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Well produced confusion

Far be it for me to plug another publication, but the March issue of Business Communications Review is quite impressive. At the same time it is a bit depressing. The issue covers many useful and interesting topics with only one or two clinkers.

The juxtaposition of John McQuillan's column Deconstructing ATM with Jim Mollenaur's article on New Prospects for ATM Flow Control typify the issue. In his column John dances around the conclusion but can't quite say that ATM to the desktop is a future, like helicopters in everyone's backyard, (a favorite prediction during the 50's) that never was to be. The column comes close to being an obituary for ATM. It does predict a new ATM will rise from the wreckage. It will consist of the "best parts of ATM" and of other network technologies. Coming from a person who was once one of ATM's strongest supporters this column is something of a watershed.

In the same issue Jim Mollenaur seems oblivious to the questionable future for end-to-end ATM and touts a version of credit-based flow control for ATM. Credit-based flow control was the "other guy" that was voted down in the ATM Forum a while back, but in Jim's article it has risen again from standards process purgatory.

A question that I've had for a while concerns VLANs. In his article Switching: In search of the Hassle-Free Network , Tom Nolle writes as if everyone is using VLANs. I do not mean "VLANs" as a way to split up a big Ethernet switch into subnets, but VLANs that decouple the physical and logical topologies of networks. Just as they used to when talking about ATM, many pundits are now talking as if there will be an inevitable ubiquitous use of VLANs. Over the last year or so, during the Network World Fast-Lan seminars I've been doing and during the Strategic Networks NetSwitch seminar series, I've been asking audiences about their use of VLANs. I don't ask about future plans since they can change quickly when reality overcomes the glow of the marketing demos, but instead ask about current use and actual equipment orders. Even though many vendors are pushing VLANs very hard I find few people are buying. I'd be interested in hearing if the readers are actually using VLANs or are they yet another pundit-driven alternate world technology.

The issue also contains a good article by Fred Baker on Lies, Damned Lies and RSVP which attempts (successfully) to impose a bit of rationality in the over hyped-area of network quality-of-service, including both ATM & RSVP QoS. Bringing expectations into line with reality in this area is not an easy task since so many people with little understanding of QoS technology, the authentication, authorization, and accounting issues involved, or of the "interesting" challenges involved with scaling the QoS technologies to deal with the Internet have been painting a rather rosy picture of a QoS filled future.

All in all, the issue well represents the confusion that confronts anyone trying to figure out which way they should be heading network-wise.

disclaimer: Harvard does not sell confusion, just multiple views on the same topic - these are mine.