NETWORKING

  • 06/21/2011
    3:44 PM
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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.


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