Bradner's column: Fading glitz in Las Vegas

There were some significant changes at the NetWorld+ Interop 99 show in Las Vegas this year, and I'm not even talking about the changes to the show, which have already been discussed in Network World. Technologies in vogue have taken another spin, with virtual private networks (VPN), IP telephony and quality of service (QoS) winding up on top and ATM, among others, fading from view.

A full tour of the show floor made it clear the sign painters knew how to spell VPN. But it was also clear that the vendors do not all spell VPN the same way. There was a significant dichotomy between those vendors talking about firewall-to-firewall VPNs and those that said a VPN is the encrypted tunnel between a telecommuter or road warrior and the home office.

Sometimes it took a bit of discussion before I could determine which belief set a particular vendor espoused. In retrospect, I expect my confusion was generally due to a knowledge deficit on the part of the individuals occupying the booths and wearing the company T-shirts. Once upon a time, one would find the technically clueful product designers or implementers in the booths at Interop. But those days are long gone -- one is far more likely to find roulette wheels or acappella groups singing the praises of products they only recently learned to pronounce.

In any case, there seem to be a lot of vendors that think they are going to make some money on VPNs. About 80 companies were listed under the VPN category in the show guide.

IP telephony did not do quite as well, with roughly 60 companies listed under Internet telephony and about 50 under computer telephony integration. Just over 50 companies fell into the QoS category.

To put these numbers into perspective, about 100 companies were listed under Internet access and 114 under bridges/routers/gateways. But if one measured by hype level on the show floor, the traditional Internet hardware and access vendors didn't stand a chance. The discrepancy between the attention that the newly-hyped technologies got and what the traditional Internet iron was afforded was bigger than I can remember since ATM's heyday.

Speaking of ATM, this technology was the invisible visitor in Las Vegas this year. I could hardly find any vendors touting their ATM prowess even though nearly 40 companies mentioned ATM in their descriptions in the show guide, which did not even have an ATM product category. I do not see all this as an indication that ATM is fading into the Nevada sunset. (Which was quite nice, even though it was hard to see because of the slightly overdone casino lighting.) ATM seems to have moved to being drab infrastructure, and that just might be a good thing for fans of the technology.

Disclaimer: Harvard is often an invisible visitor in power circles, but the above is my own opinion of the sunset.

Scott Bradner is a consultant with Harvard University's University Information Systems. He can be reached at sob@harvard.edu.

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