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Sun 30 Mar 2003 04:00 AM

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Network neighbourhood

Respondents to Network Middle East’s online survey reveal their indifference to vendor certifications, Gigabit Ethernet and wireless local area networks.

Networking|~||~||~|Network Middle East decided to carry out its first ever online survey at ITP.net to determine the people and purchasing trends of the region’s enterprises and individuals. In the first part of the survey results we discover how enterprises are utilising networks and what factors govern their vendor choices. Furthermore, the survey’s 263 respondents reveal their differing attitudes towards training and emerging technologies, such as Gigabit Ethernet and wireless local area networks (WLANs).Demographics
Unsurprisingly, the majority of respondents (96%) were male. This is a trend that is replicated in the networking sector as a whole, says Jean-Louis Previdi, senior vice president & service director, global networking strategies, Meta Group. He explains that within the IT sector, women are more frequently attracted to sectors such as customer relationship management (CRM) and infrastructure design. “Less than 10% of the networking field are women, and there has not been any improvement [on that figure] during the last three years and there probably won’t be in the next two or three years,” comments Previdi.Regionally, however, there are signs that more women are entering the networking space, with local training houses registering a slowly increasing number of female students for courses.“We see the number of female professionals rising. We have noticed a higher number of female students in countries like Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait,” says Josef Miskulnig, managing director, Fast Lane.The continually evolving nature of the IT and networking sectors has also led to a preference for younger professionals. The NME survey discovered that 81% of respondents were aged between 20-40 years, and Previdi explains that enterprises prefer to use younger staff that are more familiar with the latest products and technologies.“Because the technology is changing so fast once people have been in the industry for more than 15 years they are out of date and too tired to be retrained,” he comments. “Every 18-24 months there is a big break in technology… It is better for the industry to take the new people coming out schools who are already trained on new technology than retraining older staff,” Previdi adds.Networking implementations
When it comes to the network procurement decisions of a company, 55% of respondents claim to be directly involved in the decision-making processes of their company. However, vendor preferences were inconclusive. Cisco is largely regarded as the leading network vendor and although 27% of respondents cited Cisco as their vendor choice for active network components, 50% of replies were in the ‘other’ category. However, Previdi argues that despite this fact, regional respondents are clearly in line with worldwide trends, as both Cisco and 3Com (18%) generated fairly strong responses.“Cisco is the de facto brand in the industry. It is the dominant player in this industry because it has the right channel, good marketing and good products. I would expect 3Com to be part of the picture also,” he says.Over half of respondents (53%) work for companies with a 100-plus employees, which can translate to a reasonable size network. However, only 12% of voters cited product scalability as their key criterion in the selection of a network vendor. Product functionality (33%) and local support (27%) were the overriding factors in procurement decisions. Although these may seem obvious and sensible criteria for decision-making processes, Meta’s Previdi’s believes enterprises should pay closer attention to the financial stability of vendors before investing in their products.“I would put the financial stability and financial profitability [of a vendor] first. It doesn’t matter if the product is good, if the vendor disappears from the market. My first criterion is financial stability, local support would be second and then performance,” he comments. With vendor and procurement decisions in place, the actual use of a network proved somewhat of an anomaly in terms of the survey figures. A surprising 40% of participants claimed to be running data, voice and video over their network, a figure that is almost two or three times higher than other regional statistics. Although a large number of the region’s hotels and learning institutions are running all three of these services in their network environments, the figure is still unexpectedly high.“That’s a huge number [40%], and it is definitely not what we have seen in the rest of the world. Mostly we have seen people using the network for data. They may have some multiplexing for voice in one or two places in the world, but very few people are using the network for video since this is very bandwidth intensive and very sensitive to quality,” says Previdi.||**||Training trends|~||~||~|Future plans
The network convergence claims of respondents also seem increasingly tentative given the fact that only 19% of voters have a Gigabit Ethernet network. The bandwidth demands of running voice, video and data on one network would necessitate a fair amount of bandwidth. Consequently, one would expect the number of Gigabit Ethernet networks to be higher. Instead, 59% of respondents have no plans to move to Gigabit.“59% of people saying they don’t want to migrate to Gigabit Ethernet is consistent with the rest of the world… We have seen more investment in traffic prioritisation, traffic aggregation and compression than in new technology,” states Previdi.Survey respondents also seemed indifferent towards wireless networking. 11% of participants already have a wireless local area network (WLAN), while a further 33% expect to have installed one within the next year. However, 56% have no plans to implement a WLAN at all. Previdi says this figure is slightly higher than other regions’, citing Europe’s 40% as a little closer to the worldwide average. However, the fact that security (32%) proved the top concern for voters may explain some of the indifference towards WLANs. Enterprises may be holding off on plans to deploy wireless networks until stronger security protocols have been defined. Local security companies also raise questions over the fact that only 32% of respondents cite security as their key criterion.“Security with wireless networks needs to be the most significant concern by a long way. It would be interesting to know what 22% of people put in second place [in the other category] to security, other than price or functionality,” says Dean Bell, managing director, Scanit Middle East. However, Daniel Nufer, managing director of ComGuard, says that security priorities may be overlooked as enterprises focus on the increased employee mobility wireless networks can provide.“Security has to be a consideration when implementing a WLAN, but it’s understandable that some companies have other priorities when developing a wireless network. The ability to liberate your employees to operate outside the workplace is a real advantage, for example. However, it’s essential that companies don’t sacrifice system integrity for convenience,” he cautions.Training
As we have already mentioned, enterprises demonstrate a preference for young, recently schooled engineers, which in turn should provide a high number of certified professionals. However, 60% of respondents claim to have no network vendor certifications. While this may seem an alarmingly high number, analysts and training companies are unsurprised by the figure, saying that these certifications reflect very little in terms of practical hands on experience.“A certification shows that a candidate has passed a test, which reflects mainly his theoretical knowledge. Engineers still get a lot, if not more experience by working on the actual installation, in other words hands on experience,” says Miskulnig.“A [vendor] certification doesn’t say much about the expertise that a person has and the responsibility that they have had, or how big the network was,” confirms Previdi.Additionally, both Miskulnig and Previdi say there is a reluctance among employers to send staff on training courses to refresh or update their skills. Consequently, many staff are self-training in a bid to polish up their skills. “However, there is a slight problem with this,” comments Miskulnig. “Employers do not like engineers to practice their skills on live equipment and as a result training in a lab environment or training centre is required to gain the necessary skills,” he adds.This devaluation of network certifications seems to be upheld by respondents’ attitudes towards refresher courses, as over 50% of participants revealed that they do not embark upon any network training courses during the course of a year. While this may seem somewhat worrying, as most enterprises upgrade their networks at minimum every two or three years, it is not critical. Additionally, enterprises favour employing younger and cheaper staff as opposed to retraining existing employees.

“Companies are hiring new guys because it costs them less. They don’t have to train them and they are up to speed in terms of technology,” explains Previdi.

Although the figures may highlight the unimportance of vendor certifications, this does not mean respondents are untrained. Most will have a degree in their chosen field, while a closer analysis of the figures revealed that IT managers and networking professionals value training and certifications quite highly. A breakdown of the figures revealed that 81% of IT managers have some form of certification — either a degree or vendor certification, while 76% of networking engineers or administrators are qualified professionals. Furthermore, 82% of IT managers participate in refreshers over the space of a year, while 76% of networking professionals partake in such courses.||**||

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