Communications /Networking: Overview

Jan. 6, 2003
The New Mantra For Communications: Network Everything

Everything is a network. Think about it. We deal with networks of many types on a daily basis. Our electronic networks are the telephone system, cable TV, and of course, the Internet. This is not to mention the many WANs, MANs, LANs, and PANs—both wired and wireless—that interconnect over 90% of the world's computers. Storage networks keep getting bigger and more sophisticated. We can only imagine the size, complexity, and function of military networks. And the trend continues. For example, home networks are not just for interconnecting two or more PCs to the Internet or a printer. They're also being adopted for consumer entertainment and home monitoring and control. More multiple networks find their way into automobiles as manufacturers infuse more electronics. Manufacturing companies are networking the machine tools, robots, and other automated systems on the factory floor. Multiple sensors are being networked to communicate their outputs to data-acquisition systems. And we are only just beginning to see the effects of networking equipment and systems together via the Internet. The basic question is: What has not been networked?

Enclosed are special reports on trends and predictions in the wireless local-area network/personal-area network (LAN/PAN), cell-phone, and optical networking fields. But first, here are some of the major networking trends and products coming your way this year.

ETHERNET: Networking today seemingly defaults to Ethernet. Most LANs are Ethernet, and they're getting faster as companies upgrade to 1-Gbit/s Ethernet with twisted pair to the desktop. The 1- and 10-Gbit fiber Ethernet products, now used as LAN backbones, are finding their way into storage-area networks (SANs) and some metropolitan-area networks (MANs). Previously unexpected growth is coming from the wide adoption of Ethernet in manufacturing and process control. Even the new blade server manufacturers are adopting 1-Gbit Ethernet for high-speed interconnects in server farms. Look for 10-Gbit/s-over-copper standards to emerge.

SANS: SANs are emerging as the solution to an exponentially increasing amount of information. Fibre Channel (FC) networks handle the access of remote storage in most systems. A newer technology, dubbed iSCSI or the Internet Small Systems Computer Interface but better known as I-scuzzy, is showing real promise of speeding access while lowering costs. The iSCSI protocol makes it possible to transmit the data using transmission-control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) and Ethernet at a lower price.

VOICE OVER INTERNET PROTOCOL (VOIP): The technology of digitizing your voice, packetizing it, and transporting it over the Internet has been available for years. Large companies and individuals have found it hard, even scary, to give up traditional telephone service. The technology is simply waiting for acceptance from the marketplace and the right business model to make it profitable.

SECURITY: Proliferating virtual private networks (VPNs) and e-commerce transactions make it more important than ever to protect our sensitive data. Today, both chips and boards that provide IP security (IPsec) protocol protection for VPNs and Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) protocol for e-commerce transactions make it easy and inexpensive to secure almost any line speed.

BROADBAND: Despite all of the hullabaloo about high-speed Internet access, it's only in 10% to 12% of U.S. homes. Cable TV leads digital subscriber line (DSL) by a wide margin—roughly two-thirds to one-third—and that lead is expected to increase unless the major carriers really get hot and start rolling out affordable DSL. Right now the whole broadband market seems to be stalled in the U.S., as both cable companies and telecom carriers keep high-speed access prices at lofty levels during this tough economic period. Many cable TV companies are switching over to an all-digital format, giving them greater capacity and positioning them for options like movies on demand (MOD) and VoIP.

Communications and networking have spoiled us all. We expect to see everything connected to everything else at blinding speeds and wireless if possible.

About the Author

Louis E. Frenzel

Click here to find more of Lou's articles on Electronic Design. 

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