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In 1949, George Orwell published his masterpiece novel 1984. Even if they haven't read it, most people remember the book's key takeaway: Big Brother is watching.
Fast forward to 2008 and Big Brother really is watching. The vehicle that makes Big Brother's omniscience possible is the network.
Let's take a look at how the networking world of 2008 will become all-knowing and all-seeing -- a silicon- and fiber-based Big Brother, if you will.
A theme I heard time and again from vendors big and small during 2007 was that the network was getting "smarter." More intelligence is being embedded into the network layer than ever before, with 2008 now poised to be a watershed year for the smart network.
Today, networks at a basic level are no longer "dumb" pipes that transport information. The networks of 2008 will build on recent and coming innovations to become application- and user-aware -- they'll know who you are and what you are allowed to do (or what you're prohibited from doing).
Intelligence in 2008 will arrive in the form of more Ethernet standards that provide increasing amounts of information about data types. Intelligence will also come in the form of smarter quality-of-service (QoS) and bandwidth-management offerings that intelligently provision the right bandwidth at the right QoS for users and their applications.
The smarter network of 2008 will rely strongly on Network Access Control (NAC). While NAC has been a buzzword for several years, NAC will go mainstream in the coming year thanks to Microsoft.
A key component of Microsoft Windows Server 2008 is what it terms Network Access Protection, or NAP. The cornerstone of the technology is pre-admission control: A NAP server will first validate the health of an endpoint (a user or machine, for instance) before allowing admission to the network.
Microsoft's Windows XP Service Pack 3, as well as Windows Vista, are both ready to serve as NAP endpoints. Due to Windows's massive installed base, Microsoft's NAP will be something that enterprises can activate out of the box to begin to secure their networks.
The power of access control for the smart network of 2008 cannot be understated. If hundreds of millions of Windows users are using NAP, it may end up being the single most important security innovation since the invention of the firewall.
Imagine: a world where insecure endpoints aren't granted access to do their dirty deeds. What a wonderful world it would be.
The smart network of 2008 isn't just more secure, it also knows who you are and what you need access to. While directories such as Microsoft's ActiveDirectory have been used for identity for years, they're not enough. The 2008 network will have identity built into the framework of the network itself.
The big push for network identity in 2008 will come from Cisco, with its TrustSec initiative. Instead of a user needing to enter multiple passwords for each and every application they need to visit, a TrustSec-powered network essentially will know who they are, what their business function is and where they're allowed to go.
From a Big Brother-auditing point of view, TrustSec, and its various competitive implementations from vendors other than Cisco, also will offer a full audit trail of a user's activities at both a network level and the application level.
By embedding identity into the network layer, the network will have better understanding and control over what users are doing.
Next page: Networks will become faster and more pervasive.
With greater intelligence in the network, efficiency is likely to improve, though it still won't be enough for the bandwidth-intensive demands that networks will face in 2008.
The New Year could well be a breakout year for 10-gigabit Ethernet, or GbE, which so far has lagged in adoption. With costs falling for 10 GbE equipment, coupled with rising bandwidth demands, 10 GbE will likely be on the list of many IT admins' requisition forms.
While enterprises and datacenters start full adoption of 10 GbE, standards bodies such as the IEEE will be hard at work finalizing even faster speeds.
At some point in 2008, the 100 GbE standard is likely to be published as a draft, providing a ten-fold increase in Ethernet connection speeds. The 100 GbE standard will also include specifications for a 40 GbE standard, which will likely set the stage for a final showdown between SONET (define) and Ethernet.
The fastest connection possible in 2007 is the venerable 0C-768 at 40 gigabits per second. Once 40 GbE and 100 GbE come into play, it may well only be a matter of time before OC-768 loses share to the Ethernet upstarts.
IPv6: Everything gets an address
Orwell's Big Brother was all-knowing because he was everywhere. The networks of today aren't quite there yet, but with IPv6, they get much closer.
The current version of the Internet Protocol (version four, or IPv4) relies on address space that's near exhaustion. IPv6, with its billions upon billions of possible addresses, will be its successor -- and 2008 will be the year it finally takes off.
Why 2008? Because Uncle Sam says so.
In June, there is a Federal government mandate for the U.S. government's IT to switch to IPv6. It's a move that will spur tens of billions of dollars in capital and software upgrades. It will also force all those business that deal with the government to strongly consider IPv6 as well.
With IPv6's massive address space, anything can have an IP address. When anything -- be it a server, a phone or even just a refrigerator -- has an IP address, the network becomes pervasive.
So who's the power behind "Big Brother"? Who is the face behind the network? Well, for 2007, it was Cisco. In 2008, Cisco is still likely to be the chief mastermind behind the network's growing capabilities, though competitive challenges will continue to emerge.
In the core routing space, Juniper Networks will make still more inroads, chipping away at Cisco's dominance. Juniper's key weakness remains the fact that it doesn't have its own switching portfolio: As a result, it doesn't have the same end-to-end portfolio that Cisco has.
Expect either someone to buy Juniper this year, or Juniper to make its own purchase of a switch vendor to bolster its bid for network dominance.
HP, Nortel, Alcatel-Lucent and others will also ratchet up their competitive offerings -- as well as the marketing hyperbole -- as each takes on Cisco.
The bottom line, though, is that all the vendors are pushing the same goal: faster, more aware and smarter networks.
So remember, Big Brother isn't just a literary fabrication anymore. In 2008, Big Brother is the network.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.