How Far Do Single Network Vendor Strategies Go?

In last week's blog, I covered Nick Lippis' view on dual network vendor strategies. Nick's stance, which I agree with, is that having dual network hardware vendors actually decreases network availability and limits services the network can provide. However, how far does that concept apply? While I agree that having a single routing and switching vendor simplifies network design and promotes faster network service delivery, there are a lot more devices that make up a "network". Security devices - firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and network access control - are critical items in a network which a good portion, if not all, traffic will flow through. But if you use Cisco for routers and switches, does that mean to maximize your network availability you have to use Cisco security devices? What about IP Telephony and Unified Communications? Cisco's marketing promotes building a Cisco IPT and UC platform on top of Cisco routers and switches for maximum performance (no shock there). But honestly, having worked recently with Cisco IPT and UC systems, there's not that much "integration" with the network devices. Beyond the IP Phones communicating CDP with the switches, the IPT system is rather blind to the underlying network (even though I would expect much tighter integration between the two Cisco systems). Yes, the routers serve as PSTN gateways, but that's not "integration" with the routed network; it's just the devices performing another duty. QoS packet marking is used to guarantee performance across the routed network, but that's not a competitive advantage that another hardware vendor can't do. Now, this is not to say Cisco IPT and UC are bad products. I think their solution is robust and very good. However, it's just not that "integrated" with the underlying routed and switched "network". While I'm sure everyone on Tasman Drive is shaking their heads right now, I see it a different way. I see maximizing your availability as a horizontal "best is class" decision instead of a vertical "integrated" approach. Now, I know the marketing buzz in the industry is "convergence" (which, by the way, has way too many definitions) by using a single vendor solution across technology lines, but as I mentioned before, a lot of it is marketing. There are still clear delineations between these horizontal technology lines (why do you think Cisco itself has different CCIEs for R&S, Security, Voice, etc). We have successfully used Cisco for routing and switching and Juniper for security. We used what we felt were best-in-class solutions in each technology area to maximize performance, availability, and features. We then use standard protocols to connect these different vendors into a "converged" network. What we don't do is mix vendors inside the technology line - using Juniper firewalls at one site and Cisco PIX at another site. That quickly leads to the "complexity inflation" Nick Lippis discussed. So, now that we have a single vendor strategy along technology lines, how do we extend this concept to carriers? I'll expand on that thought in my next blog.


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