The simple life

This month, NME has been looking at deploying networks in remote, hostile locations - including Iraq. But even if they don’t have to deal with issues of power, or water, or air conditioning, network managers could benefit from a quick consideration of the basics.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  September 3, 2006

|~||~||~|It’s very easy to get locked into an ivory tower as a technology journalist – we spend most of our days speaking to end users, vendors, integrators and consultants, all safely ensconced in offices or, on occasion, the better sort of hotels. This stable, calm and above all safe environment tends to breed a certain amount of complacency; we take for granted the presence of power, water, heat (or air conditioning, at the moment) and light. So when we talk about critical or fundamental issues, or catastrophic failures, we are usually referring to something like server downtime, or packet collision. Occasionally, though, something serves to jolt you into the real world. The Lebanon conflict has been one such event this summer – a bitterly harsh reminder of how decades of patient work can be undone in a few short weeks, and where the last thing on people’s minds is packet collision. For me, this month’s closest reality check was an interview with Mohammed Omed Ali, who talks about his experience setting up wireless networks in Iraq. Many of the more technical, IT-centric questions I had remained unasked, simply because we spent more time discussing the basic problem of how to get electricity to the network, or how to get the government to allow you to operate. Ali’s most fundamental problem, he revealed, was that skilled people in Iraq leave as soon as they are able to do so, partly for better money, but mainly for security. He also provided a reminder of why regulation of radio devices exists, describing the problems unrestricted access to the airwaves can create. While these problems are decidedly uncommon for many areas in the region (with the possible exception of Wi-Fi pollution), network and IT managers are starting to recognise the importance of some of the truly fundamental considerations of operating a business. Much has been said in the past about the growing importance of power consumption, especially in the data centre. And, judging by the surprise hit Sun has had with its T1000 and T2000 servers – a main selling point of which is their power-per-Watt efficiency – these comments are starting to bear fruit. Now, this editorial is not meant to preach the virtues of energy efficiency – important as it is – nor to suggest network managers pause to recognise the good fortune which means they don’t have to buy petrol for their generator from a man on the street – good as it also is. But looking again at the basics can reap rewards for enterprises. Ali’s company in Iraq has used new technology, or adaptations of existing technology, to work around some of the problems it has faced. These techniques, which may not have come about without an attempt to work in an adverse situation, can now be used elsewhere in the world. At the same time, working at things from an advanced starting point can yield something like the wireless device drivers which a pair of hackers have exploited to gain control of a machine – a system burdened by complexity, which ends up being self-defeating. Middle Eastern enterprises are almost certainly not about to turn around and announce the development of some fantastic new transmission method for wireless data, or a new way to save on cooling costs for servers. But if they can spruce up their network operations, or save a few dirhams, then that wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. Eliot Beer – Deputy Editor, NME||**||

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