In my previous role, I had the opportunity to wear many hats, including Network Administrator. Our go-to networking vendor before I moved on was Extreme Networks. When I initially started my position, the campus was a Cabletron customer, then Enterasys, and lastly, Extreme Networks (Believe it or not, there’s more than one way when it comes to Network Vendor selection). Now the transitions did come upon company acquisitions. And after each acquisition, we did our due diligence and reviewed the existing solutions against rival offerings.
Extreme Networks filled all of our checkboxes. The first on the list was policy profiles. Our policies consisted of layer 2 through layer 4 rules dynamically applied to end systems on our switches, which provided host security and reduced VLAN/ACL sprawling. We also heavily used the Enterasys NMS solution, now called Extreme Management Center, for daily operational tasks, monitoring, and provisioning dynamic user access control across our wired and wireless infrastructure. Another feature we used on our switches was node alias. Node alias discovered additional details about end systems such as assigned IP address, correlating MAC address, and VLAN assignment from our layer 2 switches. This information forwarded to Extreme Management Center’s database, which could be searched upon. This process reduced the time it took to identify device location, troubleshoot networking issues, and review VLAN assignment. The Extreme Networks NAC solution also provided further details about each end system connected to the network.
We didn’t focus on just Networking speeds and feeds or harp on having the most popular network operating system CLI known to man. Other solutions at the time didn’t have the same integrated offerings. Don’t get me wrong, Cisco and other software vendors did and still do make some great products. However, we were able to solve a specific set of problems with an Extreme Networks solution. From time to time, I still got flak for not choosing a different vendor.
So I’ve been pondering if we should make such huge networking infrastructure investments solely based on feature bakeoffs? Feature bakeoffs still seem to be the most common way we test different vendors. Sometimes the reality is we use less than a fraction of any networking product features. Yet we make a decision based on another fraction of that. Then we throw more money at an over-engineered solution just because it has one more feature that we can’t live without, or we refuse to learn something new. At the end of the day what differentiates Cisco, Juniper, Arista, HP, or even Extreme Networks???
One vendor may be what most people feel comfortable with; another may have better support. Or maybe a particular vendor provides an all-in-one security appliance that can be supported by the same vendor. One or two additional software features added without enough quality assurance may be the chink in the armor. And don’t get me started on the “one throat to choke” concept. However, if we look a bit closer, there’s always a trade-off. Something you know quite well may not align with your overall business strategy. Or you have one networking technician, and they don’t have enough time to learn or build something new. Then there’s an “us” problem. We don’t want to automate, or we’ll lose our jobs. We don’t want the best of breed solution because it’s too much to know. Heaven forbid we have to choke more than one throat.
What Should You Do?
So what’s one to do? The difficulty is that vendors crave “lock in”. They want all the market share. I get it; businesses need to show increased revenue and continue to provide value to stakeholders. But at what trade-off? Customers are the one’s who end up suffering. We need to challenge ourselves and our networking vendors to disaggregate and interoperate. Take a look at the new Cisco certification requirements. The CCNA now covers topics such as automation and programmability, highlighting non-Cisco software such as Puppet, Chef, and Ansible. Can you believe that? Maybe collaborative innovation is on the horizon. Once networking vendors unanimously accept interoperability by removing lock in, things may start to get interesting. Who knows, maybe we’ll finally get a unified interoperable vendor fabric. Only one could wish.
Until next time,