Editorial: The New Network

I have a friend I'll call him Dan because that's his name, Dan -- Dan LaHart. Many atime I've phoned Dan; his wife we'll call Pam (because that's her name) would tell me thathe was "on the computer, I'll get him." Thinking he was working on homefinances, analyzing data or even telecommuting, I would say, "Don't bother him."

Then one evening, I stopped by unannounced and Pam said, "Go ahead downstairs,he's -- On the Computer." As I walked down, ready to apologize for disturbing he whowas hard at work, I heard "Blip blip, zap, boom," ... Expletive. I nowunderstood Dan wasn't working, he was playing, well, actually, he was saving the universefrom some alien space hoard, via his PC.

I have another friend; I'll call her Eleanor, because she'd kill me if I used her realname. After getting the kids off to school, Eleanor goes to work as a part-time writer,editor and translator without ever leaving her home. She simply "logs-on," getsher assignments, and begins the process of writing, editing, circulating the text forapproval amongst various executives or agencies. She then submits her invoice and receivesa check a week later.

To me, a computer, more accurately, the "connected" computer is a tool forwork -- ranging from glorified typewriter to instant news bureau, but still a tool. But,for Dan, it is an escape from work. And for Eleanor, it is her work.

The "Internet," that once abstract notion which only connected home PCs tochat rooms, started it all. Then, the in-vogue intranet exploited the technology toconnect the fragmented factions of your corporation; followed by the even vogueierextranets, which allowed the outside world access to your company. Finally, the virtualprivate network, which I guess brings us a little of everything, now offered by the"Web," with a dash of security.

The process probably began in the late 1980s, when businesses first made availablemainframe/SNA network applications and databases to their TCP/IP-based client/servernetworks. With TCP/IP networks, corporation's reduced costs and gave more, but stilllimited users access to mainframe-resident data. So, as today's mainframe evolves from astatic information repository surrounded by 3270 terminals to a dynamic applicationsserver on an "open" network, the Internet has become all things to all people,with the content being unfastened from the infrastructure.

But the fusion of the Internet with the mighty mainframe database has allowed anincreasing number of nonchalant users to gain access to, and even manipulate informationand its resources that only a year ago were never dreamed available.

The latest stage of the mainframe evolution is based on exploiting the Web's capacityfor e-commerce. IDC says business-to-business Internet commerce is expected to grow fromabout seven billion dollars in 1997, to almost 34 billion dollars in 2002. Much of thisnew electronic commerce activity requires access to legacy servers, since this is where,depending on who you talk to, anywhere from 65 percent to 80 percent of today's businessdata continues to reside.

This phenomenon changes not only the profile of the "typical" user and howthat user gets the information that he or she needs; but more importantly, theresponsibility and duty of the corporate IS manager. The widespread adoption of networkingtechnologies allows today's businesses to deliver content to users anywhere, anytime, andin any number of different ways.

But, managers can no longer count on security and ease of manageability as a given,even with the Biggest of Iron. As the enterprise keeps getting extended further outthrough front office business technologies like e-commerce and supply chain management, itcreates a logistical nightmare for managing, securing and controlling the network, ascompany data will now be accessible from beyond the organization's internal firewalls.Will you be prepared?