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Cisco And Deloitte Wrong: Good Practices More Impactful Than Vendor Choice

Cisco is fighting back against the notion that a multivendor network can simplify operations and reduce TCO. The networking giant commissioned a report by Deloitte that finds equipment operation costs will increase over the life of a network that uses equipment from disparate vendors. The fact is, one vendor versus multiple vendors is the wrong fight. Sound management practices and smart production selection will have a bigger impact on your IT costs than the number of vendors you use.

The spat started in 2010, when Gartner analysts Mark Fabbi and Debra Curtis wrote a brief, Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network, in which they singled out and then took issue with Cisco's stance promoting a single-vendor network "as a way to simplify operations, ensure reliability and lower the TCO for a network infrastructure." Curtis and Fabbi followed up in 2011 with The Disaggregation of the Enterprise Network, finding the "approach offers improved functionality and lower costs than a single-vendor architecture, with little or no additional operational complexity." Gartner concludes that going multivendor can save organizations between 21% and 26% in capital and maintenance contract costs during a five-year period.

The Deloitte report, Multi-vendor Network Architectures, TCO, and Operational Risk, is Cisco's answer to Gartner. Deloitte asserts that the initial cost savings cited by Gartner are mitigated over three years by "the incremental operating costs over the life of the equipment."

Deloitte's report contains an example where a company with a billion dollars in revenue has a $40 million IT budget, of which $8 million is dedicated to networking. The author estimates that the company could save 10% of the network budget, or $800,000, by going multivendor. That's 2% of the overall IT budget. Two percent isn't a lot by itself, but combined with other savings, it adds up. However, I bet the business case changes radically when your IT budget is much smaller because the cost of network equipment isn't exactly linear. Sure, smaller companies need less network gear, but the per-unit costs remains the same.

The Deloitte report states that the cost savings from a multivendor purchase can be gobbled up over three years in a couple of ways: increased training of new and existing staff and increased costs of a network management system required to run all the disparate systems. Let's look at those claims one at a time.

First, with regard to training IT to learn multiple systems, you'd still have to do that with a single vendor. Outside of switching and routing, Cisco has acquired all its other networking technology, as has Juniper. HP and IBM partner to fill out the gaps in their switching and routing products. None of these vendors offers a unified OS across all product lines (although Juniper is trying). So, it really doesn't matter if you buy from a single source or many--your staff still needs to learn to operate multiple products.

As for a single-pane-of-glass management, we haven't seen it yet and likely won't anytime soon. The combinations of vendors and products makes such a manger of mangers (MoM) a pipe dream whether we are talking single or multivendor models. At best, what we will likely see are management platforms such as those that are being developed in the cloud computing world where the system management is separate from the use of the system. In other words, network administrators design, monitor and manage the network using whichever management platform they choose; cloud administrators integrate with the network and use what is available within their private cloud software.

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