In an earlier post I talked about how buying Cisco never gets you fired. Some readers have interpreted this as if I was trying to bash Cisco, while others thought it was an endorsement. The truth is that it was neither. In my work I am always trying to find the solution that fits the client’s network best, regardless of brands of hardware or software. Whatever works best to meet the needs of the client, works best for me. Sometimes it is hardware from the big names that’s the best, and sometimes it isn’t.

A year or so ago, a client wanted a new network installed. They would use it exclusively for VOIP and the data flow would not exceed a few dozen megabits per second. They wanted high-end hardware, and asked a quote for Cisco. I gave them an estimate and when they saw that the type of router they desired would cost over 10K a piece, a question was quickly raised to provide alternatives. Routers from other big names were cheaper, some were even much cheaper, but in the end we settled on a box that cost them only 400 euros. And it fit their needs perfectly.

For a while, I thought it couldn’t be any more cost-effective than that. Imagine my surprise when a new client (a web hosting company running a few gigabits per second of traffic, and wanting to get away from their single upstream and become multihomed) recently proclaimed that they felt that they already had enough hardware and gave me literally a zero hardware budget. Of course I was welcome to create virtual machines on their existing cloud platform as I saw fit. Their network is now running using only software inside their existing cloud. It is stable, works like a charm and I’m sure I will be using it more in future.

Why would I bash or endorse a certain brand over another? After all, hardware and software are just a means to a solution. We look for what suits best. The big brands shine when specific features are needed (but see also my previous post and make sure to keep things simple), and when existing infrastructure with trained staff needs to be expanded with equipment that they already know. In other cases – be prepared to be surprised by how good alternative solutions can be. The one Holy Grail doesn’t exist.