With Gartner in recent months arguing against single-vendor networks in general and Cisco's message in particular, Cisco today fired back.
In a live webcast, Cisco executives decried the "good enough" network and what it sees as common myths about networking. They argued that there are distinct benefits for buying into the single-vendor vision, including higher innovation, less downtime and better integration with applications.
By contrast, Gartner had said that a multi-vendor approach will reduce enterprise customers' costs and simplify their operations. The analyst firm said it based its conclusions on hundreds of client interactions and nine in-depth interviews with enterprise firms.
"The reality is that a single-vendor Cisco network isn't necessarily less complex, easier to manage or more reliable than a network with multiple vendors when implemented with best practices," the Gartner analysts wrote.
Today, Cisco tried to frame the conversation as about whether networks themselves are the kind of thing you can innovate with, or something that is just a commodity.
"There's a debate raging about whether the network really matters," said Rob Lloyd, executive vice president of worldwide operations for Cisco. Can you differentiate your business based on the equipment you buy, or can you get your networking gear from just anyone?
This, of course, is one of Cisco's main issues right now as it struggles to find itself. In marketing, a company's brand is the thing that allows the company to charge more than its competitors for the same product. If Cisco can't convince buyers that there is added value in buying Cisco, Cisco's margins will fade.
One of the double-edged swords for a vendor like Cisco is standards. Most users won't buy equipment unless it conforms to technology standards. But this is because the user wants protection against getting locked in to a single vendor. Cisco, which would prefer that you get all your gear from Cisco, has to support these standards while at the same time trying to convince users that there is value in locking in.
In the webcast, Cisco presented it this way: You want a vendor that innovates.
"You need to look at what [vendors] do for standards processes, but also what they're doing to innovate on top of that standard," said Mike Rau, vice president and chief technology officer for Cisco Borderless Networks. Rau went on to point out that many Cisco innovations went on to become standards eventually.
The executives also railed against the idea that the cost to acquire equipment should be a major factor in a buying decision. "The real cost is in project deployment and ongoing support," Lloyd said, though he did not provide numbers. Plus, if you make your decision based solely on acquisition cost, you may lose sight of some cost-saving innovations beyond basic connectivity, such as reducing business travel expenses through videoconferencing.
Rau said that the idea that basic QoS is all that's required is the "biggest myth" out there. He said Cisco hardware and software focus on ensuring that video and voice get a high level of QoS, even when requests for bandwidth exceed the amount available.
Further, Rau said users should be looking for security and application support to be integrated into their networking products, something you might not get from a multivendor network.
Lastly, the executives insisted that Cisco takes a proactive approach, to prevent network failures from happening, and that a basic warranty isn't enough. In a comment that also seems to sum up Cisco's position as a whole, Rau said, "You get what you pay for."