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10/21/2009
04:18 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Should Your Enterprise Network Be An Internet Hot Spot?

Thursday's Windows 7 consumer launch finds me wondering about a seemingly radical idea suggested by a chief technology officer. Namely, enterprises should open up their networks, effectively turning them, as far as users are concerned, into Internet hot spots. The emergence of both cloud computing and Windows 7 could push this forward, though one will be able to argue that this is simply conventional networks in hot-spot clothing.

Thursday's Windows 7 consumer launch finds me wondering about a seemingly radical idea suggested by a chief technology officer. Namely, enterprises should open up their networks, effectively turning them, as far as users are concerned, into Internet hot spots. The emergence of both cloud computing and Windows 7 could push this forward, though one will be able to argue that this is simply conventional networks in hot-spot clothing.So let's first summarize the effect of are those two driving trends. Cloud computing is most significant not just because it can cut costs, though obviously in today's economy, that's a big deal. However, its game-changing impact will be because it is a competitive leveler.

Namely, thanks to cloud, SMBs are going to have the same cheap access, to the very same apps and resources, as the big guys. You might argue that those big guys will be able to outgun the just-come-to-the-cloud SMB newbies, by redeploying their humungous-enterprise assets as a hybrid mix of private and public clouds. OK, I'll grant you that one, though there's an aspect of GM versus Toyota, circa 1968, to this sort of come-back.

Let's jump over to my Windows 7 points. (Hey, if I were planning to carry through a lengthy, coherent argument, this'd be a column instead.) Windows 7 will change how users perceive the experience of logging onto the corporate network. Heck, it will change the very act of logging onto one's enterprise.

As I recounted in Does Windows 7 Make VPNs Obsolete?, Microsoft's new operating system makes it unnecessary for users to launch virtual-private-network clients and proactively log on.

Instead, the discovery and authentication takes place automatically in the background, anytime (and anywhere) a user connects to the Internet. So, experientially, the average user will now perceive the internet and their corporate network as pretty much one and the same thing.

Taking this idea to its logical conclusion -- the enterprise net as hot spot -- was the idea that jelled in my recent interview with HP ProCurve chief technology officer Paul Congdon. (See Wolfe's Den Interview: HP ProCurve Chief Technology Officer Paul Congdon.)

We were talking about how cloud computing changes the traditional focus on architecting one's network. Enterprises instead focus on how to bring the cloud into their enterprise architecture, and then in turn on how to formulate their internal cloud (cause once you're using an external cloud, you tend to want to be able to divvy things up into a hybrid, external/private model).

So I asked Paul whether he was saying that enterprise IT organizations will become the internal cloud provider to their users.

His reply:

"Yes, exactly. I believe that's a trend that IT organizations will begin to adopt. We get these questions a lot when I talk to customers: Should I just make my network open just like it's an Internet? Should I run a VPN all the time, everywhere so that my workers don't have to do anything differently? So that when they come to the office, it's as if they're connecting to a hot spot.

There is a chance that the internal LAN itself begins to look like a public Internet. You secure access to resources, but you allows guests to come onto the network.

There are a number of benefits to doing this. It simplifies the end-station management. It might increase the amount of VPN type technologies or security technologies that you want to put in your enterprise LAN, but it could reduce the actual, individual management of people using the LAN."

Now, like I said at the outside, there' s a little bit of thought-experiment sleigh-of-hand here. Namely, if you're authenticating your users, you're authenticating your users. Also, most corporate networks have guest LAN connections for those not authorized to ride the main network. So when you talk about "access," you have to define your terms, otherwise you're grossly oversimplifying things.

Nevertheless, I think there's something to this idea of the enterprise network as Internet hot spot. Plus, I like the sound of it.

What's your take? Let me know, by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me directly at alex@alexwolfe.net.

Follow me on Twitter: (@awolfe58)

Alex Wolfe is editor-in-chief of InformationWeek.com.

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