January 23, 2012

Single- vs. Multi-Vendor Approaches to UC

Single-vendor or multi-vendor? Since the beginning of IT and networking, it seems, enterprises have faced that conundrum. The decision hasn't gotten any easier with unified communications (UC). There are good reasons for both approaches.

Working with a single vendor, especially a known incumbent, can make IT management feel more comfortable and potentially reduce implementation problems. But it probably won't provide the lowest price with the greatest menu of UC features.

On the other hand, using multiple vendors will force the enterprise to manage many different relationships. The various vendors' products might not interoperate or deliver a common user interface. And if the enterprise brings in the cloud for some UC services, these multi-vendor issues will likely increase.

Sometimes the single-vendor approach is a continuation of an existing vendor relationship. The vendor is familiar with the enterprise's operations, its present environment and its long-term goals. It builds on history, having previously won executive approval for other projects. Assuming the enterprise has been satisfied with the relationship in the past, the single incumbent vendor is sometimes selected because this decision presents a much lower career risk for the CIO than gambling on a selection of multiple new vendors.

However, a multi-vendor scenario might sometimes be impossible to avoid. If it is necessary that the UC features be accessible through mobile devices and networks, then multiple vendors will certainly be involved. In many cases it is also likely that management systems provided by third parties will enhance the capabilities of those offered by any single vendor.

Consider Help from a VAR

If a multi-vendor solution is deemed appropriate, the enterprise might want to contract with a value-added reseller (VAR) that will assume all implementation and operational responsibilities. This approach reduces technical complexity as well as problem-solving and staffing issues the enterprise will face. Furthermore, it offers a single point of contact while delivering the benefits of the multi-vendor approach.

Ultimately, the single- or multi-vendor decision will depend on an enterprise's specific requirements. Often the deciding factors are non-technical ones: e.g., previous vendor relationships, perceived vendor stability, personal preferences of IT personnel or executive management, solution cost (though with non-government entities, cost is often not the driving force).

Further Reading

There are two Webtorials papers in particular that can help you more fully understand the operation and management of multiple-vendor platforms and devices. They are "Unified Communications Solutions and Interoperability" and "Managing Multi-Vendor UC and Collaboration in a Virtual World".

Primary Pro/Con Decision Considerations

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1 Comment

Would a single vendor network be easier to manage than a network that uses equipment from multiple vendors? Why?

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