Gartner has come out and taken Cisco to task for their single vendor strategy. You know the one, the promise of financial advantages when working with a single vendor (Cisco). As reported in a recent Network World article, Gartner’s analysis shows that Cisco’s claims of reduced operational cost and greater functionality with a single vendor network rarely come to fruition.
How does this work anyway? I have asked this question quite often to customers during my 15 years in the industry. I’m always surprised when customers pay such a premium for their Cisco gear right out of the gate and continually upgrade their infrastructure based upon the changing product strategies of their vendor. Why? Is it just for the sake of making the safe bet?
Customers should look for vendors that have a singular focus on network gear – nothing else. Then there’s no risk compared to some of the big guys where networks are just another of many business units. Also, products should be designed from the ground up with long technology lifecycles of 7-10 years rather than planned obsolescence of every 2-3 years common in the industry. This means customers enjoy the benefits of a networking infrastructure that grows with their business.
As for operational cost savings, leveraging centralized, automated management capabilities, customers require far fewer network administrators for day-to-day tasks, even in heterogenous networks.
And let’s face it: if someone buys from the big guys it is not a single OS and management app at all. Most of them grew through acquisitions. So feature and management-wise you are often faced with a patchwork approach.
In terms of features, what unique function is Cisco pointing out? Based on real life deployments today in the Campus LAN and WLAN I’ve yet to see a unique feature from Cisco (other than proprietary stuff) that is so useful and necessary to operate a campus network infrastructure that I would have to buy only Cisco. Either a straight forward feature mapping is possible or the feature is so “exclusive” that I don’t really need it.
Beside the operation and features it’s also important to have a closer look at the cost for service and maintenance over the lifetime of a product. Everybody is talking about lifetime warranties, but you need to watch out for the details here as well. Some warranties include services include major software releases and technical support – something many competitors charge additional fees on top of their limited lifetime warranties. In some cases, customers with a 150 switch deployment can save almost $900,000 in fees over the life of their equipment in going with a more comprehensive lifetime warranty.
The step towards a second vendor is easier than you think. Having a smart operational model and appropriate tools will help you to drive down costs even further.
We’ll see whether the new Gartner report will change things in the industry. But the signs are there that customers are looking for a choice.