Plug In, Log On and Break Out of the Mold

FRAMINGHAM (05/02/2000) - While the 1960s brought us the "tune in, turn on and drop out" mentality, the 2000's telecom version is "plug in, log on and break out" of the old ways of doing things. Everything is being reinvented today.

This is never as evident as in the all-in-one Internet gateway products that allow businesses to use a single streamlined product to connect multiple computers to a bundle of services.

In many ways, it is just more of the same technological trend that has characterized the past decade of telecom equipment: shrink, scrunch and cram everything into smaller, cheaper and easier-to-maintain boxes.

Think back to the birth of the boombox and how it revolutionized the purchase of a stereo system. You've got your receiver, your tape player, your CD player and speakers already packaged in one plug-and-play device. No multitude of wires and electronic know-how was needed to connect the components.

The new spin on this compatibility technique has been incarnated into products that not only give customers a Web server, e-mail server and file sharing capabilities, but also enable high levels of security to combat hackers.

This all-in-one, plug-and-play way of life is also cost-effective. Instead of purchasing multiple products at separate, higher prices, a business connects to one device for all its computers on its LAN and spends less time struggling over compatibility and configuration issues. This package deal also means fewer staffers are required to maintain the business Internet connection and security.

These boxes are worth consideration because of the simplicity they bring to the biggest choke point in your network today: that access link. A number of vendors are targeting this market in interesting ways, including Cobalt Networks Inc., Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp.

/WhistleJet and NetWolves Corp.

Although the offerings are growing rapidly in the market of all-in-one gateways, businesses need to be wary of products that might not offer the breadth of functionality you get in the stand-alone devices. Don't settle for less just because you can get similar levels of functionality in one device.

Take security, for example. Cobalt offers the Cobalt Qube, an Internet server with many capabilities in a stylish blue casing. But the Qube doesn't utilize a three-tier firewall (packet filtering, stateful observation and network address translation) that you get with NetWolves' FoxBox. There's not enough space to do a full comparison of the boxes here, but significant differences exist.

While you will hear a fear-of-God argument from some salespeople and analysts that you are putting all your eggs in one basket by going with an all-in-one gateway, we argue that you combat that with redundancy and reliability in the box itself, not by having multiple devices. You could say that the PBX holds the same level of control over the voice world, but you don't see people chucking their PBXs because of it.

We like this all-in-one gateway approach.

Briere is CEO and Heckart is president of TeleChoice Inc., a market strategy consultancy for the telecommunications industry. They can be reached at wanmonitor@telechoice.com.

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