Speed up the apps
As access to social-networking sites, YouTube and other bandwidth-hogging Web 2.0 applications becomes more critical to the everyday worker, making that access fast and seamless becomes paramount. In addition, more organizations today are going virtual, meaning everyday workers increasingly are working at sites far from headquarters, further underscoring the need for speedy applications. To that end, IT is embracing techniques designed to make working from anywhere at anytime much more productive.
Look to the cloud. Instead of relying on internal infrastructure to host mission-critical applications, many enterprises are moving theirs to the cloud via such services as Amazon.com's Elastic Compute 2 (EC2) and Google's App Engine. Because these services are supported by huge numbers of data centers built from the ground up to be super-reliable and super-scalable, downtime is minimized. Plus, when storage is in the cloud, it can be moved around quickly, which makes sure it's always as close as possible to users whether they're in New York or Paris. This means that everyday workers from even the smallest companies can get at their applications, anytime, anywhere and at lightning speeds.
Accelerate the Web. What if you need even more speed? That's where application-delivery controllers come in. Products from such companies as Blue Coat Systems, Citrix Systems and F5 Networks apply load-balancing and traffic-management techniques to ease Web server loads, significantly speeding page-loading times across the 'Net. For example, financial-services firm First Command found that using F5's BigIP box enabled its far-flung customers and advisers to access corporate data across the Web 25 percent faster right off the bat.
Who's saying all this productivity requires actual wired networks? Wireless connectivity is becoming more ubiquitous, with the explosion of Wi-Fi hot spots, 3G networks and corporate 802.11n wireless LANs (WLAN); and the speed and capabilities of these new wireless networks are making it far easier for everyday employees to get their work done even when they're not tethered to the corporate network. "Having a broadband wireless connection is really where the payoff [from wireless] comes," says William (Larry) Bell, deputy assistant director and deputy CIO for the US federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in Washington, D.C. The ATF implemented iPass to handle broadband wireless access for agents in the field. "Our agents can literally access applications here in the data center and never leave their cars. And that means they're out there doing real work longer," Bell says. Here are two wireless technologies changing the way everyday workers do business:
802.11n for everyone. Wireless no longer is a nice-to-have: For most companies, it's standard equipment. And that doesn't mean the slow 802.11b/g LANs of the past. Results of a recent BT study show nearly one-third of US enterprises will move within the next 12 months to the 802.11n WLAN standard with its 100Mbps bandwidth. That jump from 802.11b's 11Mbps speed and 802.11g's 54Mbps speed makes a huge difference in what can be accomplished via the corporate Wi-Fi network, and puts wireless workers on par with their wired brethren.
Gigabit Wi-Fi in the wings. Now that the 802.11n standard is set for rapid adoption (it will be final in November), the IEEE is starting work on gigabit Wi-Fi. The average everyday worker probably doesn't need that much bandwidth yet for checking e-mail or creating documents via a wireless laptop, but consider the possibilities. Imagine Joe Worker downloading a high-quality, corporate training video from the comfort of the company cafeteria: With gigabit Wi-Fi, expected in 2011 or 2012, it can be done.
As IT changes, so will the workday of the everyday employee. With virtual desktops, social networks, fast applications and high-bandwidth wireless networks at their fingertips, workers will be able to work smarter, faster and more efficiently whenever they want and wherever they are. Done right, these game-changing technologies should serve to add to worker flexibility while bolstering the corporate bottom line.
Cummings (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer in the US.