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Myth # 4 of the Good-Enough Network: “Just Look for Standards”

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Originally posted by Silicon Angle by Michael Rau | June 1st

Just 50 years ago, personal computers, corporate networks, and email  didn’t exist. So sending a note meant getting out your trusty pen and  paper, writing a letter, then dropping it in a mailbox and hoping it  would arrive within a couple of weeks (hard to believe, right Gen Y’s?).  Today, it takes mere seconds for an email to get to a recipient.

New innovations and inventions in the technology industry mean the  flow of information has changed the method and speed at which we  communicate. And the standards governing the technology industry help  ensure there is security, interoperability, and a framework in place. As  we innovate, old standards evolve and new ones are created. Imagine if  we used the post office standards from 1890 to govern the way email is  sent. If that were the case, we’d probably be putting postage stamps on  our email messages.

Standards vs. Innovation

Cisco has a deep respect for industry standards and participates in  many standards bodies. As we’ve learned, vendors interpret and deploy  standards differently in their equipment. These differences may result  in integration challenges. While industry standards are extremely  important, relying only on existing standards as you plan for future  technology needs is misguided.

When companies lock themselves into standards-based networks, they  miss out on a higher-level of service innovation and occasionally  underestimate the integration cost involved in making the components of a  standards-based system work together. Yes, standards should be used,  but businesses looking for a competitive edge need to look for solutions  that are also innovative.

Businesses are always looking for innovative ways to collaborate with  their end customers, ways to better manage their infrastructures, and  ways to reduce complexity. This often means investing in next-generation  technology that may not yet be standards-based.

The good-enough network we’ve been talking about in the previous  myths, the ones that are simply cobbled together with only cost of the  parts in mind, advocates being “standards based.” This approach often  means that if a customer buys industry-standard servers, storage, and  networking technology, they will save money. The theory being that the  network will be easy to set up and everything will work together because  it’s worked in thousands of other businesses. While good in theory, the  interoperability between different vendor implementations of the same  standard and the lack of pre-standard innovations don’t necessarily make  for a scalable, reliable, and feature rich network to support the needs  of the business.  What is really needed is robust standards and  innovations in the network that ultimately become the standards of  tomorrow.

Setting the Standard: Case Studies

Let’s  look at a few examples of turning innovation into standards. Let’s  first consider the Cisco Discovery Protocol (CDP). Cisco developed CDP  years ago as a way for the network to discover the device being plugged  into it and to apply the appropriate configuration. Medianet was the  next advance in CDP. And today, Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) is  an industry standard based, in part, on Cisco’s innovation.

For the virtual data center, Cisco is developing innovations like  Overlay Transport Virtualization (OTV), which allows a customer to  combine two or more separate data centers into one virtual data center.  Cisco also just introduced the Locator/ID Separation Protocol (LISP),  which can move a virtual machine carrying workloads between data centers  without having to change the address of the virtual machine. These  innovations avoid the complexity of managing protocols such as  Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) and reduce other administrative  tasks; and this, in turn, leads to quicker time to deployment–all of  which saves money.  What is interesting about LISP is amount of work  that Cisco is simultaneously doing to support LISP standardization  efforts through the IETF.  LISP, like MPLS prior to it, is another  example of Cisco developing innovations that can be deployed today while  the standards effort is driven.

In addition, Cisco has fundamentally changed the way networks are  designed with Virtual Switching System (VSS) technology, which satisfies  three major demands of networks for high availability, better capacity  utilization, and simplicity. VSS combines two Cisco Catalyst 6500 Series  Switches into one logical switch, with the immediate benefit of  reducing the number of switches that have to be managed by half and  doubling the redundancy. In addition, with VSS, the access layer device  doesn’t see the merged switches as two separate data paths, but as one  giant pipe. The cost savings mean reduced device management expenses,  improved uptime, and greater utilization.

Yes,  we do think standards are important. Whatever future technology a  customer chooses to invest in, they should select a vendor who is  committed to existing standards. But building next-generation network  means also taking into account innovations that may not yet be based on a  standard, but will increase speed, efficiency, and improve business  operations overall. Innovations that will bear fruit both now and down  the road.

Just think, if we didn’t ever look past existing standards, we might  still be sending letters the way our grandparents did. And you’d be  reading this article on paper instead of online.

Four myths down… three to go. Stay tuned for myth number five next week.

What are some of the “good enough” myths that you’ve been hearing in the industry?

Note:  The seven myths are outlined in a recent white paper from Cisco: Debunking the Myth of the Good Enough Network.

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