I was listening to a briefing the other day and got swept up in a Western melodrama, set against the backdrop of Calamity Jane’s saloon in Deadwood Gulch, South Dakota, revolving around three major characters: helpless heroine (the customer); valiant hero (vendor A, riding a standards-based white horse); and the scoundrel villain (a competitor, riding the proprietary black stallion) (insert boo and hiss). Vendor A tries to evoke sympathy at his plight of not offering the latest features because he doesn’t have the same powers as the villain and has chosen to follow the morally correct path, which is filled with prolonged and undeserved suffering supporting standards-based functions. What poppycock! There is no such thing as good and evil in networking. If the vendors were reversed in positions, vendor A would be doing the same thing as its competitors. Every vendor has some type of special sauce to differentiate themselves. Anyway, it’s business, plain and simple; networking fundamentally needs proprietary and standards-based features. However, there’s a time and place for both.  

With that in mind, I want to let you know that I’m a big proponent of standards-based networking. The use of open standards improves the choices that help you reduce risk, implement durable solutions, obtain flexibility, and benefit from quality. Ninety-plus percent of networking should be leveraging standard protocols, but to get to that point features need to go through three stages:

  • Stage 1: Innovation. In general, features and functionality are born out of necessity; vendors will tackle this endeavor if they know this will increase their bottom line. For example, Cisco created Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP) in 1994 to help network managers automate network deployments and differentiate their solutions over leading networking providers Cabletron and 3Com.
  • Stage 2: Crossing the Chasm. Ultimately, the market chooses the best technology to solve business issues. Some technology lives on, like IP/TCP, many disappear: IPX/SPX, NetBios, 100BaseVG.
  • Stage 3: Standards. Since the standards bodies’ (IEEE, IETF, ISO, etc) members are volunteers from academia, vendors, and end users with only a limited set of resources, they have to use their resources wisely. With a business case in hand, the standards bodies will then work to standardize the technology, often with the help of an innovator. Xerox worked with Dec and Intel to promote Ethernet as standard.  

Fundamentally, data center transformation is shaking up the industry, and there is a ton of innovation occurring within data center networking. I&O managers tasked with network refreshes should keep these two things in mind:

  • Data center networking is at the beginning of transformation. It will take some time for the standards bodies to standardize features and for vendors to implement them (VEPA, TRILL, 802.1aq, 802.1 DCB). This means solutions are highly proprietary (IRF, vPC, VCS) and network refresh criteria should include vendor road maps to standards-based features. Refer to Networking Frequently Asked Questions for more details and suggestions.  
  • Networks outside the data center should leverage standards-based protocols. Don’t be squeezed or pressured into purchasing from the same vendor because it’s the only one to support x, y, and z. More than likely, if you’ve had that vendor’s products for a while, someone, including that vendor, has probably implemented standards-based features.

Stay tuned for a document I’ll be publishing on this in the next few weeks. It’s an FAQ that tackles innovation, standards, dual-sourcing your network, key vendors, and other common network concerns. In the meantime, I’m always happy to get your thoughts on the matter.