The Networks Show is the industry?s largest mainstream exhibition. Last year, it attracted some 28,500 visitors to 500 exhibitors at the NEC in Birmingham. This year?s show, to be held from 24-26 June, is bracing itself for 30,000 visitors.
To cater for the growing demand for information on intranets this year, Networks will include an Intranet Solution Pavilion where, among other attractions, visitors can hear the self-proclaimed voice of the intranet/extranet future, Netscape.
Netscape will be hoping to cement its Web browser leadership in the face of stiffening opposition from Microsoft?s Explorer. Netscape believes the browser will be the one working interface for all users, a belief at odds with rival Microsoft?s strategy.
Unofficially, Netscape will use the exhibition to try and convince potential customers that Netscape products are truly open and do not tie into an expensive application upgrade path.
Officially, the company will be quick to point out that Networks 97 is about exhibiting its existing software line.
The show will provide a suitable platform for Sam Sethi, Netscape?s product communications manager. Undoubtedly, Sethi will lead attacks on Microsoft but he is also a convincing voice on the intranet/extranet future. He may also be worth collaring for a bit of strategic advice.
In the absence of Microsoft, Netscape will use all the available attention to talk about two forthcoming products ? Apollo, its netstation servers and the collaborative Web-filtering product, Compass. Netscape will be running a hands-on Developers? Day programme alongside the show, to be hosted by Thierry Tabard, the company?s director of developer relations.
The Developers? Day costs #199 which covers all sessions.
The Intranet Solutions Pavilion will also host 3Com, Elonex, FTP Software and Opentext partnering Harley-West Training in its intranet education and test drive sessions.
While Netscape grasps the future, Compaq clings to the past, or at least an upgrading and tweaking of the past. By claiming that the PC network is set to maintain its dominance of the market, Compaq will try to claw back lost ground from thin clientists on the cost of ownership issue by putting the emphasis on network management. ?The desktop PC and Lans have become the basic building blocks of UK corporate networks,? says Helen Twelvetree, Compaq?s enterprise product manager, ?but many firms have failed to evolve their management tools and disciplines to cope with the additional support overhead.?
Of course, Compaq has a point. With so many PC-based networks installed there will be an understandable reluctance to ditch existing investments in PCs, but this alone is not a sufficient argument against the Network Computer, and Compaq knows it.
The cost of ownership theme is one that will run deep among the hardware vendors at the show, and Compaq is no exception. Its push into the network market over the past year has been substantial and the company will use the show to demonstrate its new range of servers, clustering with Windows NT and fibre channel-based storage products.
Compaq?s main focus however, will be the Network Management Challenge. Running on a specially designed and constructed test drive, visitors will be able to participate in short demonstrations running throughout the show.
Here, visitors will play the role of the network administrator, managing a simulated corporate Lan, based on the latest Compaq Deskpro 2000 PCs and Proliant and Prosignia servers and connected via the company?s Netelligent internetworking products. Alerts will be created on the network and users will have to try and use network management facilities to deal with inventory and asset management on the Lan.
?At Networks 97 we will show how these systems can be efficiently managed and controlled to deliver the right information to the right people at the right time,? says Twelvetree. ?We will also show how this can be done at the lowest total cost of ownership.?
The growing list of NC makers may have something to say about that, but there are few available at the show to propose suitable arguments. Intel however, will be there with its NetPC specifications and arguments that this is the ultimate cost-of-ownership device.
?What customers are really interested in is having vendors to help them understand the cost of ownership. Throwing more technology at them to solve the problem is one thing, but they also want to be able to value the cost of ownership,? says Hugh Jenkins, Compaq?s enterprise group manager. ?The real issue is that customers want to measure the return on investment.?
IBM and the PC/NC debate
IBM has its feet in both camps. A massive PC maker, it is also supporting the NC and will be showing the benefits ? both technical and economic ? of implementing the two machines on a network. Lotus will also have a presence on the IBM stand, although the main Lotus showing will be at IT Expo, which runs alongside Networks 97.
According to Lotus? UK marketing and communications manager Jim Moffat, email and the intranet are major issues. Although Notes is naturally a major part of Lotus? offering, the company will be showing how it intends to integrate its products into intranets and, in particular, IBM?s own Net products.
IBM and Lotus announced plans for a software roadmap under the Network Computing Framework for Business banner at Intranet Expo 97 and they intend to continue the theme at Networks 97. The two promise to remove any proprietary ties between clients and servers while positioning themselves in direct competition against Netscape?s Communicator and Networked Enterprise strategy.
Lotus Notes already gives IBM a sound footing in Groupware and a user base with which it can work with the new products, but the company has denied that its roadmap signalled an effective end of the road for Notes.
A family of Web application servers, an entry-level server code-named Lotus Go, a developer bundle code-named Lotus Go Pro and an Internet application and messaging server called Lotus Domino, the Connectors and Enhancers and e-business developer tools were all part of the IBM/Lotus intranet announcement at Intranet Expo 97 and they will be on show at Networks.
Networks 97 will also feature a Voice and Data Integration Village comprising 28 networked PCs to showcase unified messaging and helpdesk solutions, and to bring together Mitel, Madge, Starlight Networks and Utopia. ?IT managers must prepare to meet user expectations for high-speed desktop access to a range of real-time multimedia applications,? says Huw Jones, Mitel?s product manager.
The village intends to demonstrate how bandwidth-hungry applications such as browsers and messaging can be integrated on a network by voice and data technology convergence.
The extent of this convergence is perhaps evident in the number of telecoms companies that have taken space at the show, including Orange, Cellnet, Dialogic and First Choice CTI, and will support the theme of converging and integrating voice and data technology which runs through the show.
Uunet Pipex, Cisco and Elonex will be trying to focus visitors? attention on Internet commerce at the specially constructed Internet Commerce test drive in Hall 12. The industry focus has been on Net commerce for some months now so visitors will be hoping to see real solutions and not just listening to more talk. Peter Rouski, Uunet?s product group manager is well aware of the attention and the fact that NOP Research predicts that #1 billion worth of online transactions will take place during 1997.
?Internet commerce is much more than shopping,? he says. ?It is also about making secure and auditable transactions, which can include any business process, from logistics management within an organisation through to external sales and finance functions.? Rouski and the other companies involved are hoping, not just to talk up trust in on-line transactions but to demonstrate security at the test drive.
There will also be a first showing for Citrix. Best known for its Winframe product and the fact that Microsoft has now struck a licensing deal to integrate it with NT, Citrix should be assured of a lot of interest. Its product seems to have caught the imagination of a wide range of users, particularly because it can help protect investment in old PCs.
Of course, no Networks Show would be complete without Networks TV. This year, the show?s live business and technology channel will feature topical issues, such as the year 2000, as well as covering the latest news and live debates on technology and commercial issues. There will be interviews and competitions and it will be hosted by Business Computer World?s sister titles, Network News and Network Solutions. Fronting the channel and with his finger on the pulse of what?s newsworthy in networking will be our very own editor-cum-anchorman, Marc Brenner.
After attending for the past eight years, Novell has pulled out. Companies like Netscape, Compaq and Dell have enough crowd-pulling ability, but in a market where quality of visitor is everything and quantity is just an annoying queue for the bar, the organisers are hoping that corporate decision makers will not be holding off, waiting for Networld and Interop.
As the market is currently splitting between the two events ? at least until they find it difficult to justify two outings from the office to try and solve the same problem ? then there will have to be a choice, and that choice will almost certainly depend on where the big names are. If Novell?s decision is the start of a trend, then Networks organisers Miller Freeman will have its work cut out next year.
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