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Why the network will become the computer.

Much has been made of network computing as the "new computing paradigm" for the 1990s, where every desktop computer will be interconnected via the corporate network, allowing users to exchange data freely and easily, and putting the organization's databases and computer resources at their fingertips.

Market projections certainly corroborate such a vision. Local area networks (LANs) are enjoying an annual growth of 15% while carrier interconnections of LANs are projected to increase by 15% per year, with bridges and routers surging at a 50% clip.

But is it likely that users will soon be able to access their organization's data and computer resources via an enterprise-wide network? Can the network, in effect, really become the computer? This observer believes so and in this column will chart the progress in both the technology and its application in pioneering organizations.

Coincidentally, the recent Interop show in San Jose posed the same question as its keynote theme and received affirmative responses from its three keynote speakers: IBM's Ellen Hancock, representing the computer perspective; Bellcore's Richard Caruso giving the communications viewpoint; and the Yankee Group's Howard Anderson speaking for the user.

Driving forces

In anderson's opinion, the growth of PC connectivity and intra-organizational conflicts will force the creation of an enterprise-wide network providing the needed interoperability. According to Yankee Group research, 83% of PCs in 1993 will be connected to a network, up considerably from today's figure of 31%.

This user-driven, "bottoms up" explosion of LAN-based computing will exacerbate the conflict that already exists between the people responsible for the corporate network and managers in the divisions, lines of business and at the workgroup level, says Anderson.

However, he believes this "rush to integration" will also force what he calls the "interoperability decision" on how best to link dispersed LANs from different vendors, running under different protocols, and integrate them with the existing corporate network.

Anderson foresees a solution based on a three-level architecture, with hubs and bridges at the workgroup level, bridges and routers at the division or line of business level, and switches and multiplexers at the corporate level.

Ellen Hancock also argues strongly for a corporate network architecture. Organizations cannot allow networks to just "happen," she warns. However, the IBM vice president does not limit the solution to SNA--what Anderson jokingly refers to as the "System for Negating Alternatives."

Users want broad access, says Hancock, and this means a combination of SNA, OSI and TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol--the suite of interoperability protocols established under Department of Defense (DoD) sponsorship in the 1970s and now widely used by corporate America).

Hancockk reports that users are embracing TCP/IP as they become impatient with the slow progress of the international OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) standards. She shocked IBM watchers in the audience by giving Big Blue's strongest endorsement of the Do-D-sponsored protocol to date, exclaiming, "TCP/IP has become a standard in its own right."

Besides broad access, users want "broad pipes" and end-to-end network management, according to Hancock. Imaging applications are becoming more popular, she notes, while multimedia computing is moving from the conference room to the desktop. Couple the growth of these wideband applications with the explosion in LAN traffic, and the need for broadband links becomes clear.

As for end-to-end network management, IBM is committed to an "open" approach, says Hancock. In that vein, IBM has established alliances with AT&T and British Telecom to insure multivendor capability and support on a global basis.

Public data services

Addressing the need for broadband links, Bellcore Vice PResident Richard Caruso says he believes the answer lies in public data network services, combining both frame relay and SMDS (switched multi-megabit data service) as complementary rather than competing options.

With access speed to 1.5 Mb/s, frame relay is suitable for LAN interconnection at medium speeds, and for such applications as on-line transaction processing and bulk file transfer, and as an SNA transport. With its fast packet switching and statistical multiplexing capabilities, it provides cost savings in transmission links and in ports on communications equipment and switches.

SMDS, with its 1.5- and 45-Mb/s access, will provide LAN-like performance and features over a wide area, Caruso notes. SMDS trials have already been held in the U.S. and Europe, and Caruso expects the service to become widely available next year, evolving by mid-90s to 155 Mb/s.

Data communications consultant Morris Edwards serves as program advisor to the Network Computing Solutions Conference and Exposition which will be held Dec. 9-12, 1991 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C.; and April 22-23, 1991 at the Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Netcomm Update; InterOp 1991; the Yankee Group's Howard Anderson and IBM's Helen Hancock
Author:Edwards, Morris
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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