Since Robert Metcalfe invented Ethernet in the mid-1970s, the technology has grown to become the dominant choice for connecting networks in all types of businesses and organizations, including SMBs. Over the years, VARs have sold Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, and now 10-Gigabit Ethernet as the technology has improved in speed and capacity and expanded its features. Today, Ethernet is truly everywhere.
Of course, the Ethernet market has become crowded, with both large global vendors and smaller providers competing for business. Some VARs may wonder how much opportunity still exists in this market as Ethernet switches become more of a commodity and prices continue to drop (you can now buy a 5-port Gigabit Ethernet switch at Best Buy for about $35).
However, Ethernet is expanding beyond its traditional locations—the corporate data center and the wiring closet—and into new, nontraditional areas. The technology is moving outside the office to the factory floor, the power substation, the water treatment plant, and into toll booths. This is enabling a new generation of “connected devices” and making our factories, utilities, and highways more intelligent, efficient, and environmentally friendly. The technology will also help lower costs!
But traditional Ethernet switches cannot function outside of climate-controlled data centers, so a new breed of Ethernet—industrial Ethernet—has been developed specifically for harsh environments. Industrial-grade Ethernet switches can withstand extreme temperatures, dust, vibration, and other elements that commercial-grade switches simply cannot handle.
And, as new initiatives like the Smart Grid create more opportunities for industrial networking, the potential use of the technology exists in a variety of other industries and rugged environments—manufacturing, transportation, water treatment, remote video monitoring, and others. According to ARC Advisory Group, the industrial Ethernet market is growing 30 percent per year and is projected to top $1 billion by 2011.
VARs that are looking to stand out from competitors in the crowded Ethernet market can do so by having a specific expertise in industrial Ethernet networking products and focusing on markets and customers that use this technology.
Another way to stand out from the crowd and find additional opportunities is in industrial and outdoor scenarios where structured cabling does not exist. In some cases, physical limitations prevent cabling from being run, or installing cabling is simply too expensive. When this happens, industrial wireless solutions can bring connectivity to remote locations and harsh environments with fast, easy installation and the ability to move with devices as customer needs change.
With the continually expanding coverage of 3G cellular networks, and the declining costs of 3G service (due to increased competition among carriers), 3G data connectivity can be a fast, cost-effective way to provide connectivity in machine-to-machine (M2M) or outdoor environments. Today’s 3G cellular routers and modems are compact, offer full routing features (if needed), and can be installed on-site remotely without the need to send IT staff out to every location. This “plug-and-play” capability can be very attractive to customers.
So, if you’re seeking new opportunities and a way to stand out from competitors, take a look at industrial networking—wired and wireless—and see if it could complement your existing services and make sense for your business.
HILTON NICHOLSON is CEO and president of Sixnet (www.sixnet.com), an industrial networking provider based in Ballston Lake, N.Y.