Penny-pinching is not the way to buy network

IT is inevitable new information technologies will appear in vendors' proposals long before anyone really understands them, often including the vendors' staff.

Few of my colleagues would argue that 'Client/ Server', computing appeared on the scene about five years ago, and there have been many costly lessons learned since then.

Unfortunately, the local trait of concerning oneself with initial price rather than ultimate cost, reigns supreme when it comes to the installation of networked systems.

According to one of the few networking specialists in the territory, Bruce Fowler of Pacific Rim Systems, the buyers are becoming more sophisticated in their approach, but it is often after a few costly errors of judgment.

''The fact is that there is much more to installing client-server computing beyond the physical hardware and network,'' Mr Fowler said.

''Unfortunately, in price-conscious Hong Kong, many otherwise astute business people are buying on price alone rather than really investigating whether a given combination of software, hardware and network systems design will, indeed, satisfy their requirements.'' Perhaps one of the reasons for the frequency of this gross error of judgment is that local area networks (LANs) are most often PC-computer based. At least that is what it appears to the user. Present day lay attitudes toward PCs are that they all performsimilarly and that most are compatible.

This is largely true for standalone PCs, but it is far from the truth when it comes to the design and configuration of sophisticated LANs. They are supposed to provide the computing equivalent of the mainframes of a decade ago with far greater access to information on the system and substantially improved user friendliness.

Obviously, network systems designers need special technical skills combined with a real sensitivity to end-user needs and an in-depth knowledge of applications requirements.

The network horror stories are endless. One sadly typical story that came to my attention last week described a LAN which had 10 PC workstations (clients) each with a 70 megabyte (MB) hard disk drive. The file server had been installed with a 30 MB hard disk.

Part of the ''brilliant'' theoretical systems design that went into this network was that each user would back up all his or her files every night on the file server. No explanation was forthcoming as to how one fitted 700 MB of data on to a 30 MB drive.

The cost of this particular LAN was $1.5 million, and all it was achieving was sharing the printer.

The naivety related to networking which exists within the IT industry is alarming, to say the least. One colleague put it succinctly: ''Some 'experts' have done little more than read a manual on networking.'' Some good news hit the territory last week when seasoned IT professional Gary Leung, of Pacific Technology (PacTech), announced the formation of the Client Server Institute (CSI), a training centre dedicated to modern day networking systems.

''There is a real gap in Hong Kong between the demand for client-server systems and a proper understanding of what client-server computing is really about,'' Mr Leung said.

''CSI has been established to fill that gap.'' One of the difficulties with a typical LAN installation is that a multiple of suppliers of hardware, software and cables virtually always exists.

In Hong Kong, it is not always easy to obtain in-depth technical support from individual manufacturers who regard the market as quite small and work through local agents.

It is, therefore, critical that if your business is to depend on the LAN you are about to install, then you would be wise to engage one local vendor who is prepared to accept overall responsibility for the implementation and successful operation of your network effectively.

regardless of cost.

Another word of warning, regardless of what your PBX is capable of handling: do not be a pioneer when it comes to the cabling of your LAN.

Find someone who has successfully implemented a network system of your type and learn from their experience.

The CSI is typical of Gary Leung's forward thinking and it can definitely make a significant contribution to the welfare of networking in the territory. However, it can only achieve that if companies support and use the facility.