keep remote and branch office workers productive and happy.
Unified communications. OK, now I'm in buzz-word territory but I see a problem and an opportunity here. The problem is that we are all communicating with each other using a half dozen or so independent technologies. We need to rein this in soon while integrating the concept of "presence" into our communications processes. On the flip side, there is a great opportunity to integrate unified communications into business processes to improve efficiency and service. Imagine how happy you'll be when your service call is answered by a product expert rather than a series of frustrating menus and gatekeepers.
802.11n. I've been a believer in this next-generation WLAN (wireless local area network) standard for a while. In 2009, we should see significant growth in penetration and revenue. Given improvements in bandwidth and security, I expect to see 802.11n as a replacement for access switches as organizations refresh the network edge. I also anticipate additional manufacturing, health care, and government applications built to take advantage of the 802.11n momentum. Look for HP to become an aggressive competitor in the WLAN space while independents like Aruba and Meru get gobbled up by the likes of Juniper and Brocade/Foundry.
Core network services. I'm talking about services like DNS (domain name system), DHCP (domain host configuration protocol), RADIUS (remote authentication dial-in user service), and IP address management. With all of the networking activity in the past few years, these core services have been a virtually ignored kludge leading to unplanned downtime, security vulnerabilities, and manual operations. This mess must be fixed soon--good news for Blue Cat, Infoblox, and Juniper. Look for Microsoft to stir the pot with a core networking services appliance in 2009 as well.
Application networking. I'm combining two categories here: Application acceleration and WAN optimization. The year 2009 promises to consolidate tons of applications and services in massive data centers running on top of virtual servers. Users and virtual machines will be in a constant state of mobile flux while exchanging enormous files and speaking an ever-growing variety of network protocols. Someone has to play traffic cop to avoid gridlock so A10 Networks, BlueCoat, Citrix, F5, and Riverbed should do just fine.
Telepresence. The use of video conferencing should grow as companies restrict employee travel and equipment prices plummet. Cisco is about to announce a sub-$1,000 SMB platform while carriers are planning managed services offerings. But, telepresence growth will also expose its limitations. Business managers will discover that boring six-hour telepresence sessions are no substitute for actual human contact.
Virtual server and network integration. As physical servers host dozens of virtual guests, and virtual machines move from host to host, networking can get pretty dicey. The way around this problem is tight integration between virtual and physical switches. VMware and Cisco are already working on this but what about the other hypervisors (Citrix, Microsoft) and switching providers? Look for open application programming interfaces and one-off relationships in 2009.
Data center networking. Closely related to virtual server integration, expect to see more specific data center networking equipment from Extreme Networks, Force 10, and glamour start-up Arista Networks. Data center equipment will offer functionality like virtual switch integration, clustering, dense port counts, and support for IP storage. Cisco and Brocade/Foundry will focus in this area while Juniper and HP will aggressively push products and programs.
Real Cisco competitors. Cisco is a well-oiled machine but I see a perfect storm for others to gain share. With organizations looking to save money, technically advanced low-priced alternatives will look extremely attractive. I've already seen Aruba and Extreme win deals like this when Cisco was the incumbent. Along these same lines, the competition has never been stronger in terms of both technology and resources. Finally, as Cisco enters the blade server market, look for HP and IBM to cozy up to others or push their own gear. Brocade/Foundry, HP, Huawei, Juniper and others may gain share at Cisco's expense in 2009.
I'm sure I missed a few items but I'm just about out of time. Happy New Year!