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Mike Fratto
Mike Fratto
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Proprietary Is Not A Four Letter Word

Proprietary technologies are not inherently bad, but you do have to watch for vendors that interchange standards-based features with proprietary features in a fanciful shell game.

I admit it--I love standards, and I think vendors committing to and conforming to standards is a net benefit for everyone. Standards level the playing field, allowing for greater competition among vendors (potentially a negative for them, regardless of what Cisco's CEO John Chambers says). But standards also open doors to vendors that would be shut out of proprietary installations (certainly a positive for everyone). This is not to say that proprietary technologies are inherently bad. But you do have to watch for vendors that interchange standards-based features with proprietary features in a fanciful shell game. It's up to you to ask which features are standards-based and which are not, and then determine the impact.

I gave a presentation at the NY Tech Summit a few weeks ago on multipath Ethernet. I was going to talk in some detail about the standards-based approaches to multipath Ethernet, IEEE Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links and the IEEE Shortest Path Bridging. I had about 50 people in the room and asked, "With a show of hands, who really wants standards-based networking in their data center?" Ten hands went up. I then asked, "Who really wants proprietary networking?" and no hands went up. I finally asked, "Who doesn't care--you just want something that works?" Amid chuckles, most of the people raised their hands.

Intuitively, I figured that would be the response. Some people care about standards. Many don't care that much about standards. But everyone wants products that work. When I got to a slide titled "Proprietary Protocols: proprietary is not a four letter word (duh)," it got some chuckles.

Any protocol that is not standards-based is by definition proprietary and includes tweaks that violate an existing standard. There are lots of cases where proprietary technology out-performs standards-based technology. Meru's handling of Wi-Fi spectrum, which reviewers noted in 2006, is one example of a vendor playing with standards to favor their product over others--in this case, with Meru being too aggressive in accessing the airspace. If you had Meru's products, you had better performance.

Mike Fratto is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, covering the Enterprise Networking and Data Center Technology markets. Prior to that, Mike was with UBM Tech for 15 years, and served as editor of Network Computing. He was also lead analyst for InformationWeek Analytics ... View Full Bio
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