IS Survival Guide

SAN MATEO (03/20/2000) - MANAGEMENT SPEAK: When it comes to data, end-users just don't understand.

TRANSLATION: When it comes to data, I just don't understand.

-- When it comes to attributing this phrase, let's all understand the contributor's desire for anonymity.

IS THIS THE year of the fat network?

Regular IS Survivalists will recall this term. Introduced last year as a more accurate alternative to "thin client," fat network architectures come in three flavors.

* Client modules on Windows terminals ranging from slender to obese execute on servers, relegating desktops to managing keystrokes, mouse clicks, and the display.

* Network computers download applications stored on servers to the desktop for execution.

* Some applications use a browser as their user interface platform, either in vanilla form or enhanced with a plug-in.

I call them fat network architectures because the only thing they have in common is the need for bigger, more reliable servers and more network bandwidth than applications designed to be stored on and executed from local hard drives.

Fat network architectures won't hit the jackpot this year. If they do, something is seriously wrong with IS' priorities. First of all, fat network architectures place a premium on sturdy, high-performance distributed systems.

From my conversations with several specialists, the state of distributed systems management in most data centers is deficient. Even if moving to a fat network architecture is your top priority, you'll do it next year. This year, you'll focus on stabilizing your servers and managing them better.

Second, most CEOs won't give you the time, budget, and resources for a major architectural change this year. They just spent a king's ransom on infrastructure in the form of Y2K remediation, often delaying new business initiatives as a result. They need you to focus on these new business initiatives. With Y2K, the CIO dictated the company's IS priorities. Now it's different.

Yes, you can build the new stuff using one of the three fat network architectures. This strategy is less risky than wholesale conversion anyway. If you choose a fat network technique that replaces PCs with something else, however, make sure you first inventory the applications used by affected employees to do their jobs. Otherwise, you could accidentally cripple them when you roll out the new stuff.

Oh, and don't forget to fortify your distributed systems.

The third reason is perhaps the most intriguing. The PC is now more than a "client." It is a server as well -- it has become a personal information hub, storing and synchronizing with an expanding array of appliances.

The PDA (personal digital assistant) is the most visible appliance. Millions of people who used to carry a paper day planner now rely on PDAs instead.

MP3 players will find uses beyond music. Whether for talking books or executive briefings, information downloaded to an MP3 player can be a productive alternative to the dangerous practice of conducting business via cell phones while commuting.

Speaking of books, how about electronic ones? The PC becomes the device that manages the user's library. Think how you could use electronic books instead of paper.

Bushwah about total cost of ownership has conditioned IS managers to think of the PC as a liability. In reality, it's the opposite. It's an asset, ready and waiting to be leveraged.

Leverage your thoughts on the subject by sending an e-mail to Bob Lewis is a Minneapolis-based consultant at Perot Systems Corp.

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