March 22, 2012

Multivendor Network Architectures, TCO and Operational Risk


Enterprises face increasingly complex choices in their network vendor strategies. IT leaders must introduce new technology for critical business functions, while managing IT costs and balancing operational risks.

This report summarizes the findings from a detailed customer survey conducted by Deloitte to examine the operational, financial, and risk factors associated with the use of single vendor and multivendor approaches in different types of enterprise networks. By providing a framework for understanding the overall value drivers associated with these networking strategies, this report is intended to help IT decision makers evaluate the potential impact of different approaches.

Through this survey, we examined how network vendor strategies align with important sources of business value, such as network performance and reliability, as well as operational functionality, maintainability, extensibility, security, interoperability, and risk. The survey results are based on a set of detailed interviews with customers currently using Cisco products along with other vendors' products in their networks.

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4 Comments

The fact that this was written by a third party (admittedly commissioned by Cisco) certainly adds validity to the not-very-surprising conclusion that single-vendor networks have numerous advantages. The vast majority here are qualitative, but nonetheless valid.

I would LOVE to see some discussion from our community about the extent to which you agree with this paper.

There are two major issues that I would particularly love to hear from you on.

1) Is the assumption that it is possible to acquire all needed network elements from a single vendor valid? To what extent (if any) do you have have to compromise on "best of breed" in order to have all components from a single vendor?

2) If you have a multivendor network, to what extent is that by choice? Sometimes multivendor networks are a fact of life as a result of mergers - or even independent decisions made within various business units of a large company.

Assume that you have "inherited" a multivendor network via acquisitions and mergers. At what point does the business case make sense to dump the equipment from the other vendors in order to end up with a single-vendor network?

Would love to hear from Cisco (and others) on this one.

There is an entire industry built around managing systems from a multiple vendors with a single user interface. To what extent do you think this mitigates the arguments for a single-vendor system as set forth in this paper?

1) Is the assumption that it is possible to acquire all needed network elements from a single vendor valid? To what extent (if any) do you have have to compromise on "best of breed" in order to have all components from a single vendor?

There are no absolutes in Deloitte's discussion. Every decision must be weighed against the risk. The point Deloitte makes in the paper is that you must consider the correlated risk of your decision. For example, if you are selecting a new router for your branch, and you select a product which does not offer integrated voice capabilities, then what additional effort will you have to undergo to A) ensure that voice works and B) mitigate the risk of interoperability or potential functional gaps... and more importantly, what is the cost of that mitigation. In many cases, when you start to look at the cost of assessing and mitigating risk, it may be more cost effective to rely on the migitation strategy of the vendor with the broader portfolio.

2) If you have a multivendor network, to what extent is that by choice? Sometimes multivendor networks are a fact of life as a result of mergers - or even independent decisions made within various business units of a large company. Assume that you have "inherited" a multivendor network via acquisitions and mergers. At what point does the business case make sense to dump the equipment from the other vendors in order to end up with a single-vendor network?


Deloitte mentions this consideration in the paper - there are times when risk cannot be avoided, and therefore it must be mitigated. The best time to "dump the equipment from the other vendors" is when you are managing the end of the lifecycle of the product, unless the product is creating a risk which you feel creates unnecessary risk or cost. The research found on average that the real cost of downtime in customers of this size is $20,000 an hour or more. In the webcast for this event, one customer highlighted that they have 80+ hours of unaccounted downtime per year - that is $1.6M in cost to the business - if the cost to replace or solve that problem is less than $1.6M, then that should provide a reasonable motivation to accelerate a product lifecycle decision.

3) There is an entire industry built around managing systems from a multiple vendors with a single user interface. To what extent do you think this mitigates the arguments for a single-vendor system as set forth in this paper?

Multi-vendor management does nothing to mitigate the risk set forth in this paper - in fact, it is actually another dependent system which may further introduce risk in operations. The Deloitte assertion is simple - no one other than the vendor that makes the solution can be responsible for the behavior of the solution when put in a complex, multi-vendor environment. Cisco cannot be responsible for the behavior or a competitor's equipment, nor likewise can a competitor be responsible for the behavior of Cisco's gear.

The premise of the paper is that you can trust the sourcing vendor to mitigate risk amongst products that vendor produces; and beyond basic standards compliance, most vendors do not test other vendor's equipment for compatibility. Therefore, a single-vendor solution is likely to carry less risk for the customer.

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