How to protect your firm from vendor lock-in

TORONTO – Companies could save millions if they would consider separate contracts with different vendors for each part of their network, according to a Gartner analyst.

“You have to think about the network as a layered model, not as one big mass,” said Mark Fabbi, Toronto-based vice-president of Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Fabbi, who predicted three years ago that enterprises would waste US$100 billion on network technologies and services, made his remarks to about 80 users at a conference Tuesday at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. It was clear Juniper Networks Inc. organized the conference in an attempt to sell IT managers using Cisco routers and switches to consider adding Juniper hardware to the mix.

Mike Banic, vice-president of Juniper’s Ethernet group, presented a chart claiming a data centre with 3,000 servers and a 225 Gigabit per second firewall would cost $9.6 million if it used Cisco Catalyst 6500 and 4948 switches but would only cost $4.6 million if it used Juniper EX 4200 and EX 8208 switches. Conference organizers handed out a study showing interoperability between Cisco and Juniper hardware.

One IT manager who presented at the conference advised users not to use equipment from only one manufacturer. Stan Yazhemsky, IT manager for Legal Aid Ontario, said his organization uses Juniper firewalls at its remote offices but also uses Cisco Catalyst 3500 series switches.

“When I joined, it was a pure Cisco network and managed by Bell Canada,” he said. “The quality of service was extremely poor.”

Legal Aid Ontario, which provides lawyers for low income people in Ontario, serves 4,000 clients a day from more than 200 locations. Yazhemsky said the 150 TB of information his organization stores is very sensitive, and the network must be very reliable to ensure that clients who need a lawyer immediately can get one.

Yazhemsky said Legal Aid Ontario saves $600,000 per year as a result of its network redesign. He added he is trying to figure out how to replace equipment made by Toronto-based Nortel Networks Corp., which has been operating under bankruptcy protection since January and agreed to sell its enterprise unit to Avaya Inc.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” Yazhemsky said. “Cisco can disappear as well. If Cisco disappears, I have Juniper. If Juniper disappears, I have Cisco.”

Fabbi said some chief information officers are reluctant to install equipment from more than one vendor because they are concerned they will need to retrain network administrators who were trained by a vendor. But he said most vendors have “delta training” programs designed to teach professionals already familiar with networking basics about their products.

“One or two days should be more than enough,” he said. “The training hurdle is pretty low.”

Fabbi said before mixing different vendors’ products into one network, administrators need to segment the network into different subsystems, for example: business applications; communications applications; communications signaling and control; and network infrastructure.

“Within a building block, if there’s some proprietary technology, that’s perfectly fine,” he said, “but you don’t want proprietary features between subsystems.”

Another reason to segment the different parts is to ensure the help desk knows which manufacturer they are dealing with when a user reports a problem.

Fabbi said reasons some of his clients are reluctant to buy from more than one vendor include interoperability concerns and the hassle of having more than one contract. But Fabbi said the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has plenty of interoperability standards.

“You can’t expect to reduce the number of vendor interactions and build the kind of network organizations need these days,” he said. He added one of his Canadian clients that was using only one vendor decided to send out a request for proposals for competitive bids. Although the client continued with the same vendor, they were able to cut costs by 30 per cent.

“When you get a second vendor, the primary vendor pays more attention to you,” he said. “You tend to get better service.”

Fabbi said some vendors sell expensive products based on claims the “total cost of ownership” will be reduced.

“We have found no one ever goes and checks” these claims, he said. To help support his point, he asked for a show of hands of audience members who were able to cut staff after changing vendors. No hands were raised.

Fabbi noted if one vendor’s product costs 50 per cent more, then in order to make up for that cost over five years, the customer has to reduce operating cost by up to 23 per cent.

“Hold your vendor’s feet to the fire,” he said. “If they make a claim, measure it.”


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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