Of course, whiz-bang can't come at the expense of dependability: When we asked network admins why they're upgrading their switch architectures, 56% named reliability as the main driver, followed by more bandwidth at the core and access layer. This need for speed is reflected in a recent Infonetics report that predicts sales increases of 10% in Gigabit Ethernet ports and a doubling of 10 Gigabit Ethernet port sales. That doesn't surprise us: The 36% premium for a Gigabit Ethernet port over a 10/100 port, roughly $63, is chump change when you consider the extra bandwidth and network future-proofing.
While Cisco is the undisputed market leader in terms of units shipped, that doesn't mean it has a lock on new technologies, service and support, reliability, or cost. Switches from rival vendors, such as Alcatel-Lucent, Extreme Networks, Foundry Networks, Hewlett-Packard ProCurve and 3Com, compete feature for feature. HP's policy of free firmware upgrades for the ProCurve switch line, for example, is a huge benefit if you let your support contact lapse or purchase used equipment.
To examine what vendors are offering for switching gear, we created an RFI for a wholesale switch infrastructure upgrade. We based the request on our fictional fast-food purveyor, TacDoh, which debuted back in 2003 when it went in search of outsourced network management.