Multi-Vendor versus Single-Vendor Data Centers

Is Cisco’s single vendor philosophy the better approach?

There's been feverous debate about single versus multi-vendor data center architectures - particularly when pitting Cisco against its primary competitors, HP and Juniper.

Gartner took a direct shot at Cisco with their pro-multi-vendor approach in "Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network." Cisco recently countered by commissioning a Deloitte Consulting news report touting the benefits of a single-vendor system. 

So who's right? In all reality, it depends on who your talking to - and more importantly, your own organizational priorities.

The Gartner report states that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for most organizations is lower for those with multi-vendor networks, because of the ability to shop around for lower prices on equipment. However, Deloitte argues that maintaining multi-vendor networks either cost the same - or more - than single-vendor networks, since lower upfront costs are negated by future support and service issues.

Network simplicity is also a cloudy issue - Gartner disputes that most organizations with multi-vendor solutions reported a decrease in complexity when compared with an all-Cisco network. Deloitte, not surprisingly, disputes this.

Here's what it really comes down to: every data center is different. So are the organizations and people that manage them. So when deciding on whether stick with a single vendor or allow migration to a multi-vendor solution, consider the following:

  1. Is having vendor consistency important to your organization? Is it difficult to on-board a new vendor?
  2. How much is budget an issue? Could the upfront cost of the equipment determine whether or not it's purchased in the first place?
  3. What is the expected lifespan of the networking equipment being purchased? Is it a temporary solution or long-term investment? 
  4. How will the network be affected if or when a piece of equipment is pronounced end-of-life or end-of-service?
  5. Will switching vendors require additional training for data center technicians?

There may never be a clear answer to which of the two is a better solution - and there are some strong opinions out there in favor of both. Consider first the needs of your organization, then explore the existing research to determine which works for your network. 

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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