We joke about those $200 hammers the government buys, but did you know your organization could be falling victim to the same overspending on network devices? Vendors tend to oversell their customers on the latest-and-greatest technology, often disregarding the customers' needs and taking advantage of their budgets.
Here are some tips for how to shop for the right switch, and advice to stop overspending on your networking gear. From my experience, following these five simple rules can save you about 60%.
1. Know what adds expense
It’s important to understand how different designs or features will affect the prices in a vendor’s product line. For some vendors, there’s a jump between chassis and stackable form factors. Other vendors may charge more for a specific OS or feature set, such as advanced dynamic routing. In all cases, modules, optics and power supplies (if they’re a la carte) can add up quickly, but are usually must-haves.
Whittle away the most expensive features and licenses you don’t need, but don’t whittle yourself out of a usable device. As a reseller, my company has the benefit of custom configuration and pricing tools that are not readily available to the general public. If your vendor isn’t always straightforward about what you need and what’s adding expense, you can look at the manufacturer’s list pricing for comparison between different models. Also, look for a configuration tool on the manufacturer’s site.
2. Ask what the letters mean
Oftentimes, vendors will send bills of materials and part numbers with little explanation as to what exactly they are and how they fit together. It’s perfectly fine to ask. Many network device model numbers look very similar, but one may have a “G” and another may have an “S.” Those letters can make a huge difference in both features and cost; that “G” may designate a gigabit switch, which is going to be more expensive than the 10/100 version. Also, sales guys aren’t always the best at counting and double-checking quantities. To avoid ending up with five switches and 16 power supplies, make sure you understand each line in the BOM before you place the order.
3. Plan for the future (but not too far)
It’s perfectly reasonable to plan for the future, but be practical. If you expect a three-year life cycle for your network devices, it doesn’t always make sense to buy that $5,000 edge switch under the impetus that you’ll be able to do more with it later. If you don’t know what that “more” is or when “later” is, then chances are you’ll be replacing those switches before you get to do “more stuff later.” Exceptions here of course are things like gig edge ports, 40-GbE server ports, Power over Ethernet (PoE), routing or SDN that may be imminent in your network.
[Before you negotiate with vendors, you need to take stock of your switch requirements. Get tips for the decision process in "Picking The Right Switch: A Buyer's Decision Tree."]
4. Evaluate support options
The variety of support options available from most vendors is mind boggling--some 20 or more. Larger organizations will get the best value by evaluating the entire infrastructure and wrapping all of a manufacturer’s devices under one enterprise support contract. In contrast, a smaller organization will have per-device support. Midsize and smaller companies should evaluate support needs based on the organization’s operations. I recommend 24x7 with next business day advance replacement or onsite service for all critical systems, and at least business-hours support and next business day replacement for other devices.
Also, double-check the final support contract. You may not need three-year, 24x7 support with four-hour onsite response time for the edge switches, but it’s very likely that’s what you got quoted.
5. Ask your go-to vendor first
The dirty secret of the reseller world is vendor/VAR/reseller relationships and registration processes. If you are cruising the Internet to gather information, be careful when providing your contact info or requesting a quote. If you have a reseller or partner you like to purchase your equipment from, and you casually peruse an e-tailer, your preferred reseller may lose the special discount options and not be able to offer you competitive pricing.
This is because an etailer will capture the contact information you provide and the products you're researching and then request a "deal registration" from the manufacturer. These deal registrations are almost always first come, first served. Whatever reseller or e-tailer gets the deal registered first gets the exclusive pricing, which can be a dramatic discount. VARs will pass almost all of that discount to the customer. If the e-tailer gets the registration, it may pass along some of the discount. But, in most cases, it passes only a small amount, if any, and the VAR can't offer the discounted pricing at all.
These five simple rules can help manage your purchasing costs. It may take some time at the outset while you get a grasp of all the model number codes and options, but once you learn them, you’ll be set for life.
Do you use any of these methods when buying network equipment? Are there any other rules you follow? Use the space below to offer your thoughts on the best ways to save money when shopping for a switch.
Jennifer Minella is VP of Engineering and consulting CISO at Carolina Advanced Digital, and an author, speaker and consultant for infrastructure security for government, education and Fortune 100 and 500 corporations. View Full Bio