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Slow But Steady Growth For 2004

If the IT world got a fortune cookie for 2004, it would likely read: "Be not afraid of growing slowly; be only afraid of standing still." The time of budget-slashing and staff-cutting and re-engineering is finally, finally over, and an economic rebound is in the air. But after the boom-and-crash cycle at the turn of the millennium, you can't blame IT managers for being wary, and taking their time moving forward. InformationWeek's "IT Confidence Index" hit a two-year high recently, with 82 percent of business-tech managers forecasting revenue growth in 2004, and almost half projecting higher IT budgets.

Technology always has its whiz-bang advances, but the enterprise realm tends to take a more conservative approach than living on the bleeding edge. The year 2004 will be no different, with incremental change being the norm: faster Wi-Fi, with stronger security; getting more bang from old bucks with grid computing; better protection from viruses and spam; maturing, robust Web-services standards; and growing faith in voice over IP (VoIP). Call it slow growth, measured growth, smart growth"just don't call it irrational exuberance.

Mobile & Wireless

The wireless arena has already been red-hot, and improved security should give Wi-Fi even more inroads into the enterprise. A recent study by Infonetics showed that enterprise WLAN equipment sales had surpassed consumer-side sales. The new 802.11i security standard for wireless LANs"due to be ratified by the IEEE next summer"could push even more shops to consider wireless. Plus, the 802.11e standard could lead to voice over WLANs, if the quality-of-service issues can be worked out.

While Cisco and its Linksys division have been a winning combination in business-strength WLANs, other companies, such as 3Com and Netgear, have made noises about stepping up competition"which could lead to lower prices and more choices. Ultra-wideband and wireless mesh networks still won't be ready for prime time in 2004, though the latter might benefit from standards due out next year.

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