If you have been around IT for more than 5 minutes, you have probably been involved in a technology dispute. You have come across the person who loathes any company but one. Or, they hate one company more than any other. Perhaps they hate certain protocols or technologies because they are slightly proprietary. You get the point.
These people are everywhere. Perhaps you are one. I have been one at times. Maybe even right now. With the sheer amount of things your average networking professional is required to know, it is often easier to take refuge in the arms of a select few vendors. In a previous post, I asked the question regarding whether or not we can stay vendor neutral. I think we can, but it takes some concerted effort on our part to do so.
I don’t want to re-hash that old post, so I will move on to the point I want to make in this post. When you think about the companies you buy from, (By that I mean the actual hardware/software producer and not the reseller.) why do you buy from them? Surely you are not using only price to justify your selection are you? What are the technical reasons you buy from certain vendors? Can you name any of them? How about if I give you a competing product? Can you tell me why your choice is better than the competition?
About a month ago, I bought an iPad. I went into the Apple store and stood in line to buy my iPad. As I was standing there, a young couple was looking at a Macbook, or iMac, or whatever and asked the sales guy why they should buy a Mac. I was actually impressed with how the lady asked the question. She said: “We are looking to get a new computer and I want you to tell me why I should buy a Mac. They cost a lot more than an HP or Dell system.” Obviously someone who is open to different technology, but wants to make the right purchase. She had “accountant” written all over her. The reply from the sales man really took my by surprise. He said: “You buy a Mac for several things. First, you don’t have to worry about any viruses. Second, it is a lot more secure than any Windows machine. Third, you don’t have to worry about it crashing on you. Fourth, it costs more because it is a much higher quality product.”
I didn’t stick around long enough to hear if he closed the sale or not. I was too enamored with my ability to con my wife into letting me spend $499 on a device that will waste even more of my time with meaningless games and YouTube videos. As I heard him say those things to that couple, I was thinking how incredibly naive and wrong they were. The Apple computing platforms have been relatively unharmed by large amounts of viruses and security issues because their market share has always been in single digits and wasn’t worth the criminal/hacker community’s time and effort. If 90% or more people are using Windows boxes, why would you spend time on less than 10% of the computer population? In the past couple of years, Apple has made huge gains in the consumer market. Huge. You’ll see an increasing number of exploits head Apple’s way as their market share increases. My opinion. I could be wrong, and if I am, call me out on it. As for Apple having to deal with OS or app crashes? Nah. That would never happen right? Perhaps the only thing he said that I would possibly agree with is that it costs more because it is higher quality. After using my iPad for a month, I must say that it is a VERY polished system. I love the way it works, but I do have plenty of apps that crash. Safari included.
Whew! Enough talk about Apple. I mentioned that story just to make a point. Sometimes we delude ourselves into believing that one product/company is better than another based on hearsay, groupthink, or own positive experience with that product/technology/protocol. Perhaps it is all we’ve ever known and thus come to the conclusion that it is the best. Or maybe that guy was just trying to make a sale and counted on the ignorance of the consumer. I don’t know. I doubt I will make another trip to the Apple store unless they are the only ones selling Apple TV. What can I say? I’m becoming a convert/fanboy/zombie when it comes to Apple.
Here’s an exercise for you. Don’t worry. It’s purely a mental one. Act as if you were a first time visitor to your company data center, computer room, closet, or wherever you hide your network gear. Ask about the various products you bought and why you chose them over a competing product. If you run a Cisco ASA firewall, why did you pick that over CheckPoint, Juniper NetScreen, WatchGuard, or SonicWall? Why did you choose that Juniper router over Cisco, Vyatta, Brocade, or Adtran? It’s a good exercise because it forces you to confront the real reasons you buy from certain vendors. You see, you can be a fan of a product or a company and buy continually from them without ever really considering why you do it in the first place. At some point, someone who knows a fair amount about that particular product space might ask you to defend your selection. You better have a better answer than cost or the plethora of free lunches you get from the vendor. If you have no idea what the criteria is for determining the best choice, then you might be in over your head. Don’t worry though. Most people won’t notice as long as the free lunches keep rolling in.
In closing, can you be a technology bigot? Not if you want to be a professional. Every company has flaws and every company will produce bad technology from time to time. Being open to all solutions will keep you from buying the bad technology or using the wrong protocol. Your job as a corporate drone like myself is not to convert everyone to a particular product/technology to where they shut out reason and refuse to consider alternatives. Your job is to find the right product for your particular situation. Let the facts behind your decision speak for themselves. Tell people why you chose a particular product or technology from technical merits alone and you’ll find most people will accept that. Tell people that only a moron would pick something else and you’ll end up with a lot fewer friends. You better hope the vendor you buy from wants to buy you lunch all the time because no one else will.
****EDIT: I should probably make the point that I am only focusing on technical merits of hardware/technology first. There are other very valid reasons to buy or not buy certain products such as ease of use or familiarity by existing staff, ability to procure said equipment, or size and scope of project. If you have a fairly nailed down requirements list for some remote sites and need to deploy equipment there, then I wouldn’t advocate going through a full blown product selection procedure every single time. My point is simply that before any of those things are considered, the product must meet the technical requirements of the job at hand. After determining that, then you can consider the support structure, cost, etc. If the cost is too much, your requirements will have to change.