The Blended Network Environment
Today's businesses run on technology, using a combination of devices and software to manage operations and serve customers. As a result, leaders often invest considerable time into choosing products, participating in demos, and reading online reviews. Over time, IT departments have become a consulting resource for the businesses they serve, offering advice on the best products to meet certain goals.
In addition to the combination of hardware and software used every day by employees, network administrators have also evolved over the years. Instead of purchasing server room hardware from one vendor, these teams now combine products from different manufacturers to operate efficiently while still saving money. Blending multiple product types doesn't come without challenges, though. Here are some of the biggest difficulties in a blended network environment, along with advice on how to overcome them.
Create Your Own Solution
When system administrators stick to one vendor for all of their routers, hubs, and switches, ordering is easy. They simply look at the latest line of products and place an order. However, this approach can drastically cut into IT budgets, because administrators don't take the time to compare competitors. When Cisco sells the latest wireless switch for a specific rate, for instance, a one-solution business never looks to see what competitors are offering for at the same price point. They place an order and wait for the equipment to arrive.
Although there are many benefits to mixing and matching your networking equipment, there can be a downside. IT pros will need to spend more time researching the products to ensure they fit in an existing environment. Some equipment might have compatibility issues and many others will require configuration. Before choosing a new piece of equipment, administrators should spend time learning how they can make it work within their existing network. Often, vendors are happy to pull together the information necessary to help administrators work around compatibility issues.
Face the Challenges
Once a variety of equipment is introduced into a network environment, troubleshooting then goes to the next level. A networking team making use of a single vendor can often rely on one contact that helps with any issues that arise as they're setting up and using the equipment. While this support will likely be provided if you buy only one product, you may find you're required to pay for support after an initial purchase period. Before making a purchase with a new vendor, ask if technical assistance will be available and if so, what the cost will be. You can often leverage a far better deal on support when you're considering making a purchase than you can if you wait until after you've already received and paid for the item.
If you rely on manuals, you may find you need multiple research resources. Consider setting up a shared folder where you store manuals for each piece of equipment you install. If you have a knowledge base, include network equipment troubleshooting as part of it. If you can capture solutions to previous problems, you'll be able to keep your technicians from doing duplicate work. One deterrent, however, might be training. If you regularly invest in training for your technicians on the specialized products you use, you may find that using multiple vendors makes such training difficult. With online training options likeJuniper's Learning Portal, though, you may be able to easily set up training for your technicians to keep them educated on all of the products you use.
Data centers and server rooms are filled with equipment from some of the nation's top vendors. As networking has become more sophisticated, IT professionals have begun to realize they can choose from a wide variety of products from manufacturers that design with compatibility in mind. With careful research and planning, teams can save money by blending products without giving up needed support.
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