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Enterprise Network

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Note: Many topics at this site are reduced versions of the text in "The Encyclopedia of Networking and Telecommunications." Search results will not be as extensive as a search of the book's CD-ROM.

During the 1980s, organizations began to install local area networks to connect computers in departments and workgroups. Department-level managers usually made decisions about what type of computers and networks they wanted to install.

Eventually, organizations saw benefits in building enterprise networks that would let people throughout the organization exchange e-mail and work together using collaborative software. An enterprise network would connect all the isolated departmental or workgroup networks into an intracompany network, with the potential for allowing all computer users in a company to access any data or computing resource. It would provide interoperability among autonomous and heterogeneous systems and have the eventual goal of reducing the number of communication protocols in use. Toward this goal, industry organizations were formed to create open standards, and vendors developed their own strategies.

An enterprise network is both local and wide area in scope. It integrates all the systems within an organization, whether they are Windows computers, Apple Macintoshes, UNIX workstations, minicomputers, or mainframes.

An enterprise network can be thought of as a "plug-and-play" platform for connecting many different computing devices. In this platform scenario, no user or group is an island. All systems can potentially communicate with all other systems while maintaining reasonable performance, security, and reliability.

This has largely been achieved with Internet protocols and Web technologies that provide better results at lower cost and fewer configuration problems than the enterprise computing models. TCP/IP is a unifying internetwork protocol that lets organizations tie together workgroup and division LANs, and connect with the Internet. Web protocols (HTTP, HTML, and XML) unify user interfaces, applications, and data, letting organizations build intranets (internal internets). A Web browser is like a universal client, and Web servers can provide data to any of those clients. Web servers are distributed throughout the enterprise, following distributed computing models. Multitiered architectures are used, in which a Web client accesses a Web server and a Web server accesses back-end data sources, such as mainframes and server farms. See "Multitiered Architectures" for more detail.

Trends in Enterprise Networking

At one point, there was a trend toward building networks with stripped-down diskless clients and huge servers. This NC (Network Computer) strategy, championed by Oracle, never took off because full-function desktop and portable PCs became very cheap. But the number of handheld devices, smart phones, network appliances, and other devices that connect to networks, either directly or wirelessly, is increasing. See "Bluetooth," "Embedded Systems," "Mobile Computing," "Network Appliances," and "Thin Clients."

An interesting 3Com paper called "Massively Distributed Systems," by Dan Nessett, discusses the growth of distributed computer networks to billions of nodes, many of which will be embedded systems. While these embedded systems will handle some computing and communication tasks on their own, many will need to off-load heavy computations to more capable systems. The paper discusses the potential architecture of distributed systems that include such embedded system devices. The paper is listed on the related entries page. Also see "Distributed Computer Networks."

New wireless Ethernet LAN protocols (IEEE 802.11a) support data rates over 50 Mbits/sec. See "Ethernet" and "Wireless LANs."

As interest in Voice Over IP (VOIP) increases, the need for higher-capacity networks, QoS, bandwidth management, and policy management will increase. See "QoS (Quality of Service)" and "Voice over IP (VoIP)" for more details.

Another trend reduces the need for enterprise networks. If users can connect to the Internet with high-speed pipes (DSL, cable-or wireless), then the Internet-or at least a local service provider-can become the enterprise network. This becomes a reality when the bandwidth constraints of local access are lifted. An enterprise may provide connections to its application servers via the Internet, so that users go out on the Internet and then back in to the enterprise Web site. Alternatively, an enterprise may have an ASP (application service provider) host its applications. As more users become mobile and use wireless devices, a traditional enterprise network becomes a platform that ties them to the locations where they can connect to that network.

An excellent paper by Bill St. Arnaud discusses this trend. See "The End of the Enterprise Network" on the related entries page.

Copyright (c) 2001 Tom Sheldon and Big Sur Multimedia.
All rights reserved under Pan American and International copyright conventions.