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Gartner slams Cisco's single-vendor network vision

Gartner says multivendor networks provide cost savings with no increase in complexity or unreliability

By , Network World
January 21, 2011 06:05 AM ET

Network World - Businesses are better off deploying multivendor networks, no matter what Cisco and other large network vendors may tell you, according to a recent report from Gartner.

Vendors who want customers to put all their network eggs in their basket will argue that single-vendor, end-to-end networks yield operational consistency, higher service quality and better reliability. But that's just not true -- enterprises can significantly reduce their costs and simplify their operations by deploying gear from at least two vendors in their networks, according to a November 2010 report from Gartner.

Gartner compiled its data from "hundreds" of client interactions and in-depth interviews with nine public- and private-sector organizations ranging in size from 1,000 users to more than 10,000 employees in 1,000 locations.

DEBATE: Single, dual or multivendor? 

In the report, Gartner takes specific aim at Cisco and its proclamations that an "end-to-end" Cisco network is simpler, cheaper and more reliable.

"The idea of a single-vendor network has been promoted by Cisco (just like strong vendors in other market areas) as a way to simplify operations, ensure reliability and lower the TCO [total cost of ownership] for a network infrastructure," state Gartner analysts Mark Fabbi and Debra Curtis in the report. "However, after interviewing various organizations that have introduced a second vendor into their Cisco infrastructures, it is clear that in most cases today there is no financial, operational or functional basis for this argument. 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."

Gartner found that introducing a second networking vendor into an enterprise infrastructure will reduce total cost of ownership for most organizations by at least 15% to 25% over five years. And most organizations that introduced a second vendor reported a "lasting decrease" in network complexity "compared to an all-Cisco network," Gartner found.

"We did not encounter one example were [sic] operational cost savings would offset the equipment cost premium that Cisco generally charges," Fabbi and Curtis state in their report.

FLIPSIDE: Why proprietary protocols are not necessarily bad

In every case reviewed by Gartner, the firm found that organizations did not require additional staff to manage a dual-vendor network compared with a Cisco network. Also, total initial capital costs and ongoing maintenance expenses were "clearly higher" in a Cisco-only network -- the interviewed organizations achieved capital cost savings of 30% to 50% less than competitive bids from Cisco; and savings on maintenance costs ranged from 40% to as much as 95% less than what was previously paid for Cisco's SMARTnet services for similar infrastructure and coverage, Gartner found.

"Sole-sourcing with any vendor will cost a minimum 20% premium, with potential savings generally reaching 30% to 50% or more of capital budgets when dealing with premium-priced vendors," Fabbi and Curtis state in the report. "Network architects and CIOs who don't re-evaluate long-held incumbent vendor decisions (with any vendor) on a periodic basis are not living up to fiduciary responsibilities to their organization."

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