I recently heard the term “best of breed” used when discussing network vendor selection. I was surprised by this answer because you don’t hear it too often. The more I thought about it, why not “best of breed” selection? My time as a network and infrastructure supervisor has taught me that a data center environment can be full of different compute and storage vendor products. Our SAN environment consists of Pure, Tegile, EMC, and even QNAP. Each product has its place. Pure serves the VDI environment, Tegile/EMC host production, and QNAP serves as a target for our Veeam backups. The team has also categorized and carved out each platform into tiered offerings.
On the other hand, network vendor selection tends to be biased. Typically you’ll see one network vendor selected for the edge/access, distribution, and core. However, you will find a different wireless vendor from time to time.
I’ve seen many reasons for this, so I’ve compiled a list of the most popular reasons I’ve heard:
- We would like to interact with only one vendor for purchases and support.
- ABC vendor only works well with a particular management tool.
- I only know vendor ABC, and we don’t have time to learn something new.
- Did you hear that vendor ABC had an issue with XYZ product, I don’t want those problems.
- Everyone else uses vendor ABC.
- No other vendor supports my VOIP feature set.
- You can’t do XYZ well or at all with any other vendor product.
I will say that there are a few use cases that keep you tied to a particular vendor that are listed above. However, what’s the harm at looking into something new or trying something different? We shouldn’t be afraid of learning new things. I’ve done comparisons, demo’s, and have had to choose a different WAN router due to a lack of offerings before. Management tools can become a difficult topic for discussion, but networking gear tends to stick with long time veteran SNMP for management, so that opens up possibilities. Even Cumulus Networks, with all its automation buff, still provides legacy SNMP support. However, you wouldn’t want to use SNMP for automation with Cumulus as that would defeat their main business case of choosing their product.
So why not design around different use cases? If you need leaf/spine, don’t build the traditional access/distribution/core. If you require a robust NAC solution, maybe Extreme Networks at the edge would be worth looking at instead of Cisco. If you require low latency, perhaps look into Arista or Mellanox. If you’re in the service provider arena, Ciena may be worth looking into.
Being part of the networking field right now is a fun place to be. The variety of vendor selection creates some great competition and interesting niche feature sets. Be sure to highly consider sticking with open standards if you travel down the “best of breed” road. Just remember to embrace openness and have fun. And yes, Cisco and Juniper have their places as well.