netcurmudgeon (netcurmudgeon) wrote,

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And the petunias thought "oh no, not again."

For me, the most disconcerting thing about this business is the phenomena where I think that I know a subject pretty thoroughly, and then the ground shifts under my feet. I am one of the people who make IT policy in the City. When one of these shifts happen I get this sickening Wiley Coyote feeling -- here I am holding my draft wireless policy, having just had an eye-opening conversation with Rick (a long-time industry colleague), and looking down at the empty space below me thinking "I was standing on top of a mesa just a minute ago".

I've been working full time in IT for over eleven years. When I started, the high end servers I was working on were 486DX/50s, most were shipping out with four 1GB disk drives. The big machines had 1.9GB drives -- and they were huge! Literally -- these Seagate 1.9s were 5 1/4" full-height monsters which ran at a leisurely 3600 RPM and weighed almost twenty pounds apiece. In contrast, on Wednesday I was doing a quick scavenge of on a pile of PC carcasses before the electronics recycling man showed up. I spotted some 2.1GB 3.5" 1" high 5400 RPM IDE drives (which weigh about 14 ounces) and passed them all up: too small. The current "monster" disk drive is a 250GB 3.5" 1" tall 15,000RPM drive. It's still the slowest thing in the system, but that's a topic for another day.

The long and short of it is that I'm used to change. In '93 the servers I worked on had two or three NICs: Ethernet, Token-Ring, and AppleTalk. They used the IPX and LocalTalk protocols. Today Ethernet is king, and TCP/IP has rendered the other protocols obsolete. (Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of legacy networks running older protocols. Especially in banking where you'll find hairy old beasts like STUN and BiSynch. But even there you usually wind up using a tunneling protocol like DLSW to encapsulate the legacy traffic and carry it over your TCP/IP network.) In the five years I've been in the City we went from a network with Ethernet and Token Ring connected PCs running IPX and TCP/IP, to an all Ethernet network. TCP/IP is the protocol. The core network is still ATM (using LAN Emulation to carry Ethernet traffic from place to place), but even that is scheduled to come out and be replaced with high-speed Ethernet switches if our Federal funding comes through.

The dislocation I feel when I'm blind-sided by technological change is probably more intense than it should be. There are a couple of factors that work to make it that way. First, I'm perfectionist; I care a lot about getting it right. Second, I appear to have generated a cult of technical infallibility. Much as I may disclaim it, there are people in the organization who think that I am always correct. I hate giving bad advice and I hate disappointing them -- much as I try to deflate this myth. The dangerous thing is that people that know more than me in a specific subject area may not bring things up because they assume that I already know about them. If that un-brought up thing is a new development that can lead me to making bad policy decisions.

So, I now have a bunch of reading and research to do to see where the WiFi Alliance's WPA is, and where the IEEE 802.11i sub-committee is in terms of releasing a standard. Either of these could shore up wireless security to the point where making users use a VPN to get into the core network is redundant. Thankfully Rick is never deterred by what he thinks anyone knows, and brings up whatever is on his mind. The vendor I met with last week to talk wireless technology didn't, even though they support WPA and will support IEEE 802.11i when it comes out. More to learn, more to change.

BTW, I don't have time now, but I'm planning on nailing up a glossary somewhere to cover the forrest of acronyms.

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