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Computing trends overburden the network

Bottlenecks abound when business asks too much of the network

Don’t call it “client/server.” Today’s database-driven applications are a world apart from the green-screen terminal apps of decades past. And yet, in this age when “the network is the computer,” more and more data processing tasks are handed off to remote resources. Server-based applications, centralized content management, SOA (service-oriented architecture), and SaaS (software as a service) are all part of this trend — and all put increased burden on enterprise network links.

Unfortunately, the network isn’t always up to the task. Last year, top SaaS CRM provider Salesforce.com stumbled with a series of intermittent outages that deprived customers of access to their data. Not being able to read the news on your favorite Web page is one thing; when lack of access translates into lost sales, it’s a serious problem.

Whether you lease them from a SaaS vendor or host them in-house, networked applications share the same basic weakness: The network is a primary point of failure. If your application uses a “fat client,” at least the UI exists locally on your PC. With Web-based apps, on the other hand, every mouse click depends on a reliable connection.

Mobility only exacerbates the problems of the new, network-centric model. Intermittent connectivity means mobile employees’ data is often poorly synchronized with the central datacenter, especially where security is a top concern. And current wireless networks are inherently less reliable than traditional ones, adding to user frustration. Many businesses may simply be asking too much of their networks, too soon.

Still, there’s no turning back. Distributed, network-based applications are simply too useful. To truly succeed with this model, however, calls for significant adjustments. Multiple, redundant network links are just the beginning. Network administrators must become full-fledged participants in application deployment strategy.

Most important of all, however, is education. As enterprise apps increasingly go online, users must recognize that, though their PCs are faster than ever, the day when they can expect fast, consistent access to all their tools and data may still be a long way off.