Traditional Thinking About the Campus Network Is Holding It Back

S. Schuchart

Summary Bullets:

  • Traditional thinking around campus networking as ‘wired’ and ‘wireless’ is holding back transformational change.
  • The business needs campus networks to be agile, secure, and operationally efficient, meaning wired and wireless networks must be considered as a whole rather than as individual parts.

We all need to begin thinking about the campus network as a holistic combination of LAN/WAN, wireline, and wireless access components, rather than as separate parts. For decades, we’ve looked at ‘wired’ and ‘wireless’ as separate and disparate buying decisions, sometimes even when purchased from the same vendor. As an industry, wired and wireless are still treated as separate markets: in analyst reports, in market shares, and by the press, customers, and vendors. Even the vendors on the forefront of combined campus networking still have separate engineering and sometimes even business units for these functions. The growing need to automate common tasks, apply policy across the network, and integrate security means we need an upgrade to how we think about campus networking.

Does that mean throwing in the towel on best-of-breed and succumbing to vendor lock-in? No. The reality is that changing how we think about the campus doesn’t mean there can no longer be best-of-breed solutions. Vendors selling best-of-breed solutions, such as standalone wireless vendors, will instead need to up their game. Many of them are already offering their own highly integrated switching, and all need to get closer to switching partners for truly deep integration. Plus, there are still plenty of customer situations where only one aspect of the campus is emphasized. Outdoor venues and retail location services come to mind. But, gaining such deep integration will take effort on the part of best-of-breed vendors, and they will have to make sure they tell that story via customer case studies and generous trials for prospective clients.

Vendor lock-in is a favorite sore point in the industry. The truth is that IT locks itself into a vendor, regardless of how open that vendor is, for the customer’s planned life of the equipment. There is always the option to change at upgrade time. Think of this: vendors today are touting how accessible and available their APIs are. APIs provide agility/integration options should the need arise. The needs of the business mean that gaining operational efficiency, agility, and security are more important to the organization than IT’s ability to switch vendors. There is also the option of managed service providers, which can integrate multivendor equipment, give IT the dashboards and efficiency it wants, and provide an experienced engineering team to do best-of-breed integration, albeit for a price.

So, with your next client pitch, your next pitch to your business management, or your next recommendation, consider that in five years the idea that the campus network is two separate things will be like assuming the only way to talk to your cousin across the world is with Alexander Graham Bell’s phone network. Campus networking is converging, and it’s time we all take it to heart.

What do you think?

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