An organization distributes a request for proposal when it's thinking about making a vendor switch or substantially upgrading an existing system. We invited several companies to respond to an RFP specifying a new network architecture for TacDoh, a fictional, fast-growing purveyor of deep-fried desserts. In its RFP, TacDoh aimed to simplify management, unify its architecture, incorporate voice over IP, and add security features.
Wowing potential customers is important to vendors responding to RFPs because incoming vendors have a hard time supplanting incumbents.
That incumbent vendor is most likely Cisco: The company dominates in the access, distribution, and core switching layers as well as the data center. Interestingly, for all the complaining we hear about Cisco from peers, IT administrators, and CIOs, in a recent InformationWeek Research survey of 295 technology pros, 76% of respondents say they'd prefer to purchase Cisco gear, followed by Hewlett-Packard ProCurve at 22%, then everyone else.
We didn't position this RFP-based Rolling Review as "anyone but Cisco," but Cisco declined to participate, citing resource issues. We received responses from five other vendors: Alcatel-Lucent, Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks, HP ProCurve, and 3Com.
Alcatel-Lucent, HP ProCurve, and 3Com all made our short list because their proposed network designs hit all of our requirements, with resilience and advanced features to support TacDoh's VoIP and security initiatives.
But that doesn't mean Foundry and Extreme were second-rate: Foundry presented a strong set of products for data center computing, and its recently announced acquisition by Brocade should boost its position in the market. We like some of the advanced features Extreme offered, such as event scripting. But Extreme is a pure-play switch vendor, and its limited product line puts it at a disadvantage and made it a poor choice for TacDoh.