The Network Monitor Forum '97

By Greg Long, Director of Professional Services

"Telecomputing is not only changing computing, it has the potential to fundamentally change society in much the same way as the printing press." With that, Dr. Philip Burgess, President of The Center for the New West and Special Assistant to the CEO of US West, kicked off The Network Monitor Forum '97. Telecomputing is Dr. Burgess' descriptive phrase for the combination of internetworking and computing. As computers become networked, the distance barriers that affect the way people live, work, and play are being torn down. Without those barriers, people are challenging the status quo and creating new models based on new assumptions. As evidence, Dr. Burgess cited the incredible population growth underway in small mid-western towns. Through a series of interviews and surveys, Dr. Burgess' organization has discovered some startling new trends in the choices people are making. The common thread that runs across these trends is the power of internetworking. Dr. Burgess shared these trends and other observations and predictions with approximately 50 guests as the keynote speaker at The Network Monitor Forum '97, an event hosted by Chesapeake Computer Consultants on October 8 in Annapolis, Maryland.

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Terry Slattery, President

The Forum provided an opportunity for Network Managers from several large businesses and government organizations to listen, discuss, and share lessons learned on a variety of topics like the future of fast protocols, network management, and network security.

Mr. Tom Van Meter started the technical presentations with a comparison of the high capacity data link technologies available to network managers today. Looking at the standards, capabilities and implementation strategies of Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, and ATM, Tom provided a framework to assist network managers in their decision making process. The framework included network types, characteristics of information flow, standards, costs, and adoption factors.

In discussing Network Management, Dr. Pete Welcher discussed the evolution of network management and helped everyone evaluate their own organizations progress toward mature and stable management of their environments. Pete discussed software tools, processes, and expected results. He then covered what's on the horizon in the field of network management. Topics like web-based management, proactive interpretation of captured data, and various partnership structures available were also discussed.

Closing out the technical presentations was Dr. Frank Pittelli discussing Network Security. Frank challenged the traditional notions of security and forced the guests to rethink their positions on how to protect their data and who to defend against. Particularly controversial was the notion of where firewalls should be placed. The conventional wisdom of placing the firewall outside the network to keep attackers "out" may not be the most effective strategy.

Each presentation was followed by a round table discussion to enable the participants to debate the points raised by the speaker, to share experiences with each other, and to solicit advice on how to resolve individual problems. Each table was joined by one of Chesapeake's senior consultants to help answer questions and to provide insights from the field.

Here's a sampling of some of the questions posed and lessons learned:

* Should I install fiber or category 5 UTP to the desktop?
* How does one decide how much bandwidth will be needed in a month, year, etc.?
* Don't forget scalability as an issue. What works in a test bed may not work in a production environment.
* Make sure that the team has a solid understanding of base technologies in use. Also make sure you have strong troubleshooting skills on staff to evaluate subtle symptoms.
* One does not have to select a single choice for user/server backbone technolgies (Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, ATM). But the first three can very easily, efficiently and relatively inexpensively be connected with switches. Use whichever combination best fits the various bandwidth requirements. Upgrades require some new knowledge but it's relatively minor/incremental. ATM is a whole different animal requiring much training and skills development. Switching between LANs and ATM involves LAN emulation, which is complex.

After a full day of presentations and discussions, the participants adjourned to the Annapolis Yacht Club for dinner and more discussions along the Annapolis waterfront. The discussions continued into the next day as many of the participants gathered at Chesapeake's headquarters for informal white board consulting sessions. Topics overheard ranged from more Network Management to specific implementation questions and organization specific troubleshooting to requests for Chesapeake to establish dial in router labs for student practice.

All the participants agreed that The Network Monitor Forum '97 was a tremendous success. They came away with new knowledge, questions answered, and new directions for their organizations. And, most importantly, with new contacts in the industry to call in the future. Chesapeake is already working on The Network Monitor Forum '98. Visit our web site for the latest information at http://www.ccci.com.

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