Cover V07, I03


Editor's Forum

Once synonymous with modem-based serial communications, connectivity has taken on a new dimension in our Internet-driven world. Although modems still play a significant role in our connectivity infrastructure, the tendrils of connectivity as a service now reach almost every layer of our system architectures. For example, where once our users were forced to start a communications application, such as Procomm or uucp, to initiate a connection to a remote resource, connectivity services can now be embedded in documents by means of HTML links to URLs halfway around the world. As such, the administration of connectivity can no longer be thought of in terms of a separate, clearly defined module in our system architectures. Today, connectivity is everywhere, and it has become a mission-critical strategic resource in most cases. The completion of tasks at all levels of organizational hierarchies comes to a grinding halt now if the administration of connectivity services falters. Everything is connected.

What has not changed, however, is the role of standards in connectivity services. Although non-standard elements in our systems could be tolerated for special purposes, and still can be, broader-use connectivity elements must still conform to industry-wide standards if they are to gain wide adoption within the marketplace. Just as the adoption of 2400bps modems faltered in the mid-1980s because of the lack of adherence to a common standard, the realization of the benefits of 56Kbps modems has been delayed for similar reasons. The makers of 56Kbps modems should have taken a hint from DVD manufacturers, and gone back into standards-committee meeting rooms to hammer out a single standard before foisting their products on the marketplace. The difference was that DVD was viewed to have consumer-level implications, and the consumer market made it clear that another Beta vs. VHS battle would not be tolerated on dealer's shelves. Score one for the consumer market and zero for the computer industry.

We can, however, view the Internet as the computer industry's role model for standards. As people and businesses around the globe warmed to using the Internet, IP-address depletion probably received more attention than the ozone layer. The IETF was quick to recognize the problem, but also had enough grey hair to realize that the fix had to be done right. IPv6 will be slower in its roll-out than a single DVD standard, but it also has more far-reaching implications. As such, we are more tolerant of the time being taken in testing sample implementations. While early adopters of consumer-level DVD products can accept generational differences between products, network administrators know that IPv6 touches too many components in their architectures to allow false starts. Once the IPv6 roll-out begins, global Internet communications will rely on unimpeded progress, and too much in the world now relies on the Internet to allow it to falter. Everything is connected.

Consider, for example, what would have happened if we had locked the standards folks from U.S. Robotics (now part of 3Com) and Rockwell in a room until they agreed on a single 56K standard. While reaching such an agreement might have taken a few extra weeks, the result could have been broadly implemented with confidence that everything would still interoperate. Consider, too, what we could have done with the 2 years worth of savings on our communications bills. We could have hired Kenny G for the Christmas party, or saved a few more trees in the rain forest. Kenny does need air, after all, to blow that saxophone. Everything is connected. We just need to realize how much so.

Sincerely yours,
Ralph Barker