Networking: Best-of-Breed Vs. Single Vendor

  • Most IT infrastructure professionals have an opinion on whether it's better to implement and maintain a best-of-breed, multi-vendor network infrastructure  or to take a single vendor approach. While opinions are great, choosing the right solution for a particular environment is often far more complicated than many make it out to be.

    In some areas of a network infrastructure, homogeneity is completely legitimate. There are plenty of cases where organizations require a more customized approach in order to squeeze as much value as possible out of an investment. Industry vertical, application type, employee access needs, support/maintenance competency, and data security impact networking requirements, and   network architects might want to customize their networks to better fit their particular environment.

    Much of the decision-making process boils down to a few core questions. First, do you truly need a best-of-breed network from a security and functionality perspective or are you able to sacrifice a bit to lower complexity and cost? Second, are your network architects capable of designing a network that optimizes each and every component from multiple vendors to get the desired added-value in a reasonable amount of time? Third, is your IT network support staff capable of supporting a multi-vendor network? And finally, have IT decision makers formed a strong opinion on potential risks of vendor lock-in?

    We're going to look at eight different reasons why you would want to choose best-of-breed components over a single-vendor solution or vice versa. Our goal is to help you fully understand the benefits of both so you can better make the right decision for your specific organization.

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  • Single-vendor approach speeds design and deployment

    Network vendors want you to buy as much of their equipment as they can possibly sell you. To help push a single-vendor model, they provide plenty of ways to more easily design, configure and deploy their end-to-end products. Everything from best-practice architecture designs to detailed configuration documentation and even automated integration tools are available to make a single-vendor deployment option a far easier and faster path.

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  • Multi-vendor solutions don't force you to settle

    There's not a single network vendor operating today that offers the absolute best solution for every network component category. So in many ways, going with a single-vendor network forces you to compromise. For those that demand the absolute best, despite added cost and effort, multi-vendor is the way to go. To help figure out which vendors have  best-of-breed products, many organizations start with resources such as Gartner and Forrester research firms and end with one or more hands-on demonstrations.

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  • A single-vendor approach often provides better integration

    Vendors that provide a full suite of network infrastructure components design their products from a holistic perspective. Each piece tightly integrates with the next, which provides  a network with fewer feature gaps. A suite also significantly reduces the probability that you purchase components with overlapping features -- a problem that reduces the overall value of a multi-vendor solution.

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  • A multi-vendor approach prevents vendor lock-in

    Perhaps the number one reason why network engineers prefer a multi-vendor network is to prevent vendor lock-in. Vendor lock-in can occur when implementing new network solutions into an existing environment or when future upgrades are needed down the road. Both are legitimate concerns and need to be carefully assessed as to the level of risk your organization is willing to take in this particular category.

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  • The multi-vendor approach prevents a complete security meltdown

    Many vendors share underlying OS code for the various routers, switches, firewalls and other common networking components. While there are benefits to this approach, it also creates a very real threat if the OS is compromised. Suddenly, a huge portion of your network is now vulnerable and it takes considerable time and effort to patch so many components. With a multi-vendor network, compromised network devices are compartmentalized and are far less challenging to remediate.

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  • Homogeneous networks are cheaper to support

    When things go wrong on a single-vendor network, troubleshooting and is easier, as is regular maintenance. Many vendors provide commonly shared operating systems and troubleshooting tools across their entire product lineup. Additionally, when support is needed in the form of technical assistance, the vendor's support engineers are far more capable of troubleshooting problems because they are familiar with all components from end to end. They also  can't point fingers at other vendors. These time-saving benefits usually translate into support cost savings over the life of the equipment.

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  • Multi-vendor solutions offer the potential for improved security

    Many network components these days are security focused. And if you are cherry-picking the absolute best-of-breed solutions, chances are they are the best at providing data security. And while integrating a multi-vendor solution is more complicated, the potential is definitely there to have a more secure infrastructure once completed.

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  • Single pane-of-glass operation with a homogeneous network

    Some of the benefits touted in next-gen software-defined networks  are already possible with single-vendor suites.  Management tools are commonly available for single vendor products that combine configuration and event correlation tasks. This gives network administrators a single pane of glass from which to manage network infrastructure.

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