Multi-vendor corporate network: myths and reality

    When choosing network equipment, you need to pay attention to alternative suppliers. This will provide a functional network solution for a reasonable price and lower total cost of ownership.

    Which approach is better to choose when building a data network: use equipment from the same manufacturer or solutions from different vendors? It seems obvious that the first option will help to avoid incompatibility problems, and the costs of operating a homogeneous network infrastructure should be less. The idea of ​​unifying the network, building it on the equipment of a single manufacturer, is promoted by leading vendors as a way to simplify operation, increase reliability and reduce the total cost of ownership of network infrastructure ( TCO) And Russian system integrators often claim that using the products of one vendor allows achieving the most effective, harmonious interaction of all system components, which is especially important for large-scale integration projects where the emphasis is on performance and fault tolerance.

    In most cases, there is no reason for this argument in terms of financial and operational benefits, functionality or reliability. A network built on the equipment of one vendor (for example, Cisco) will not necessarily be less complex, more reliable, or easier to manage than a network that includes equipment from several manufacturers. Foreign studies (in particular, Gartner, “ Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network») Clearly show that most organizations should consider a solution that uses the equipment of several suppliers, as this helps to significantly reduce costs without increasing (and often reducing) the complexity of the network. At Gartner, the most typical alternative to Cisco is the choice of customers with HP or Juniper equipment.

    Comparative evaluations of leading vendors of network and communication equipment according to several criteria, including growth in market share, financial performance, product reliability, innovation, service and support. Brocade is in second place due to strong financial results, HP is leading in increasing market share. Infonetics Research Data, July 2014

    But is it possible to integrate equipment from other manufacturers into a network architecture based on Cisco equipment? Should we even go this route? What will be the staffing requirements for working with new network equipment, the reliability of the infrastructure and the risks associated with it, the cost and complexity of the required additional tools for managing the network, how much does the savings really compensate for the additional work?

    Cost reduction

    As practice confirms, the inclusion of equipment from a second manufacturer in the network infrastructure not only does not increase operating costs, but in most cases reduces TCO by 15-25% over the life of the equipment. The high cost of products from well-known vendors is not at all offset by lower operating costs, as is commonly believed. “Brand markup” does not justify itself. Total capital and operating costs are higher in the single-vendor network.

    Mention of Cisco is not accidental - this company remains the dominant manufacturer of corporate network and communication equipment, offers a very wide range of products. In Russia, at least 60% of telecommunication networks were built on Cisco products, while 70-80% of the American company's turnover is in the public sector (according to the Vedomosti newspaper). However, this vendor has rather high prices for products, their modernization to expand basic capabilities, as well as maintenance services throughout the entire product life cycle, which often makes customers think about an alternative.

    Customer responses to the question: “Who would you include in the Top3 Ethernet switch manufacturers?” A data center and campus switch market survey was conducted by Infonetics Research in North America in April 2014.

    It is believed that the choice of one manufacturer makes it possible to agree on the best conditions and control costs. Meanwhile, depending on the manufacturers and the type of alternative equipment involved, the organizations surveyed by Gartner sought to reduce capital costs by 30-50% compared to the prices offered by Cisco. Of course, in response to market needs, Cisco can offer significant discounts to individual customers and projects. The company releases new products with a competitive price, adjusts maintenance programs, but the cost of the latter is still high. So, according to Gartner, when choosing alternative vendors it can save more than 40%.

    Hardware Compatibility

    When choosing equipment, there are legitimate concerns: there may be functional incompatibility between the solutions of different vendors and the shifting of blame by competing manufacturers on each other in case of problems in the network infrastructure, as well as operational difficulties associated with managing a heterogeneous environment.

    How easy is it to get products from two different manufacturers to work reliably on the same network? According to polls, in practice, interoperability is quite high. To avoid problems, it is recommended to follow the "best practices":

    • when developing network architecture, it is recommended to adhere to the "reference architectures" and the concept of typical "building blocks" to determine the clear boundaries of individual technical solutions and the tasks they perform;
    • minimize areas of product interaction from different vendors;
    • primarily implement network services based on standard solutions and clearly distinguish them according to the corresponding levels of enterprise network architecture;
    • make maximum use of standards; the use of non-standard or “pre-standard” protocols (draft) on the network should be eliminated or minimized.

    It is necessary to clearly distinguish between different levels in the network, minimize the interaction points of different products, for example, use products from one manufacturer for switching between work groups, another for the core of the network, or separate them geographically.

    Often, vendors are ready to assist at the stage of implementation of their equipment, especially in the case of complex and / or critical tasks, such as equipping the data center. Thorough testing of new technologies and a pilot project will minimize the likelihood of problems with interoperability, and will help to develop a clear and understandable procedure for troubleshooting and troubleshooting.

    Interestingly, in recent years, in addition to traditional HP network devices, Dell and Juniper Networks have been offering customers open architecture switches implemented on a standard hardware platform (white-box or brite-box), running a standard operating system. If previously the switches used proprietary software platforms, now customers can purchase equipment from one manufacturer, and software from another. The release of such solutions will help vendors to increase competition with Cisco Systems.

    Infrastructure Complexity and Network Management

    Reducing the complexity of the network when adding the equipment of another vendor seems illogical, however, this transition helps to standardize the network architecture and product compatibility, consistent configurations and reduce the number of OS versions. A similar result is obtained by updating the network infrastructure, but in the case of a multi-vendor environment, the effect is longer. Each time you upgrade the network, you need to set a goal - to reduce complexity and make sure that the benefits received are preserved in the future.

    Preference is given to vendors who help optimize the scale of the network and are ready to meet the special requirements of customers. Optimization of network infrastructure, reducing its complexity, following the recommended design and management practices will reduce operating costs. It is important that software and management tools are compatible with the equipment used.

    Adding new equipment will require additional management tools. As a rule, management software provides a full range of capabilities for devices of a particular vendor. Vendors often supply their management systems for free, include in the cost of the contract the training of specialists in working with them. In addition, there are many vendor-independent network management tools. They facilitate the transition to alternative equipment or the addition of new technologies, help reduce unplanned downtime and simplify network operation.

    Some vendors offer their own management systems (for example, HP IMC - Intelligent Management Center), with support for both their own network devices and devices manufactured by other vendors. Such control systems greatly simplify and cheapen the implementation and operation of multi-vendor solutions.

    Frames decide

    A potential frame problem is often referred to as a significant obstacle to choosing an alternative vendor. However, retraining from Cisco products to specialization in other manufacturers is a relatively simple task, since most of the knowledge relates to the very essence of network technologies. You can take advantage of the training offered by many manufacturers, which takes into account existing certification and focuses on points that distinguish their solution. Often, training can be done online.

    Practice shows that adding new equipment to the network does not at all entail an increase in the staff of specialists or the amount of wages. This dispels the myth that, over the life of the network, the savings in operating costs offset the increased cost of purchasing equipment. For example, one of the customers outsourced network management. When transferring the customer’s network infrastructure from Cisco equipment to HP equipment, the outsourcer made this effortlessly and within the framework of the existing contract.

    The conclusion is clear:when choosing network equipment, you need to pay attention to alternative suppliers. First of all, those who prioritize support for open industry standards (both traditional and the most promising and modern) and, ultimately, simplify the architecture and network management, achieving this through the large-scale use of modern virtualization technologies, convergence integration of physical and virtual network environments, as well as the maximum automation of the deployment, operation and optimization of corporate data networks. This will allow you to get the optimal network solution for a reasonable price.

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