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Network Buyers Survey: Standards Trump Features

When it comes to buying new network equipment, enterprise customers prefer technology built to industry standards over products that may have innovative but proprietary features, a newly released survey shows. Although network vendors, including industry leader Cisco Systems, are introducing innovations such as multipath Ethernet and converged FibreChannel and Ethernet, buyers ranked adherence to industry standards as their highest priority in choosing a vendor.

In the end, standards trump features, according to the report IT Pro Ranking: Data Center Networking (free, registration required), which was published this week by InformationWeek Analytics. In the first of a three-part series on the survey results, InformationWeek Analytics in conjunction with Network Computing, looked at the growing percentage of networking equipment customers willing to consider vendors other than their current vendors or to bring in an additional vendor. This news bodes ill for Cisco Systems, still the market leader but increasingly facing competition from HP, Dell, IBM and others. A third installment in the series will look at what criteria customers look at most closely when evaluating vendors.

The 510 IT professionals surveyed were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being least important, 5 being most important) the importance of certain network features. Adherence to industry standards was ranked the highest with a 4.1 average rating. Proprietary technology in advance of standards was ranked the lowest with a 3.0 rating. Other factors ranked included [ease of] software and hardware upgrades (3.7), ultra-low latency (3.7), converged Fibre Channel and Ethernet (3.6), and migration path to 40 Gbit Ethernet and 100 Gbit Ethernet (3.5).

"Advanced features that vendors love to tout ... are clearly in the nice-to-have but non-essential category for most respondents," reads the report, authored by Kurt Marko.

"Some of this indifference is almost certainly due to a general wariness of proprietary features, where many cutting-edge capabilities are in flux--either the standards aren't complete or are yet to be widely adopted, " he said.

This may beg the chicken-and-egg question of how innovations become industry standards unless they're more widely adopted, but innovative technology will usually evolve into standards once it's proven in the marketplace.

Survey respondents were also asked to rank vendors based on how well they delivered on a total of 12 network technology features identified, such as adherence to standards, ultra-low latency, 40 Gbit Ethernet, 100 Gbit Ethernet, etc. Overall, Cisco ranked highest at 79%, followed by IBM and HP at 77% each, Avaya at 75%, Juniper and Brocade at 74% each and Dell bringing up the rear at 73%. The report described the relatively minor difference between best and worst as clustering and compared it to a classroom grade on a test. "Essentially, everyone gets a C or C+," Marko wrote.

The survey also asked networking technology buyers what criteria they use to evaluate vendors, which will be the subject of the third report in this series.

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