Lucent Technologies states directory-enabled networking will let administrators govern passwords, network privileges and perhaps even time limits for Internet access from a single console.
Network directory services vary in complexity. Novell's Directory Service (NDS) is a hierarchical system with object-oriented capabilities. This means that information about personnel and resources on the network can be stored in a way that reflects the company structure.
Microsoft's Active Directory service, due to ship with Windows 2000, will be more sophisticated than the existing NT 4 model and will let administrators structure resources more flexibly. The service will support the next version of Exchange, which is being touted as a killer application, driving directory-enabled networking into the mainstream.
Storage area networks (Sans)
In the past, accessing storage has presented a challenge when a number of clients have wanted to access a storage device attached to a single server. Storage area networks (Sans) promise to change all that.
They work by making storage devices independent of any single server. These storage devices are then placed in a network of their own, connected over very high bandwidth links. Although many use 100Mbps Fast Ethernet for this purpose, San vendors are migrating to fibre channel, at 1Gbps.
The San is connected to the corporate network at strategic points, and file servers seamlessly access data on any of the storage devices, which means data can be shifted around dynamically. This makes capacity planning much easier.
However, Sans are still in their infancy, and vendors need to develop more sophisticated management software to control this complex environment.
Policy-based networking is a means of controlling a network's activities to support the way individuals and departments work.
It involves the installation of devices on the network that monitor IP packets from different sources, to determine how they will be prioritised.
Thus, a senior manager may be granted faster access to an application than a junior member of staff, or the accounts department can be given higher priority at the end of the financial year.
Policy-based networking is usually conducted at layer four; if operated at level three, the network layer, it can be used simply to give higher priority to certain IP addresses over the network. This technology is already freely available although, like directory-enabled networking, it has not been universally accepted.
As more fibre is laid, the need for all components of the network to be optically enabled is growing.
Dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), a means of transmitting multiple channels over different wavelengths of light, is creating a bottleneck in the switching infrastructure.
Conventional switches can handle only electronic data, so optical data streams must be converted into electronic signals for switching.
As DWDM increases the amount of data coming down the pipe, network providers need switches that can handle the data in its native form. Products already exist from companies such as Ciena, and Lucent is not far behind. Using micro-electro-mechanical systems (Mems), Lucent developed a microscopic optical switch earlier this year.
The UK lags behind other countries in always-on Internet access. Slowly, however, cable and digital subscriber line (DSL) technology will allow residential customers and remote users to replace dial-in access.
Individuals, empowered by always-on access at home and wireless access on the move, pay for a selection of services rather than being billed for network usage.
The company providing services, such as online news, video-conferencing or purchasing, would then pay the infrastructure provider a percentage of the transaction based on network usage.
Free infrastructure services already exist thanks to the rise of companies such as Freeserve, but it will take the widespread adoption of always-on technologies before home workers and residential customers in the UK begin to see the Internet as a utility, like electricity or gas.
Only then will companies be able to integrate the Internet into other products, such as home appliances.
Seamless connectivity between the computer and the devices in its environment has been difficult if not impossible.
Similarly, hooking consumer devices together hasn't been very intuitive. Now Sun Microsystems and Microsoft are working on technologies that will make devices aware of other devices in their environment. Sun's technology, Jini, is based on its Java standard. Microsoft's Universal Plug and Play is Windows-based.
The technologies will enable connections between your mobile phone and a computer-based calendar, so that the phone can find out when it would be inappropriate to ring, or a connection can be made between your digital television and your fridge. For example, when you watch a cookery programme your fridge can check a recipe's ingredients against its own inventory and email your online grocery store automatically to order the goods it doesn't have.
These technologies are in their infancy and there is no firm time line for the UP&P standard.
Current mobile phone systems are not really up to the task of sending large amounts of data. While this is due to the limitations of the GSM standard, the world is upgrading to third generation (3G) mobile standards, which will allow people to send and receive data at higher speeds.
Different countries are adopting different systems; in the US, things are more complicated because of the proliferation of standards.
In Europe, the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) will offer data transfer up to 2Mbps, making web surfing and video-conferencing feasible.
Until UMTS appears in 2002, the International Telecommunications Union is trying to achieve a global standard that incorporates satellite-based telephony alongside radio standards, called IMT-2000.
Even with the fastest cable modems, Internet access can still be slow, due to bandwidth bottlenecks.
In September, members of the Internet 2 project demonstrated high-definition TV at 3Mbps as an example of their ongoing work into a high-speed Internet.
Internet 2 was founded by the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (UCAID) to develop a set of applications that are designed to run over a higher-speed Internet. These applications include digital libraries and the virtual laboratory - a distributed problem-solving environment that enables scientists to share resources across a network.
Internet 2 is supported by Abilene, an advanced backbone network to provide high-speed communications between regional university networks.
Internet 2 complements the next generation internet (NGI) scheme founded by the US Federal Government, which is a project designed to explore new networking technologies and applications.
When quantum computers eventually emerge with blindingly fast calculation speeds, keys will become easier to crack.
However, quantum cryptography has emerged as a means of exchanging security keys by exploiting the properties of subatomic particles. This will make encpcrypton keys uncrackable.
According to an article in New Scientist [2 October] quantum encryption has already been used to send information over a 48km link through fibre-optic cable, making it practical for Wan communications. For an in-depth description of the process, check out: www.newscientist.com/ns/19991002/quantumcon.html
High-speed wireless Lans and Wans
The current level of bandwidth is never enough, and new approaches to wireless high-speed Lans and Wans suggest that the next generation of broadband networks may be accessible without cables.
On the Lan side, the most promising new development is Bluetooth, the high-speed wireless Lan technology designed to work at ranges of up to 10m. It will be used to enable networking software services such as Jini to operate.
Much work is also being done in wireless Wans using radio-based ATM technology. Dr Martin Brown, head of the Cambridge Broadband Trial - a project run by AT&T Laboratories - has hooked up 20 end-users spread across southern Cambridge, using fixed-point radio-based ATM links and radio frequencies obtained under a Government research licence. Base stations use six 25Mbps transceivers arranged to cover a 360-degree area.
"It could be an alternative to cable or fibre," says Brown. "You could imagine installing it quickly. The idea is that the units are cheap enough that they will be viable as antennae for domestic use."
In a few years, radio ATM could be making high-speed connections to the home without the need to lay cable. The system would also be ideal for project- based work where networks must be set up and taken down quickly. The trial is using equipment that is already being sold by Adaptive Broadband in the US, another indicator that people on the other side of the pond are moving much faster than we are.
No one wireless technology will be ubiquitous, according to Andy Mulholland, divisional director for networking at Cap Gemini. Instead, we will switch between different types of networks depending on our location, with service levels varying accordingly.
"We need an advanced form of roaming - a 10Mbps high-speed link in the office, lower speeds in urban areas and even less in the country, and then it will pick up again when you arrive at your house."
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