A couple of years back, Gartner® released the results of a survey titled Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network . The results showed that single vendor network costs and complexity would increase, while multi-vendor networks would continue to provide greater efficiency. Truth be told, most network admins nowadays manage multi-vendor network environments by deploying the most suitable and affordable devices in their networks.
Generally, when deploying devices in the network, network managers try to balance two important factors: the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and the operational efficiency of the devices. At a macro view, this trend may pave the way to build next generation enterprise networks, but this can also pose some operational risks. Deloitte (a professional services firm) also released the results of a survey they titled Multivendor Network Architectures, TCO and Operational Risk  that examines the operational, financial, and risk factors associated with the single-vendor and multi-vendor approaches in different types of enterprise networks. They claim that multi-vendor networks also have unique problems that need to be addressed.
Challenges Faced in a Multi-Vendor Network
From network administrators’ point of view, there are a few challenges they face while managing a multi-vendor network:
Performance Management – When admins manage a multi-vendor network, they have to collect data on different parameters like device status, memory status, hardware information, etc. It’s a challenge to retrieve customized performance statistics data because each vendor should have unique OIDs. If you don’t have the right network management system (NMS) tool that supports multi-vendor devices, it’s impossible to monitor all the devices by collecting and monitoring network data.
EOL/EOS Monitoring – In enterprise network management, managing EOL and EOS information is a huge task. Admins have to maintain a spreadsheet that tracks all the device details—from product number to part number and end-of-life dates. If you combine that with multi-vendor devices in an enterprise network, the result can create a huge burden of manual tasks for admins. To make this process easier, there are tools available that automate EOL/EOS monitoring and resolve basic issues for network admins.
Hardware Issues and Repair – Having to face hardware failure in multi-vendor networks usually means having to face prolonged downtime. Each hardware issue may need its own unique support and repair specialists, and managing repair for a large number of devices can become a huge headache for network admins.
Applying Configurations to Different Devices – Deploying and managing new configurations for different devices requires a lot of manual effort and time. And, if there’s an issue with the configuration, admins have to manually Telnet/SSH the device to make the change or fix the issue. Admins can use network configuration management tools to resolve these problems.
Expertise to handle different devices – Network admins need to know how to manage different devices in multi-vendor networks. Expertise in command line interface will help to operate and retrieve information, if processes are implemented.
To successfully manage a multi-vendor network environment, network admins can adopt a two-pronged strategy.
- One, admins have to figure out the best combination of Layer 2 and Layer 3 network devices. It can be as simple as ‘How can I increase the router boot time?’ to ‘How will this device support our business critical applications?’
- Two, find the right tool to manage your network, irrespective of the devices you deploy. There are only few options available in the market where organizations can deploy end-to-end single vendor network devices. But, predominantly the trend seems to favor multi-vendor environments where administrators feel it’s more cost-effective.
While implementing solutions based on multi-vendor networks, ensure device configurations are set properly. Interoperability is essential. Admins can test the deployment configurations before actual implementation. Since each vendor may have different interpretations to network standards, it’s advisable to simulate and later deploy in the network. If administrators are going after a multi-vendor network, they have to take certain precautions to achieve high stability. Using an NMS tool that supports different vendors will help in managing your network. Complexities like command line interface (CLI) syntax can be replaced by tools that provide simple user interface to manage day-to-day activities.
Diverse networking environments require more centralization and providing continuous network availability should be the top priority. Ensure smooth network operations by monitoring all the key network parameters. For instance, network issues can be solved by looking at information as simple as ‘node status’ to something very important like, ‘memory usage’. When administrators use NMS tools, they automatically retrieve key information from devices. This makes an admin’s job much easier. If you have an SNMP-enabled device, your NMS can automatically poll relevant information from the device and display it in a readable format.
Single Central Console to Monitor All Devices
It doesn’t matter if you’re managing a small or large network, achieving efficiency and reducing cost of maintenance should be an administrator’s goal. Heterogeneous network infrastructure can pose challenges when dynamic operations are performed across systems, but using an NMS tool that supports multiple vendors can definitely be helpful for engineers during their network creation and expansion process.
 Courtesy Gartner® Survey - “Debunking the Myth of the Single-Vendor Network”: Republished by Dell®,  Courtesy Deloitte® and Cisco® Survey - “Multi-vendor network architectures, TCO and Operational risk”