By: John Spofford
Hosted in Las Vegas, that glittering perverse playground of the desert, Networld+Interop 1999 provides hands-on evaluation of products and services for networking, Internet, and telecommunications professionals. One of the biggest networking show of the year, more than 600 vendorsranging in size from start-up to giganticare expected at the Las Vegas Convention Center show floor May 10-14.
The show includes a general conference that offers five tracks and nearly 40 sessions. Tracks include: Campus and Access Technology, Core Networks, Network Management and Policy, Security, and Internet Applications.
Besides the general conference loaded with the latest information on Gigabit Ethernet, Layer 4 switching, integrated access devices, and optical networking, N+I will introduce the EXPO COMM Conference. The EXPO COMM Conference is specifically designed to provide information for carriers and service providers. Topics will range from VPN and digital subscriber line deployment to IPv6, gigabit routers, and integrating SS7 with IP.
Topic to watch
Looking for a hot topic at this year's N+I? Look no further than the virtual private network (VPN). Although VPN means a number of things to a number of vendors, it is generally considered a service provided by a carrier that appears to the end-user to be a network of dedicated services when in fact the information is traveling on shared resources. And in most VPN schemes, those shared resources are the Internet.
VPN proponents say the private enterprise backbone wide-area network is obsolete. Some go as far as to claim an Internet-based VPN is the enterprise network of the future. Eliminate the facilities cost, multinational service provisioning, and support headaches, the argument goes. Go with a VPN and forget about expensive remote access servers, cranky routers, and network operation and management.
Bridge for sale
In many ways it sounds too good to be true. Perhaps it is. VPN proponents are asking an IT manager to lift critical corporate communications from a multimillion dollar private backbone that works and risk them across the Internet, a unruly collection of switches, routers, and fiber-optic links that shouldn't workbut it does.
Despite the fact that the Internet has progressed in recent years from an universally derided World Wide Wait to a semi-reliable Wild and Wooly Web, VPN service and equipment providers still face a hard sell. Can they deliver bullet-proof privacy at an acceptable performance level? Does the technology exist to authenticate users and data? And does the Internet provide the reliability and availability to match today's enterprise WANs?
There will be a lot of network managers asking the same questions at N+I. This interest is amply indicated by the fact that the day-long conference VPN Day is already sold out. Fortunately if you aren't on the list for VPN Day, a number of other sessions await. These include a day-long workshop Implementing Virtual Private Networks on Wednesday, as well as parts of the Expocomm conference and several sessions of the general conference.
Don't forget products
While the various conferences are popular, for many N+I attendees, the show floor is the main attraction. With more than 600 exhibitors, there is plenty to see. You want to schedule at least a day just to see the floor. And pack comfortable shoes.
A lot of new technology will on hand. One product category of significance to premises networks is Gigabit Ethernet. While still a comparatively smallbut rapidly growingmarket with approximately 265,000 ports shipped last year, Gigabit Ethernet is clearly a technology able to provide "big pipes" to reduce network bottlenecks and resolve quality of service problems. Although the Gigabit Ethernet Over Copper standard won't be ratified until September 1999, that won't stop vendors from rolling out new 1000BASE-T products at N+I.
Also, check out N+I's Hot Spots, located throughout the exhibit floor. These areas are developed and hosted by vendors to provide a specific technology solution. Examples include the wireless LAN interoperability demo led by the members of the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab's wireless consortium. This Hot Spot will educate showgoers on the capabilities of the IEEE 802.11 specification and the current level of multivendor interoperability.
Another Hot Spot will showcase high-speed remote access and is sponsored by Compatible Systems, a designer and manufacturer of interconnectivity products for Internet-based VPNs and Internet access. Featured will be high-speed remote access components for home and business users including: VPNs, DSL modems, cable modems, and other high-bandwidth technologies.
A storage area networks Hot Spot led by Veritas Software will showcase the use of storage area networks/Fibre Channel for enterprise environments. Demos will include the interoperability of Fibre Channel productsswitches, adapters, operating systems, disk arrays, and tape libraries from multiple vendors.
N+I is one of the biggest shows of the year and the place where the biggest industry deals are announced. It is only natural that the industry heavyweights are on hand for each day's keynote addresses. Keynote presenters include: William Esrey, chairman and CEO of Sprint Corp. (Westwood, KS); Charles Wang, chairman and CEO, Computer Associates International Inc. (Islandia, NY); Cisco Systems' (San Jose, CA) CEO, John Chambers with Judy Estrin, chief technology officer; Novell (Provo, UT) CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt; Michael Dell, chairman and CEO, Dell Computer Corp. (Round Rock, TX); and Jeanette Symons, chief technology officer and co-founder of Ascend Communications Inc. (Alameda, CA).
Topics to be addressed include network convergence, next generation service providers, networking for the Internet, the latest in server technologies, and remote networking. All keynote presentations will be held in the Conrad Room at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Life on the town
Finally, don't forget the nightlife. This is Las Vegas after all. Save at least one night to see the strip, if only to discover what multibillion dollar extravaganzas have been built since last year's show. It's a surreal city full of casinos and entertainment. Bring your wallet.