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Cisco vs Dell networking: A review

(Image credit: Image Credit: Flex)

Choosing the right networking solution for your business has never been more important. Regardless of industry, everybody seems to be feeling the pinch of shrinking budgets, with large estates often manned by smaller IT teams with an ever-expanding list of requirements. With this comes a dilution of knowledge and best practice.

In a landscape traditionally dominated by Cisco, it is often easy to default to the industry favourite for networking without first considering the alternative solutions. Cisco may well be a networking behemoth, but fundamentally their technology is equalled by other vendors.

Whilst Dell EMC and Cisco follow different strategies for their networking solutions and therefore bring varying benefits and disadvantages, it is this difference in approach for arguably comparable technologies that provides your business with the opportunity to tailor your network to your own needs.

What does Cisco bring to the table?

Cisco: your friendly neighbourhood networking business.

As a result of their many years of experience, Cisco have been an innovator and led the networking market. Where Cisco has gone, others have followed. They introduced many new protocols which have since been perfected and adopted by the industry and it is not unreasonable to suggest Cisco’s innovation has shaped the modern networking market.

When you think about networks, you immediately think of Cisco — and that didn’t happen by accident. Few companies market themselves as well as Cisco. Like our use of Microsoft Office or Google products, Cisco have become synonymous with everyday activities in an IT department.

Cisco’s focus on education in schools/colleges (Cisco Academies) and beyond with certifications, that can carry the same weight as a university degree, are used to benchmark capability when it comes to networking. Even at LAN3, we use Cisco certifications as a yardstick during recruitment and a go-to for training networking fundamentals. As a result, many industry professionals feel very comfortable in the Cisco ecosystem and fear they will become de-skilled if they take their eye off this ball. As such, there is a very healthy job market that also follows Cisco best practice.

Let’s call them out for what they are — Cisco are innovators, who have pioneered much of the modern networking that we know today.

The single pane of glass solution.

Their reputation as market leaders is not an accident and they have earned the perception that if you want a network to work and last for as long as you need it to, then Cisco is a favourable option. The adage that ‘you never get fired for buying Cisco’ persist.

Cisco offer a wide range of switching portfolios, as well as software overlays, which fully integrate with each other and provide additional functionality that benefits the overall network. Their specialism is demonstrable as they do this technology so well, with solutions such as Cisco DNA adding the benefit of a single pane of glass.

To deliver the much-desired layers of security, the inclusion of firewalls in their portfolio has enabled the provision of a fully secure network design from edge to perimeter, as well as their wireless or VoIP offerings. That said, it is important to remember that for many, a single pane of glass solution is not the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ and products such as SonicWALL sitting within the Dell Technologies ecosystem do a comparable, or better job.

Dell - Not just for servers and storage

Known for their PC’s, laptops, server and storage solutions, rather than networking, we often witness resistance to the idea of opting for Dell Technologies over Cisco.

But let’s stay open minded here...

Dell Technologies have long extolled the virtues of an open-standards-first business model, alongside their own proprietary protocols. The outcome? An end-to-end, integrated market-leading solution, via an ecosystem of technology partners.

VMWare, Ruckus, Aerohive and SonicWALL sit in an extensive ecosystem of products and solutions from Dell Technologies. Whilst this can be difficult to unify into a single pane of glass solution, there is arguably a solution for any situation due to the amount of products on offer. A business can pick and choose a solution that is truly tailored to their needs, whilst delivering simplified support contracts as well as minimal points of contact. Whilst this is indeed possible with Cisco too, the sheer range of options available with Dell Technologies make this an important factor in the decision-making process, particularly for businesses who have complex requirements.

Due to their well-established servers and storage business, most businesses have some kind of Dell switch in their server rooms. This gateway to the Dell Technologies ecosystem with reference architecture and recommended designs often begins the discussion of “well, if it’s good enough for a critical system such as servers and storage then surely it’s good enough as a core or edge solution as well?”.

The flexible roll-out that could maximise your budget

It is inevitable that in a discussion comparing Cisco and Dell Technologies, the topic of diminishing budgets will eventually lead to the recognition that on average, Dell come in at a much more aggressive price-point despite their comparable technology, and the plethora of other value-add solutions.

Dell Technologies’ Networking solutions are similar enough to be able to provide the option for a phased rollout model for businesses moving from HP or Cisco rather than a rip and replace approach. By supporting both Cisco proprietary and the industry standard protocols supported by other vendors, there is an option to replace the core with one year’s budget and later the edge, when further funds become available. Additionally, engineers familiar with Cisco’s command line will be very comfortable when working on Dell EMC networks. For many, this flexibility along with the ability to choose the details of which products go into their solution, from a range of options, can be music to the ears of IT professionals. That’s not to mention the saving grace of minimal downtime during the switchover, which is often crucial for the ‘always on’ businesses of the modern technological era.

Looking towards the future

Fundamentally, with technologies that are of a very similar standard this comparison really does hinge on the way Cisco and Dell Technologies are marketing their solutions. Cisco paved the way with pioneering and innovation that became industry standard, whilst Dell have taken that standard and developed a portfolio of products and solutions ripe for the picking.

Whilst Dell Technologies networking division has been established and proven for many years, particularly in conjunction with servers and storage (top of rack), it is only in recent years that they have more publicly demonstrated their capabilities in the campus and datacentre spectrums. Dell are now a formidable alternative to Cisco (and other competing technologies), if not providing enhanced solutions.

Talking of innovation, it would be remiss not to touch on the topic of future technologies and the direction of networking in the coming years. Whilst Cisco may have laid the foundations of networking standards, software defined networking, open networking and big data is arguably taking a lead from Dell Technologies.

If you’re looking for a networking solution, Cisco should certainly be in the picture (it would be wrong of me not to say so). But with other comparable technologies offering alternative solutions, without the need to pay the premium for the badge, it’s worth taking the time to do your research and due diligence.

Martin Jones, Managing Director, LAN3
Image Credit: Flex

Martin has been Managing Director of LAN3 since its incorporation in 2008 and is ultimately responsible for the delivery of the most reliable, intelligent and efficacious networking solutions to its clients.