May 5, 2011

Debunking the Myths of a "Good Enough" Network

Hundreds of Cisco customers have debated the trade-off of prioritizing the lowest price for a point product or service in their network over a strategic plan for how they architect their network infrastructure. Through interactions with many of these customers, we have analyzed various network designs and implementations.

Our findings show that although there is a place for building out a low-cost tactical network, the ongoing operations, upgrades, and lack of preparedness to meet new business challenges prove to be hindrances organizations in the long run. Rather than just considering capital costs, organizations must look at total cost of ownership, including their operations, and return on investment (ROI), and also including business capabilities enabled by a strategic network, as they build out their networks to address their business needs for today and tomorrow. Customer and employee experience must also figure into the equation.

As device proliferation continues along with the demand for mobility, the network provides the context for ensuring compliance and security. When coupled with the trend toward virtualization and cloud computing services, the network becomes the common thread that brings all these systems together, providing a consistent flow of intelligence end to end. Looking to the future, as more demanding applications such as video and desktop virtualization become part of everyday business, the strategic role of the network is even more critical. Trading off price for capability and strategic value is a risky proposition and one we have seen fail time and again.

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This paper provides excellent food for thought. In particular, it makes a strong case for looking at what I have often referred to as a "Strategic ROI" as compared to a "Tactical ROI."

In these days of economic pressure on all sides, we are constantly faced with looking for excellent price points. But the true question here is, "How do you get the best price-performance point?" And as part of that performance, how does the ability to evolve the network figure into the equation?

I am sure that you will find this paper useful in itself, but I also hope that you will use this as a springboard for interactive discussion. I'm really looking forward to hearing what you think about the points made in the paper.

I have seen this view from Cisco before, they are currently pushing warnings against 'best of breed' networking. The tactic would be more persuasive were the analysis more complete. As it is, this is thinly disguised fearware masquerading as a white paper. The straw man arguments, the derisive terms - Cisco can do better. They should do better, but IT rarely asks hard questions these days.

What is right: the concept of measuring relative costs including risks. I wished we actually did this. The questions are asked in this paper but not answered. In real life, proposals rarely consider comparable systems. New is held up to 10 year old systems, opportunity costs are not considered, the actual needs (today and tomorrow) are rarely addressed, system lifespan is not compared to estimated future needs. In real life implementation rarely matches system potential.

The real dispute here is between the smart and dumb network. The market has spoken on this point a number of times but the clearest, most decisive has been ethernet vs. token ring. (You do remember token ring, don't you?) Who uses token ring these days? Cost, competition and rapid performance increases in Ethernet buried deterministic and more manageable token ring.

There is more to the discussion than performance/dollar however. For security, for management, for extensibility solutions are not binary but exist in a range. It is incumbent on IT to select from the range of choices a solution that will meet the needs at a reasonable price over system lifetime, just as it is incumbent on vendors to sell systems at a profit. Mistaking one role for the other is perhaps the greatest, and most common mistake made in business.


Thanks for your response. I do think that today the debate is about lower intelligence and lower cost networks vs. implementing networks with robust features that support current and future requirements. The real point of the paper is to act as a reminder of the powerful things that integrated network intelligence has created. Examples include the consolidation of disparate networks into the IP fabric such as the consolidation of SNA networks with technologies like DLSW. In addition, all the advances in Call Admission Control, Quality of Services, and network embedded voice codecs that led to a market shift from TDM Voice to Voice over IP. The debate around good enough is really about whether the capabilities that were required in 2005 are able to keep pace with some of the trends impacting the network. Really comes down to the question of, “ Is Innovation important for the future of networks or are current standards all that is needed?” Our belief is that network innovation is critical to being able to benefit from a set of trends that include mobility, cloud, device consumerization, energy management, and video. All of these trends create specific network challenges that are addressed by vendors who invest the R&D dollars to innovate to help customers meet their business and technology challenges. With that said, innovations are not useful if you can’t successfully implement them and create an effective operational model. To that end we have been doing a significant amount of work in simplifying deployment models to allow customers to more quickly benefit from the advanced capabilities of a Next Generation Network. I encourage to take a look at the work we have done with the Smart Business Architecture.

We hope that you can see from this effort is focused on helping IT get more out of their network investment as well as more effectively respond to increased demands on the network. Thanks again.

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