Single-vendor vs. best-of-breed network

I'm trying to make an informed decision whether moving to a
multi-vendor best-of-breed makes sense for my organization.
This is obviously a complex question, so I am hoping to tap
some (figurative) "grey hair" advise from real-world
experiences for the general areas I should focus on in
making/justifying a decision.

What, if anything, makes a multi-vendor (wide-area) network
successful and worth the risks over the "safe" single-vendor
network nobody gets fired for buying (you can probably guess
what vendor Powers my network now). What are the
(un)quantifiable metrics/ROI/arguments you've used to
justify being single-vendor or best-of-breed?

The single-vendor argument seems to primarily focus on
customer support (no finger-pointing, no confusion who to
call) and single skill-set (leverage training, hire rote
technicians) advantages. The multi-vendor faction seems to
focus on best features/performance, best price, and keeping
vendors honest. What are the real factors and what is FUD
for someone who has been on both sides?

Personal experience, pointers to case studies, (vendor)
white papers, etc on both sides of the argument are


My experience is showing me a lot more organizations are moving along the
same lines of thought as you. Many are even moving to an "anything but
single vendor's products" mentality.

Juniper led the way and proved that a good product can be coupled with
good support and provide an adequate or superior replacement. Other
vendors have had a chance to grow and cope with the needs of large
networks and provide the service required to handle a tier-1 type network.

Locking yourself into a vendor just because "it's safe" has often been
the path of least resistance for a middle manager out of their league. You
may end up with old, often overpriced, and often buggy equipment, but hey,
"our market cap is more then all of our competitors combined", and we know
thats what really matters right? Also, buying from a single vendor doesn't
go very far for promising any sort of interoperability of consistancy.
Think about all those aquisitions and employee turnover.

Don't get me wrong. I think too many vendors make for a mess, and dealing
with startups is a risky business. "Thats nice that your box has all these
features, come talk to me when you have some customers. Preferebly tier-1s
that have deployed the box for a couple of years at least." So stick with
the top 10 brands and companies not on the verge of being delisted.

All vendors suck, but different ones suck less in different applications.
You owe it to yourself to look around and find the best bang for your buck
that will let you sleep at night. Or as a buddy of mine recently put it,
"gee, the list price for lies and arrogance is at a premium these days".


Personally, I find a limited best of breed network the best. I'm one
for finding the best component for the job. Right now, my organization
just bought over a hundred NETGEAR hubs/switches, to replace dozens of
various aged switches and hubs (IBM, 3COM, SMC, bizarre brands I've
never heard of...). This compliments our Cisco stuff, which manages
high end LAN and WAN issues.

Multivendor also gives you some protection in failures. For example,
some Cisco CPE DSL routers with web access enabled and an old IOS
crashed during the Code Red worm. This happened at the ISP I worked
for. Our Cisco customers were dropping like flies, but the Netopia
endpoints remained solid. If this had been a more virulent and vicious
worm, it could perhaps have made things a nightmare, especially if it
could infect upper end Cisco models.

As for having to have engineers know multiple systems... I think the
engineers are capable of it most times, it is just a pain. As long as
you have a set standards base on various other things (naming and IP
schemes, etc etc), things shouldn't be that bad.

Heck, at my current work, our servers are NT4, Win2k, Lotus Notes on
NT4, ancient Novell servers and several Linux based ones. It is a pain
to manage and make everything work together and we are moving to
solidate (Dumping NT and Lotus... Novell is a legacy we HAVE to support
because it runs software which manages our primary function and no one
up high wants to pay to migrate it to something more modern).

Before I sign off:
IMHO and YMHV :slight_smile:

- James

What, if anything, makes a multi-vendor (wide-area) network
successful and worth the risks over the "safe" single-vendor
network nobody gets fired for buying (you can probably guess
what vendor Powers my network now).

I like thinking of where an organization wants to be on a risk/reward spectrum. Newer and/or point solution vendors exist to leapfrog the status quo and give you an advantage, which they do very well. This is particularly true on the optical side, where lasers, components, and software have all changed dramatically. The price you pay is risk. If you don't have capacity problems or take an incumbent role, then you would prefer a defensive, conservative strategy favoring the single-vendor solution.

Smaller providers wanting to do more for less or be more aggressive in general would prefer the best in breed because of a higher risk tolerance and greater desire to advance the network.

Take this risk/reward concept and combine with some of the other posts and I can imagine a spreadsheet or graph that matches your company objectives (ie: double capacity) with vendor capabilities, reputation, etc. that lets you assess your risk tolerance quantitatively.

Hope this helps.

Marc Pierrat