Right connections

NME looks back on the year to examine how enterprise network technology and deployments have changed and gained in strength.

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By  Sean Robson Published  December 1, 2008

Local area networks are an integral part of an enterprise infrastructure, but a network is only as strong as its weakest link. NME looks back on the year to examine how enterprise networks have changed and gained in strength.

It stands to reason that an enterprise is only as strong as its infrastructure; a critical element of that infrastructure is the local area network (LAN). Comprised of a number of very different yet complementary technologies, LANs have emerged as a very real opportunity to strengthen not only the internal infrastructure, but enhance businesses applications.

Any discussion on LAN technologies needs to begin with an examination of the current state of the broader market and how the region has been taking on and handling new additions.

Global trends also suggest a 5.7% annual revenue growth worldwide. Countries in the Middle East are set to grow at more than double this rate.

"The market in the Middle East region is still on the growth pattern, unlike other regions and markets, which we feel have reached saturation point and are in holding pattern. However, we do feel those markets will eventually stage a comeback and pick up from where they left off," says Asef Baddar, business development manager, Leviton.

Hassan Hamadani, marketing manager Middle East at Nortel is extremely positive regarding the region. "The Middle East and Africa region has the highest growth rates within the consumer telecommunications market and, according to research firm In-Stat, that spend is likely to reach US$2 trillion in global revenues by the year 2012," says Hamadani.

"Global trends also suggest a 5.7% annual revenue growth worldwide over the next five years, while countries in the Middle East are set to grow at more than double this rate," continues Hamadani.

"The growth for Nexans in the IT infrastructure segment in the Middle East this past year has been as positive as in previous years. The state of the market across the region does differ. The traditionally bigger markets of the Gulf countries have remained, while the likes of Libya, Yemen and Syria are seeing faster growth as developments comes online," says Tarek Helmy, regional director, Gulf and Middle East for Nexans Cabling Solutions.

One vendor though does temper his opinion with a note of caution. "I think that in retrospect we will see the global financial crisis being the dominant factor of 2008. That said I do think the market in the Middle East is very good and has not recessed as yet. It is still early days and we will have to wait until next year to see the longer term effects," says Eugene Botes, technical director MEA at R&M.

Gartner's analysts are keeping a close eye on the LAN market in the Middle East and note that on the whole the region is forging ahead of its more established counterparts elsewhere.

"If anything, I would say that LAN technologies are running ahead, in so much as the installations I see being put in place throughout the Middle East are state-of-the-art; probably more of it is new than in any other region. The average deployment of a recently installed LAN in the Middle East is probably better specified than the average LAN installed in Western Europe or North America," says Neil Rickard, research VP at Gartner.

Industry research firm Ovum recently posted its analysis of global service provider switching and routing equipment sales for the last quarter of 2008. Indicative of the economic situation, it showed that while overall sales in the quarter was up by 9% (to US$3.4 billion), it was still down 2% from the preceding quarter.

Looking back

As LAN technologies comprise a diverse range, it is only to be expected that a number of new services and solutions will emerge. This year was no different as vendors continued to innovate in order to claim as much revenue as possible.

"The introduction of wireless LAN has gained a lot of interest in the Middle East, which has been a major development for us at Motorola. Complete wireless offices are becoming a reality with new technology that has been introduced this year. Standard products have already been rolled out and are ready to be delivered to the market," notes Toni Junghaenel, channel account manager at Motorola Enterprise Mobility.

"There have been a few developments from my perspective. There has been increased drive towards unified communications infrastructure. In addition, I have seen a shift towards intelligent network edges, rather than wiring or plumbing, because customers are moving from a cost-sensitive approach to a value-added approach.

They are looking at the value of a product, how the network can be future proofed, how they can protect their investment," says Ninad Desai, product marketing manager at Foundry Networks.

According to Desai, another trend that is becoming more prevalent is a move by users towards a vendor agnostic environment. This is to prevent them from being tied into a single vendor and means that they have the opportunity to purchase the solutions that suit both their budgets and specific business requirements.

Cabling was one of the areas of LAN that witnessed a lot of development in 2008. The introduction of a Cat-6a cabling standard is arguably the most noticeable development in the space.

"The introduction of Cat-6a has undoubtably influenced the market, with many of the higher end customers now looking to install this solution. The Cat-6a market share is growing slowly yet surely, has already taken some of the Cat-5e market share, and has the potential to take much more of that market share by 2009," says Badder.

Botes' perception of the new standard is slightly different. "We saw the cabling standards committee ratifying the standard for Cat-6a cabling systems, but just as a total system. What is still up for debate are the standards surrounding the individual components and, in my opinion, the level of the components are not yet there," says Botes.

The move to reduce energy consumption and the push towards greener technologies, continued to grow in momentum in 2008 with companies, like Nortel, encouraging the adoption of greener technology.

"We found that the push and publicity for green IT has been well received and obvious this past year. Nortel encouraged the adoption of technologies like unified communications and telepresence in order to save energy," Hamadani weighs in.

Some solutions launched in 2008

Leviton - It introduced Zero-RU Vertigo patch panels and 1RU 48 ports, which according to the company, increasing port density by 100%.

Foundry - Rolled out stacking technology for its products. Users are able to buy one switch and can then add more as and when necessary.

Motorola - It launched two new generation RF switches that are able to deploy its newest technologies and claim to be experiencing significant traction.

Nexans - The cabling vendor introduced the LANmark 6a and LANmark 7a solutions, and launched a range of products meant for datacentres.

Nortel - Recently announced its Wavelength Division Multiplexing Passive Optical Networks (WDM PON) to overcome the Ethernet in the first mile bottleneck.

Ortronics - The Mighty Mo 10 rack was introduced. It improves air circulation to optimise heat dissipation and lower electrical consumption.

R&M - Introduced the micro-splitter, a device which plugs into the RJ45 outlet at desk, and splits the four pairs to simultaneously support four telephones.

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