Monday, May 12, 2008

Cisco vs Nortel vs ?? ..... Who Would You Choose And Why?

Here's the scenario..... you've been tasked with a design and installation of the network infrastructure for a new location in your company. For the purposes of this question your choices for equipment at the new site are between Cisco and Nortel and ?? (routers, switches, hubs, etc.) .... and the network backbone will be DS3 bandwidth with connectivity to other company locations (WAN). Note: you can substitute OC3 bandwidth if it's more applicable to you .... but realize it changes the network equipment configurations for the scenario somewhat due to the application of SONET technology.

For a general philosophy ..... when you need business critical spend the money and make it perfect (Cisco). When at the edge and not business critical, (e.g. you can afford a little downtime if needed) buy solid products that compete directly with Cisco but cost a bit less.

In one case a friend uses HP at the edge and in wireless situations where uptime is not critical. They use Cisco at the core and with wireless where uptime is essential. All that being said, the HP performs just as well, costs about 25%-50% less and has a lifetime guarantee. So to answer the question, in this case I would suggest vendor three (HP) for all the switches, hubs, etc... and Cisco at the core, but if you only have two choices, then really I think you only have one, Cisco. They're the biggest in the U.S. for a reason.

Here's a tip ..... take a look at the ProCurve product line from HP. Another friend recently switched from a mix of Cisco and Netgear to all HP and had no failures. When they needed support, their question was answered the same day from a very knowledgeable service representative. They did have one piece of equipment that was DOA but had a replacement the next day.

As far as backbone connectivity - the Cisco MGX 8800 Series switch is a superior product to the Nortel 15K WAN switch,.but that is only aplicable if you are using ATM or FR as a layer 2 transport protocol in the core. If you are using MPLS or some other protocol over IP I would suggest one of the Cisco 12 K routers running IOS XR - Nortel dosent even have a comptable product (Juniper however does but that is outside the scope of this discussion.

The difference between Cisco HTTS support and Nortel Support is night and day - that should influence your decision right there.

As far as LAN switching - the Cisco 6500 Catalyst platform is the winner hands down against the Nortel 8600. Thee 8600 is easier to configure but is simply not for the enterprise never mind a carrier class soloution. The 6500 is faster, but much more complex, but out performs the 8600 and is infinitely more flexible as far as module options. The 6500 series also has the edge as far as max number of Gig-E ports.

As far as hubs - get a switch or otherwise segment the broadcast domain.

If I were looking for a voice switch or anything capable of interfacing with the world of TDM voice, I would go Nortel over Cisco...If those were my only two choices.

While Nortel makes great voice equipment, their policies and procedures are not very customer friendly.

Cisco has better support, and for any data-centric needs, I would definitely go with Cisco.

If I were building a VOIP network, I would use Cisco for my core routing, but I would use Nortel over Cisco for my softswitching and media gateway.

Now, Nortel supports MPLS networks and has been engaged in supporting standardization in MPLS before 1998. See Nortel & MPLS

A recent article shows that the Nortel ERS 8300 bests the Cisco 4500 ...... showing between 75%-301% higher forwarding rate and 12% greater power efficiency. See Nortel Over Cisco

Of course, there's the fact that the New York Stock Exchange runs on a Nortel data network (4 year old Nortel press release )

While I feel I could probably spec out a dozen network designs that would lean towards Nortel, there are clearly good reasons to go Cisco, such as if you implement a Cisco Call Manager. Likewise, there are reasons for which you would clearly choose Nortel (being power efficient is one of them).

I will opine that you well always get a sub-optimum outcome if you select a vendor first and sort out the product selections and configurations subsequently. Unless you have almost no time to do so, write up a specification which everyone except Americans know as a request for tender and issue it to the suppliers concerned, and I don't see why you wouldn't include Avaya and others in there as well. Word the specifics definitively (e.g. the system shall be able to operate for a minimum of four hours following the loss of mains power. Comply/does not comply/partially
complies), include a scope of works and get vendors to respond with compliance statements, warranties (i.e. FREE maintenance for six months), maintenance contract proposals and pricing. Not only can you compare the various systems feature by feature (features you have listed because they are important for your business) but it's amazing how much pricing tends to be reduced when vendors know there's genuine competition.

Regarding these two, part of Cisco's strategy is to make it very inconvenient to attempt to integrate any non-Cisco components into a Cisco network. One of your requirements could be interworkability.

Cisco is the best and the least risk for you from a long-term perspective. I have found Cisco switches to be extremely stable, some switches I have seen had been up since 4+ years without a reboot. With Cisco you also have the advantage of excellent documentation, and plenty of skilled people to support your or share information online. Also, at the L3 switch level Cisco has no peer as the code used on the switches is based on their legendary routing platforms.

If Cisco is too expensive or you would like to diversify, look at Foundry or HP. Or better yet use Cisco at your L3 and core, and deploy HP chassis switches for your user connections. HP chassis switches are priced similarly to other vendor's stacking solutions, and they come with a lifetime warranty and free software updates. The CLI is also quite Cisco-like.

Given the choice of two, I would have to say Cisco, purely from a support angle - both from a vendor support perspective and from recruiting qualified staff (permanent or contract) for in-house support. CCNA/DA, CCNP/DP, CCIE - the streets are littered with them, but Nortel-accredited engineers are few and far between, and consequently a more expensive commodity.

In terms of features, functionality and performance, I would say it was too close to call, that specific model ranges would have to compared directly (port densities, PoE and multi-Gbps support for example). Besides Cisco, Nortel, and HP you could also make various cases for more cost-effective solutions from the likes of Alcatel-Lucent, Huawei, Foundry etc.....

To boil it all down ..... this is a religious question. Those of us who have been around long enough remember this "No one was ever fired for buying IBM". This was a marketing strategy that IBM used for quite a while. It worked! Cisco is using this same strategy now.

Cisco makes some amazing products, and they support them amazingly well. There are several other manufacturers of fabulous equipment on the market too though. HP, 3com, Extreme, and Nortel are a few. Here is what I believe. 3com and HP both make great equipment, Extreme equipment is on par with Cisco as far as capabilities, and Nortel is good.

I love the 3com 5500 series stackable switches, and they are only about ½ the price of comparable Cisco switches. HP also has great stackables, but I don't feel the quality is quit up to par with 3com. Extreme isn't Cisco but is considered to be very high end. I believe Nortel to be an also ran.

If you need to call the factory for tech support often, Buy Cisco period. The tech support is the best in the industry. If you are capable of designing and maintaining a network based on industry standard protocols, and are good at figuring things out on your own, buy 3com or HP.

No one was ever fired for buying Cisco. (I hope that someday this changes just as it did for IBM. But today it is still true).

Whatever direction you decide to go for similar situations with YOUR business ..... or if you've decided and are looking for a local vendor ..... you can get help finding the right fit for local support from multiple vendors including Cisco, Nortel, HP et al right here: Computer Network Equipment


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Take a look at the city of Dallas TX the. Top two IT personnel where fired after buying Cisco. The equipment was fine, the cost of the project was way out of line. If money is not an option Cisco for the LAN with Juniper for the wan. That being said I've also run Nortel 5500 and 8600 series equipment for 2+ years with no downtime. For the cost of Cisco I could really look at 10gig with other venders or gig with full equipment redundancy.

8:06 PM  

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