Internet, Intranet, bandwidth, storage: The mantra is 'more'

Communications people have a herd mentality. Two years ago, at a NetWorld+Interop in
Las Vegas I attended, all the vendors were reciting the ATM mantra.


I remember sharing a bus ride from the hotel to the show with an Israeli visitor. I
popped him the question everyone was asking: What's the silver-bullet application that
will really launch asynchronous transfer mode? He looked at me incredulously. "It's
already here," he said. "The Internet."


I wasn't quite sure I understood him, but since then this mother of all networks has
become the mantra for every trade publication and, naturally, the 1996 edition of
NetWorld+Interop.


The Internet phenomenon probably owes the most to the advent of the World Wide Web. You
may not know a thing about Telnet or File Transfer Protocol, but with a decent Web browser
and a 28.8-kilobit/sec modem, you can spend your entire life without leaving the Web.


Even so, I was surprised to learn recently in GCN how much bandwidth the Web is sucking
up on military networks--one Defense Department site had more than a million hits in a
month. And this may be just the beginning if the pundits' predictions are correct that
soon sales of intranet products will overtake sales of Internet products.


I don't know of a formal definition for an intranet, but as I understand it it's a Web
for publishing information for internal use--a Web server inside the firewall.


The rise of intranets could pose bigger challenges to federal networks than the Web has
done, because the types of information that can be put on closed Web sites are limited
only by our imagination. Instructions now distributed on paper or e-mail about, say, how
to use the new fax machine or voice-mail system could just as easily be posted on an
intranet.


You wouldn't have to wonder what you did with that piece of paper or e-mail message,
because it would be available all the time for everyone. Post employee handbooks, agency
directives and information about vacation time there. Distribute software, too.


In fact, troops in the field using tactical networks would appreciate access to an
intranet for maps of unfamiliar terrain--although they might have serious bandwidth
shortage and possibly a security problem.


If the Internet is choking federal LANs now, the intranet is even worse or, depending
on your viewpoint, a bigger challenge for network managers and budget managers. No two
ways about it: They're going to have to supply more bandwidth all the way to the desktop.


Whether this will come from Switched or Fast Ethernet, ATM, a combination of them or
something else, no one knows.


That raises another issue. Bigger bandwidth means bigger files. As intranets grow,
people will use them for posting more information that previously resided on individual
hard drives or Web servers. So we'll need not just more bandwidth but more storage at
servers.


That should keep network managers busy.


Sam Masud is GCN's senior editor for communications.


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