Cisco again looks to debunk the multivendor network

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Jun 16, 2011 11:42 am | Network World
by Jim Duffy

In its second attempt to debase arguments that a multivendor network is more beneficial to users than a single-vendor infrastructure, Cisco this week hosted a webcast of two customers discussing the merits of their all-Cisco networks.

The customers — retail giant Tesco and the Columbus, Ohio, Regional Airport Authority — discussed the role their Cisco networks play in daily operations and interaction with customers, passengers and employees. The discussion, entitled “Why a ‘Good Enough’ Network Isn’t Good Enough,” sought to, among other things, dismiss a multivendor approach to networking as unsuitable for meeting specific business goals.

The webcast followed an earlier response by Cisco to an analyst report, and subsequent media coverage, that argued that a single-vendor, end-to-end approach to networking actually does a disservice to users. In April, Cisco Senior Vice President Rob Lloyd hosted a live webcast to decry the “good enough” network, Cisco’s vernacular for a multivendor network comprised of low-priced, commodity hardware.

UNDER ATTACK: Gartner slams Cisco’s single-vendor network vision

Lloyd and other Cisco executives were responding to a report from Gartner that stated that a multivendor approach will reduce enterprise customers’ costs and simplify their operations. The Gartner report argued against single-vendor networks in general and Cisco’s message in particular that an end-to-end, architectural approach to networking with a strategic vendor relationship is more business-critical.

The Columbus Regional Airport Authority seems to agree with Cisco. Before becoming an all-Cisco shop, the organization had equipment from 3Com and HP.

“We were at the end of our rope as far as the infrastructure goes,” said Shawn Prince, IT infrastructure and operations manager for the authority. “We had a mixed-vendor network but we needed to make it all manageable, to simplify that. We needed … to get out of purchasing things for today and look three to five years down the road. Everything we do has to be flexible and scalable, and not all weighted on price.”

The Columbus Regional Airport Authority’s network serves three airports and 350 employees, but has an IT staff of fewer than 20. With all of the business units within each airport, the network serves “a small city,” Price said.

The authority runs a Catalyst 6500 Virtual Switching System (VSS) core to support operations. The authority is looking to install passenger assistance kiosks in terminals, and high-definition cameras and video analytics for security.

Going with a single vendor was instrumental in these initiatives, Price said. A multivendor strategy wouldn’t do.

“We did not have the expertise on hand,” he said. “It was only through our partnership with Cisco that we could really sit down and design and develop a network to do what we needed it to do.”

Grocer and retailer Tesco couldn’t relate to the multivendor scenario. When asked how a multivendor implementation would inhibit what it’s trying to do, CIO Mike McNamara said, “I don’t know, because I don’t have one.”

Tesco has 5,000 locations worldwide, employs 500,000 people and serves 30 million customers. It is the third-largest retailer in the world in terms of revenue.

The company uses Cisco TelePresence for intra-company collaboration, and is outfitting its stores with Wi-Fi so customers can get ready Internet access for product and store comparison information.

Tesco invested in an IT infrastructure overhaul four years ago in order to be more responsive to technology and social networking-savvy customers, and to reduce travel time through collaboration. It virtualized its server farms and upgraded its Cisco network to support TelePresence and other video-intensive applications.

“It gives us an enormous advantage,” McNamara said of the company’s IT and network infrastructure. “It’s left our competitors a few years behind me.”

McNamara said Tesco has an “obsessive customer focus,” and that has necessitated the network upgrade and strategic relationship with Cisco.

“We follow the customer,” McNamara said. “We have a real culture that embraces and desires change.”

He noted that customers are now walking around Tesco stores with smartphones, doing comparative price shopping and reviewing online customer reviews. As customers peruse goods on Tesco shelves with “computers in their pockets,” Tesco officials need more time to attend to their shopping and technology needs.

TelePresence helps in that regard by cutting travel costs by 70% for Tesco executives, McNamara said. Tesco is using that and other video technologies in its stores and offices to “humanize” its business, he said.

“We’re starting to use video to talk to people more often, and more informally,” McNamara said.

And in addition to cutting travel expenses, TelePresence has helped Tesco executives better prepare for meetings with other officials around the world.

“We used to have to spend time in darkened rooms going through budgeting spreadsheets” upon arrival at a Tesco location, McNamara said. “Now I can do all that before I go. It’s as good as being in a room with us.”