What's New Now

Soon enterprise users will work from anywhere

In the coming year, the big technology developments will center on letting workers tap their agencies' enterprise applications from nearly anywhere.

Until now, government workers have been pretty much confined to sitting in front of their desktop clients. Increasingly, however, wireless and portable devices can bring along those desktop PC applications almost anywhere.

Handheld computers have been part of enterprise computing for a couple of years, although slow performance and high prices have held up wide federal adoption. This year, those barriers will fall.

The 400-MHz Dell Axim X5 illustrates why. It weighs less than a pound and costs about $300, and its Pocket PC operating system can run versions of Microsoft Word and Excel on a small color screen. Like the Hewlett-Packard Compaq i910, the Axim can synchronize with a desktop PC. Then the user is free to work elsewhere.

More than a dozen hardware vendors now sell fully functional, 3-pound tablet PCs with handwriting recognition capability. Any enterprise application for a desktop PC should work fine on a tablet.

For office-quality wireless networking, vendors are designing dual-band PC Cards and wireless access points with better range and reliability. But many users will learn the hard way how unsecure current wireless networks can be.

This year, expect to see products for the IEEE 802.11g wireless networking standard, which will have the advantages of 802.11a and 802.11b but fewer of their security drawbacks. The greatest strength will be extending current wired networks at a fraction of the cost of new cabling.

E-government leads

A recent report on wireless and mobile technologies sponsored by the IBM Endowment for the Business of Government said e-government initiatives and public-safety interoperability will be primary drivers of wireless use. The report predicted large increases in wireless e-learning, extended wireless WANs, service portals and, at a simpler level, mobile messaging.

Intrusion detection systems continue to make gains as feds seek to secure their enterprises. But round-the-clock monitoring generates overwhelming floods of data. Vendors such as Internet Security Systems Inc. of Atlanta, NetVision Inc. of Orem, Utah, NetForensics Inc. of Edison, N.J., and NFR Security Inc. of Rockville, Md., have moved into remote intrusion detection services for enterprises.

In the wake of the anthrax scare in 2001, new tools are integrating disparate government health data for early warning of bioterror attacks.

State, local and federal agencies will share geospatial data for emergency response with applications from vendors such as ESRI of Redlands, Calif., or Autodesk Inc. of San Rafael, Calif., and middleware from companies such as iWay Software, a unit of Information Builders Inc. of New York.

Biometric security will benefit this year from better hardware design and a clearer separation from software development.

A year ago, most biometric hardware makers produced their own software. Too many of the early biometric devices had good form factors but faulty software, or vice versa, because of the distinct skill sets required.

Vendors such as Iridian Technologies Inc. of Moorestown, N.J., have begun concentrating solely on software development. Iridian partnered with Panasonic Vision Systems Products to gain enterprise hardware for iris recognition.

Conversely, Precise Biometrics of Vienna, Va., ceased writing the software that governs its silicon-chip fingerprint scanners and partnered with SafLink Corp. of Bellevue, Wash., and other software vendors.

Segregating software and hardware expertise has also improved ergonomics. Anyone who's ever stepped in front of an iris scanner knows that it can take a lot of awkward moving around before the camera finds exactly the right spot to scan the retina. Companies such as EyeTicket Corp. of McLean, Va., have begun placing a mirror behind the sensor to eliminate the guesswork of placement.

More bang for the buck will be the motto in enterprise networking, as administrators look for ways to extend the life, range and functionality of equipment.

Web-enabling applications can leverage an existing infrastructure and boost worker productivity. Vendor-supplied seat management services conserve both IT and human resources and postpone upgrades.

More administrators will turn to intelligent routing devices to optimize dumb bandwidth. Working at the link layer and making the most of what's available, intelligent routers choose a route by user-defined criteria.

Agencies' increasing use of redundant Internet connections not only lends resiliency but also makes it easier to route traffic based on billing structures and usage patterns.

Look for grid computing to network multiple complex systems to solve a single large problem. It's like cluster computing, except that the systems might be in different cities, states or even countries. The National Science Foundation has funded the 40-Gbps TeraGrid, which connects high-performance systems at the Energy Department's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and several academic supercomputing centers.

Intel Corp.'s high-performance computing efforts rely on InfiniBand interconnection technology. Gartner Dataquest of San Jose, Calif., has predicted Intel 32-bit servers will outsell RISC servers this year. But it's anyone's guess whether Intel's 64-bit Itanium 2 server processor will gain market share.

Need for speed

The long-delayed Itanium 3 chip, code-named Madison, is due later this year. Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., show no signs of slowing down in their race to ever-faster processors. IBM Corp., which makes its own 64-bit processors for some high-end systems, is nearly finished designing a chip with record-small 0.09-micron manufacturing technology, and the ultra-small circuits may go into production later this year.

And expect power conservation to become a more important issue for data centers than Moore's Law'the 40-year-old axiom that microprocessor capability doubles every 18 months. As rising energy prices push the cost of running a processor on par with the price of the processor itself, agencies with server farms will find they must conserve power and heat dissipation expenses.

Servers themselves are getting thinner as well as more powerful. Vendors continue improving their rackmount, pizza-box-size units, 1U or 1.75 inches high, which accept slide-in server blades for ever higher server densities.

Learn XML

On the software side, a rush to e-government Web services, fueled by the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Enterprise Architecture Program Management Office, will force agencies to learn and use Extensible Markup Language, Simple Object Access Protocol, Web Services Description Language and other specifications. And vendors will release new or upgraded collaboration and development tools to help manage large Web services projects.

Meanwhile, XML integration into common applications will open the way to wider searchability, interoperability and reusability of content.

Enterprise storage vendors, like their microprocessor counterparts, continue to boost media density for greater capacity and shorter seek times. Sony Corp., for example, has brought out the first tape cartridge that can hold 1T, compressed.

Small form-factor desktop PCs will present a slim alternative to conventional clients. For example, the 400-MHz Dell OptiPlex SX260 weighs only 7.8 pounds'almost notebook size.

Gateway Inc.'s new desktop systems are larger than the SX260 but 35 percent smaller than their predecessors. Hewlett-Packard's 11-pound Compaq Evo D500 has a chassis little more than a foot square with integrated wireless connectivity.

And smart cards have hit their stride for secure entry into physical and network areas. The Transportation Security Administration is testing a smart-card prototype for background checks of employees at seaports, airports and railways. TSA is considering a similar, but voluntary, smart-card system for frequent travelers.

And next May, the Defense Department will finish its multiyear rollout to all personnel of Common Access smart identification cards for physical and network access.

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