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Learning to go with the flow

The modern office has many more requirements for voice and data traffic than ever before. And it is up to network managers to keep it all running smoothly. At Networld+ Interop last week, manufacturers, suppliers and users got together to exchange ideas on the best solutions. Sophia Chauchard-Stuart reports.

NetWorld + Interop is primarily for those people who run round your company looking anxious, telling you to get out of the mail program because the server's fallen over. In other words, IT managers - the backbone of any modern business.

To address this increasingly important role NetWorld + Interop has two functions: first, to let all at the conference, held last week at London's Olympia, make some blue-sky predictions about new approaches to IT, such as the rise of Internet technology for corporate use, and, second, to look at new products that might stop that mail server falling over in the future.

In her keynote speech, Kim Polese, president and chief executive of Marimba, made another big push for "push" technology, saying the Internet was "a platform for the delivery of services for the future". Polese indicated how network managers could use push within company intranets to manage applications. Using the example of home banking, Polese illustrated how regular investment rates updates could be pushed to the desktop, keeping the information up to the minute. Using push, Polese claimed, "we can provide a level of service that hasn't been possible before."

Polese's company is on a high. An investment last month of $14.5m from Compaq, PeopleSoft and Lehman Brothers Holding, among others, means Marimba is gaining the market's confidence. And deals with Netscape (to provide Marimba's push technology software for Netcaster) and a complementary agreement with software distribution tools company Tivoli make Marimba even more attractive for corporate network chiefs.

Push and added value services was also the theme of another keynote speech, by Ken Orford, Cable & Wireless manager of global data services. Orford sympathised with the difficult task facing today's network managers. "The modern network manager needs to fulfil large-scale communication requirements," he said. "Users' expectations are going up, budgets are not."

Orford saw the future of network management as using "more and better tools", including more intelligent software for rapid response networks.

Orford also discussed the latest conundrum for network managers - voice over Internet Protocol. He predicted that by the year 2000, 4 per cent of voice traffic worldwide will be carried using IP, which, with its flat- rate pricing structure (rather by time and distance as with conventional telephony) will result in huge savings. "The first thing they say is the quality is horrible," he said, "but it will get better." Many network managers are looking to use voice over IP via intranets for internal use but waiting for the quality to improve before using it commercially.

Another technology that Orford predicts will take off in networks this year is accessTV, from Canadian company Televitesse. You program in keyword requests into the client end and the software becomes a dedicated digital personal assistant. "The server monitors television broadcasts," Orford explained. "Anytime Oftel, BT, WorldCom and CWC get mentioned, or there's news on how well United is doing, it will start to record a clip 20 seconds before and two minutes after and store it away on the hard disk. You can turn around from your desk, select and watch the clips."

It can also be programmed to interrupt the user for live feeds and can be used across a LAN or WAN to package and distribute information such as business bulletins that incorporate broadcast material. But, laughed Orford, "everyone knows that video is guaranteed to bring your network to its knees."

The usefulness of sending video over networks was illustrated at NetWorld + Interop in the first live Webcast from a UK exhibition. I didn't hear Kim Polese's speech in person, but, using the Webcast, I logged on to the NetWorld + Interop site while sitting in the exhibition hall. Streaming video provided her keynote speech together with text notes. Highlights from the show were comprehensively archived into a very useful tool. The Webcast completely summed up the show, illustrating how networks will evolve into ever more sophisticated operations in the very near future.

This is the last year that NetWorld + Interop will stand alone as a trade show. In 1998, Comdex, Expo Comm and NetWorld + Interop "co-locate" to deliver a broadband IT, networking and telecoms show.