TAN: Coming soon to a home near you

Are you ready to support a TAN? No, I’m not talking about skin pigment changes that some people get during the summer or from a tanning salon. I’m talking about a "tiny-area network."

The year of the TAN could be coming sooner than you think -- don’t be surprised to see one in your home and in the homes of your fellow corporate colleagues.

Why? Because our increasingly computer-literate workforce is learning that "work" is an activity, not a location. More than half of American families have computers at home, and many have more than one. Also, companies are discovering the cost benefits of sending employees home to telecommute for at least part of the workweek. It saves time and energy, and frequently, people can get more work done in the quite of home rather than the hustle of the office.

Multiple PCs per home are becoming more common. After all, can Dad expect to boot Junior off the PC in the middle of a research project just to finish a status report? What if another family member wants to catch up on the latest chat or current events? At home, people are finding it as difficult to share PCs as they do TVs.

* More computers, more connections

So far, most folks have tolerated using home-based PCs in stand-alone mode, but I don’t think that’s going to last much longer. The need for a network continues to grow as people get more sophisticated in their use of PCs and as PCs gain greater functionality.

And as high-speed Internet access, delivered through DSL, cable or satellite, begins to change more people’s lives, people soon will want every computing device in their home to share that broadband connection. Families will be challenged, just like offices, to efficiently manage and maintain software, hardware, printers and other peripherals.

What does this mean for network managers? Plenty. It means that staffers should be prepared for users’ questions about home networking.

I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that your phone has already started ringing with an executive asking, "Say, I’ve got this PC at home, and I’ve been reading about some videoconferencing technology that could hook me to the office from home. I’d like to know more about it. Plus, err…maybe I’d should hook up the kids’ computer to mine. Oh, and don’t let me forget about the 3Com Audrey Internet appliance we’ve got in the kitchen. And I’m thinking about getting a Microsoft Xbox when they come out. Can it be integrated, too? What do you think? Why don’t we have lunch?"

And it doesn’t end there. A week later that executive will be asking about wireless. So if your network crew hasn’t found out about the wonders of 802.11b, it’s time they should. Get a Lucent Orinoco starter kit and try it in the test lab. You might be surprised to see how easy it is to get wired without wires. The same goes for trying out notebook computers that come with 802.11b already installed, such as IBM’s ThinkPad i Series.

Your network staffers should be prepared to take these calls. If they are not, then look for IT to lose another opportunity to provide technology leadership and consulting to the corporate constituency.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that you launch a full-fledged, multimillion--dollar project to hook up everyone’s homes. But I do recommend finding a way to help.

A couple of planning sessions is all that is needed to come up with a strategy. You could offer suggestions about the technology available for home networks. Nontechnical people undoubtedly will get confused when they hear all the options for cabling, network operating systems, firewalls and related paraphernalia. If IT can offer a little guidance, I think it will go a long way.

In fact, the IT team doesn’t have to do all the work. They can contract these services through local resellers or service organizations. Many would cheerfully put together a program in hopes of getting a little extra business.

My suggestion? Gather a few answers about home networks, even if nobody has asked. Make sure your network staff has a basic understanding of how to hook up homes, even if they haven’t learned all the nuances.

You could score a few extra points with your colleagues by being on top of this next technology wave.

This story, "TAN: Coming soon to a home near you " was originally published by Network World.

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