Home > cisco, vendors > Is It Possible To Stay Vendor Neutral?

Is It Possible To Stay Vendor Neutral?

***Note: I am asking this question from a corporate IT perspective. I am not asking this from the standpoint of a vendor or reseller.

Most of what I do in the networking world revolves around one vendor’s equipment. Not all, but most. Can you guess the vendor? 😉

Do we buy most of our equipment from vendor XYZ for any of the following reasons?

1. We are comfortable with it.
2. Their products work.
3. The support is good. Documentation is abundant and detailed.
4. They have the most features.
5. Their cost is lower.
6. There is a large talent pool out there that knows their products.
7. They provide a complete end to end solution.
8. They are a financially stable company.
9. They get great reviews from all the trade magazines.
10. No other company has this particular technology/protocol/gadget.
11. They always buy us a great lunch and take us to sporting events for free. (Or some variation of this.)
12. We want one throat to choke if there are problems.

Perhaps some of these apply to you in terms of your relationship with vendor XYZ. I believe that some of those things are very valid reasons to buy from vendor XYZ. Some of them are not.

The problem, as I see it, is that SOMETIMES what we buy isn’t necessarily the BEST solution for the company. Notice that I said SOMETIMES. There are plenty of times in which we buy from vendor XYZ because it is the BEST solution for the company.

There’s a lot to be said for vendor comfort level. I, along with many others, know a decent amount about the Cisco switch and router product line. I know a LOT less about every other vendor’s switch and router product lines. Just for fun, over the past couple of weeks I have looked at other vendor’s switches and routers and tried to compare them to the Cisco line. It has been an interesting experiment to say the least. In the latest Packet Pushers podcast, Greg Ferro of etherealmind.com mentions something similar. Towards the end of the podcast he talks about how frustrating it is that other hardware vendors have the spec sheets for each model as a separate PDF. There’s no easy way to do a side by side comparison. See here for an example. I should point out that Juniper does have a “Compare Family Models” link on the main page of each product family but it is not a full blown separate page.

Let’s take switches for example. If I want to evaluate alternatives to the Cisco 3560 switch, how do I go about doing that? What vendors do I look at? There are easily a dozen vendors that I can look at. At what point do I draw a line in the sand and say that I am only going to look at 5 alternative vendors, or 3? Do I base the decision solely on features? Cost? Market share?

In regards to all of that, I would simply ask: “How much time do you have?”. My experience has been that doing something right takes time. If you don’t take the time to do it right, you’ll cut corners. One of the easiest corners to cut is in the vendor selection process. Just because a name is familiar doesn’t mean that it is going to be the best choice. It’s better to take the time and make the right choice than to buy what is familiar and wind up with bigger problems down the road.

Is it possible to stay vendor neutral? Yes, but it requires a lot of time and effort. Unfortunately, we don’t always have the time. I have pretty strong feelings toward certain product lines. Juniper’s SA line of SSL VPN appliances are nothing short of spectacular. HP’s Network Automation Software (CiscoWorks NCM) is an amazing product as well. There are several Cisco products that I could say the same thing about. Although I feel strongly about them, if someone were to show me a better product that was a better fit(cost,features,support), I would have no logical reason to oppose it. Business is business.

I have to be honest though. I have a certain inclination to lean towards Cisco many times during product selection. This is due to several factors that I listed at the beginning of this post. Two of the biggest reasons are the sheer amount of features their products contain as well as the generally large amount of documentation available for each product. Those two reasons don’t always hold true for all of their products, but more often than not, that is the case. Of course, for any substantial project(WAN optimization, wireless, IP telephony, firewall, network management), I would be foolish not to consider multiple vendors. For the smaller things, it just seems so easy to order a switch or two from Cisco. Is that me cutting corners? Well, as in anything, it depends. 😉

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  1. August 4, 2010 at 1:29 PM

    Unfortunately, the features and price points are not the most important long-term considerations. The truly important one is the lifetime operations, support (including: “how good is the technical support”) and downtime costs (“how stable is the product” and “how soon will they fix my melted network”).

    These things are impossible to evaluate in advance, as every vendor will promise you heaven-on-earth to close the deal.

    • August 6, 2010 at 5:13 PM

      Twitter has proved itself valuable time and time again in regards to product issues. All you have to do is ask about a certain product or vendor and you will get a variety of responses. Although we still have to put in the hours as far as research goes, it helps to be able to get instant and honest answers from other network people. This is especially helpful in regards to finding out if the support is as good as the vendor says it is!

  2. August 5, 2010 at 5:10 PM

    I think familiarity with the product and the cost of time learning how to become familiar with another brand is also important to consider. Maybe an initial setup of a switch won’t take me too long to figure out, but how long will it take me to fix a problem if it were to arise on an interface I’m not comfortable using? Would it be cheaper to just stick to Cisco in the long run? I don’t think so. I think we are just getting lazy when we only focus on learning Cisco products, maybe we should be taking that extra time at lunch or an hour after dinner to squeeze in some time learning about Juniper or another manufacturers equipment.

    There is going to be equipment from other manufacturers that you will run into time to time on several different projects. It is just something out of your control and I think if you want to be the best out there you will need to take that time up front to know how to use it.

    • August 6, 2010 at 5:20 PM

      Good points. Yes, it is often hard to figure out another vendor’s command line or GUI. I am often amused at how similar some of them seem to be. Dell’s switches have an IOS feel to them from the CLI perspective. It always makes it a bit easier to use them, although I think Dell’s switches are just rebranded from Brocade/Foundry or some other vendor.

      I suppose it all depends on the scope of the project. You can afford to learn as you go when it comes to a single access switch or two. When I am replacing the equipment at an entire site, I tend to favor equipment that I am somewhat familiar with, unless I have a large lead time and can get my hands on the new stuff early. However, that is hardly ever the case as the money typically isn’t allocated for projects until right before you buy. Like I mentioned to Ivan in my reply to his comment, I get a tremendous value out of Twitter in that I can get instant verification on almost any vendor. There is no substitute for good feedback from people who have already used equipment from vendor XYZ provided that feedback is steeped in empirical data and not hearsay.

  1. September 2, 2010 at 11:15 AM

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