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Drowning in Features

Have you ever bought a car without all the bells and whistles? You end up with some blank buttons in your dashboard. You’re not really sure what they are for, but there’s that little voice in the back of your mind telling you that you should have bought that feature. Of course, you can drive the car for years and never need that button. Or, you can flip through the driver’s manual and see just what it is that button does on the fully loaded model you didn’t buy.

Perhaps you are a student of automobiles and wouldn’t dream of buying a new car without knowing all the possible options or features. You make sure you buy exactly what you need. Nothing more. Nothing less.

What about features that you never knew existed? My mother drove a 1994 Mazda 626 for about 7 or 8 years. It was a pretty nice car, but it had a feature that I have not seen in any other car. The center vent could oscillate back and forth between the driver and passenger seat. There was a button on the center console labeled “Swing”. Push the button, and the vents “swing” back and forth. Leave it off and the air blows in the direction you have the vents turned. Before I saw this, I had no idea such a thing existed. After I saw it, I looked for it in every car I drove or rode in. Not long after my mother bought her 626, I bought a Mazda Protegè. Sadly, I did not have the “Swing” button as an option on my car. Although I drove that car for a good 8 years or so, I never forgot about the “Swing” button letdown and felt as if my car was inferior. My mother moved on and bought a Mazda Millenia. That was the step up from the 626. The flagship car of Mazda, much like the Toyota Avalon or Chrysler 300. Sadly, the Millenia lacked the “Swing” feature in the AC vents, but it did have blue colored gauges at night on the dashboard. Now the “Swing” feature didn’t seem as cool next to the blue colored gauges and dials. One of my friends had recently bought a Volkswagen Jetta around the same time. He had blue colored gauges and dials as well. Of course, his CD changer was in the trunk or boot, and I was not a fan of that feature at all.

Now that I have exhausted my knowledge of automobiles, let me relate this to what you and I do for a living(or at least I assume you do the same thing as me). Features come and go. Some are neat and have a practical purpose. Others are just there. Eye-candy. Nothing more. Sometimes what we need is not the same as what we want. Sometimes we don’t want something until we find out it exists. Ahem, iPad anyone? Now before any Apple fan-boys or fan-girls jump down my throat, I must admit that I own one. I bought one recently and have decided that if my house were burning down and I had to choose one item to take with me in addition to my wife and kids, it would probably be my iPad. 🙂 Having said that, I was perfectly fine living with a laptop and desktop PC at home prior to the iPad’s debut. Once it was marketed to me, and I must say it was marketed rather well, I needed one. Not wanted. NEEDED.

I’m getting away from what I wanted to focus on and that was features, versus an entirely new product, but you get the point. There are a lot of neat little things out there that one vendor does over another. However, I wonder if those particular features are REALLY something we need. Do I REALLY need something like OTV? Some people will say yes. Others will say no. I would say it depends. What were you doing prior to OTV? Although my main focus is on network hardware and software, the same holds true for features in software and hardware outside of the network space. In the case of security, sometimes features can actually end up being vulnerabilities or additional entry points that you have to lock down.

So what is my point in all of this? Well, I am not going to give you answers because to be quite honest, I don’t have them. Remember, this is a blog about network therapy. A big part of therapy is simply stating the problem or concerns. Here’s what I think. If you are spending a lot of money on something, make sure you need what you are buying. Not want. Need. Yes it takes time to go through everything, but that’s what you get paid for. Don’t buy a Lamborghini if a Kia will suffice. If you need the Lamborghini, make your case and get it. Don’t settle for the Kia. If you absolutely have to settle for the lesser due to decisions made above your pay grade, then put in writing your concerns about why the Kia is not sufficient and move on. I know I said I had no answers, but I do have some suggestions. It’s better than a kick in the head, and it’s free, so take it for what it’s worth.

1. Only buy what you need or will need in the near future. You’ll want to consider future requirements as well (ie expansion, features needed down the road). It is often hard to predict the future, but do the best you can.

2. Careful consideration of how to spend company dollars will ultimately reflect good things about you or your particular group. You don’t want to be known as a money wasting group or person.

3. Careful attention to features will help you navigate the difficult waters of vendor selection. This is one of the harder things to master. If you know what you need and are relatively aware of what the major vendors are doing, product selection along with the right feature set becomes a bit easier. For example, check out this article by Greg over at etherealmind.com. If you ONLY live in the Cisco 3750 world of stackable switches, you might miss the fact that Juniper can do the same thing, but extend the logical switch over a LOT longer distances. This is but one example. There are many more like this out there. Go find them and buy them, but only if you must. 😉

Thankfully, most network hardware comes with a ton of features by default. It’s usually the higher end stuff that we talk ourselves into buying and don’t necessarily need. I’m looking at you VSS. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for it. I use it and think it is some pretty cool stuff, but I wonder if the expense is worth the benefit sometimes.

If you are a consultant, ignore everything I just said(or “wrote” if you want to nitpick). You make your living off of selling services and equipment. You are exempt. However, if you are the reason a 10 user network of office workers have dual 6513’s with Sup720’s, ACE, FWSM, and WiSM, you should be ashamed of yourself. In that case, I can simply quote Jesus: “Go and sin no more.“.

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Categories: vendors Tags: ,
  1. MikeG
    August 13, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    *Please* tell me you have not actually come across a 10-person office running dual 6513s….

    • August 13, 2010 at 5:42 PM

      No. I admit it was an extreme example. I *have* seen dual 6509’s with Sup720’s running RIPv1, but that was a case of the IT staff being less than knowledgeable about, shall we say, more recent developments in the world of routing protocols.

  1. August 16, 2010 at 5:47 AM

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