One for all

Mention technology standards and many information technology experts likely will respond with disinterest if not outright aversion. Too many so-called industry standards have failed to become standards at all, leaving both vendors and customers with little to show for their work.

But standards matter greatly, whether they are produced by a handful of engineers, are created in a public process driven by consensus or stem from the market dominance of one or more big companies.

By ensuring some level of product compatibility, standards provide vendors with ready-made markets for their wares, lowering the barrier to market

entry and fueling growth. Standards also allow vendors to focus on developing features that provide the greatest benefits for customers, instead of wasting resources to duplicate basic, common functions.

Ultimately, if fully adopted, standards have the potential to increase buyers' product choices — because standards give them the ability to mix and match technology from different vendors. These days, when the need for interoperability among systems and among agencies is greater than ever, standards could play a vital role.

Internet Protocol, of course, is the classic example of a successful standard. In this special report, Federal Computer Week examines three emerging networking standards that are compatible with or derived from IP and could have an impact on agency systems: 802.11b wireless local-area networking; Session Initiation Protocol for Internet telephony; and SCSI over IP for storage-area networks.

The emergence of those standards does not mean that all forms of traffic will inevitably flow over a single IP network, because some applications have particular performance

requirements and might need specialized networks. But

that doesn't diminish the benefits of using a common

architecture.

The more government IT managers recognize this and support it by insisting on standards-based products from vendors whenever possible, the better off agencies will be in the long run.

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