Networking and connectivity - what's the big deal?

Paul Boughton

Christos Papakyriacou discusses the evolution of networking and connectivity.

The buzz about networking and connectivity over the past few years has been incredible. New technologies are constantly coming onto the market, making it possible to connect almost any electronic device to another.

Recent research from Forrester has estimated that by 2008, from under two billion devices networked now, there will be a growth to over fourteen billion networked devices and less than five per cent of that amount will be computers.

The initial wave of networking came during the 1980s, when the first LANs were created, connecting computers and printers together. In the 1990s the popularity of the internet started to become apparent, facilitating a huge leap forward in networking capabilities allowing different devices to communicate with each other.

Today, some of the most unlikely devices are being given networking capabilities, from drinks machines in the canteen to utility meters in some of the most remote parts of the world. One of the key benefits of networking is the valuable information it can provide the user. Never before have organisations been able to interrogate such essential information from their assets, wherever they are located. The explosion in connectivity now allows devices positioned thousands of miles away to be managed as efficiently as the printer in the Managing Director's office.

Due to the huge market demand to network products manufacturers of components have designed and developed cost effective devices that will enable OEM's to take the difficulty and pain out of networking their assets - adding real value to their product range. For example Lantronix, Inc. based in the USA, have developed the worlds smallest device server. The Xport is a ‘plug and play’ serial to Ethernet device server dedicated to transforming existing serial communications products into a networked IP addressable product.

To give an existing product the power of connectivity isn't as simple as soldering a component into a printed circuit board. A great deal of time and effort is required to re-design, prototype and test new products before they reach the market. Alpha Micro Components recognise that many organisations wish to incorporate networking functionality within their products, but lack the design resources and knowledge to be able to do so. Alpha Micro Components have produced a range of solutions which give organisations the ability to network and enable their products.

We give organisations the ability to test the water and allow them to discover the benefits of networking with a standalone wireless or Ethernet modem which can be attached to any system with a serial port. Then during the next product re-design, we can provide a board level solution or the embedded components to integrate connectivity into customer's products.

Most products need some form of connectivity between a host controller and the physical product itself, traditionally, this has been in the form of a serial interface, however, advances in technology have removed the need for a one-to-one connection; replacing it with a connection into the physical network. Networks give users access to central storage facilities allowing them to collaborate and share information and access other shared devices such as printer and scanners.

With increasingly simple implementation and many of the early problems posed by wireless technology ironed out, engineers are less fearful of the issues involved and fully understand the additional benefits this technology can bring. Component manufacturers are also making it much easier for designers to implement the technology into the design of their products.

Networking is bringing untold benefits to design engineers and businesses. Wireless technology is removing many of the physical obstacles associated with managing assets in remote locations. Now from one central location, a user can monitor and control multiple devices at the same time, no matter where they are located. For many wireless solutions, such as XPort which contains an integrated web server, devices can be interrogated from any desktop web browser. This allows engineers to monitor products in the field if and when problems arise, as well as monitoring ongoing performance giving far greater control over devices than even traditional networking can achieve.”

Christos Papakyriacou is Managing Director, Alpha Micro Components. For more information, visit www.alphamicro.net

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