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Commit To Standards: Drop Proprietary Protocols

I'm a big proponent of standards and standards conformance, which open up the marketplace to innovation and competition. Standardization is good whether you are a user or producer, but standards development is slow compared to how quickly a company can create a product or feature. Once a standard is available, vendors should stop promoting their proprietary protocols and migrate to the standards implementation. That shows commitment to standards.

In a recent blog post, HP versus Cisco: to tag VM's or not to tag VMs, ex-Cisco VP Doug Gourlay related an exchange he had during a discussion with customers: "I was getting a lot of pressure from a university customer to stop any development on anything that was not an industry standard. A gentleman from a large manufacturing company interrupted him and said, 'I don't care what standard they support. As long as they solve business problems for me, I will vote with my wallet. My CIO doesn't care if its PAGP or LACP, he cares that the network runs.'"

Both are valid positions. Standardization is good. It means products from multiple vendors can work together more or less seamlessly but ultimately integration is what IT wants. We can gaze at our navel and discuss the merits of a Bentham/Mills utilitarian view where standards as the greatest good for the greatest number versus a more practical David Allen's "Getting Things Done" approach, which tries to find the most efficient and effective way to a goal. But navel gazing doesn't move things along. Both people Gourlay was talking to want products that integrate and work.

Vendors have a different goal: sales and making money. That's not a judgment, it's their job.  Vendors add features to products to make them more enticing to customers. Since adding features involves a significant investment in development, vendors have to make sure that their feature is going to help them sell more products. Not surprisingly, standards bodies like the IEEE, ISO, and IETF, want to make sure the work they engage in will result in useful standards. There's no sense in working on a standard just because it's cool. Standards bodies want the business case before committing resources to a standard. In this way, companies and standards bodies have similar goals.

Standards are proposed because there is a need for a protocol and there's no existing technology to fill it, like 802.1X. In other cases, many vendors are creating protocols with similar features and standardization makes sense. For example, the Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) standard, 801.11AB, was created in the IEEE because there was an obvious need for a discovery protocol. Other examples are existing protocols like Cisco's Discovery Protocol (CDP), Extreme's Discovery Protocol (EDP), or Nortel's Discovery Protocol (NDP), all of which can identify connected devices such as switches, IP phones, network cameras, etc. The whole idea of standardization is to unify competing protocols by agreeing on one way to do something, and then promote that approach.

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