Proprietary? So what? Don’t take away my right to choose!

I was reading @networkingnerd blog and he made a comment that started me thinking.

First the quote

Proprietary is very cut and dried. You are either entirely open and run the same implementation with everyone, like OSPF or IS-IS, or you are closed and only play well with your own kind, like EIGRP or IRF. I’ve always been of the mind that proprietary implementations of things aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

Full disclosure: I work For HP Networking. Normally I don’t bring that up because this isn’t a work blog and my tweets are my own, but I think it’s important for this particular blog post since some will think that obviously skews my position. It doesn’t.

Ok so I agree 100% with Tom’s point here. What I don’t agree with was the examples he used for proprietary protocols.

Before I go further, let me point out where Tom and I agree again. Proprietary is neither good or bad. It simply is. If it meets my business requirements and solves a problem I’m having in a cost justifiable way, GREAT!

But what any good engineer knows is that any technology decision is done with trade offs in mind. If I do X then Y will suffer a little, but that’s ok because Y is of lesser importance to our business requirements that the technology design is supposed to address.

What I see too often is that people make emotional, short term decisions without considering the consequences. This always leads them down a bad place eventually.

An example: EIGRP.

I’m not going to debate the merits of this protocol or try to Cisco-bash this in any way. It does have its challenges, but if it didn’t work, people would not still be using it more than 10 years later, right? But it does have its consequences.

I hope you REALLY liked Pix firewalls. I hope you are learning to love those ASAs. Because you couldn’t put in a checkpoint if you wanted to! Ok… I understand no one REALLY wants to put in a Checkpoint. But the point is that you can’t even make the choice because of the proprietary protocol. Right?

You can’t choose a sonicwall, a Fortinet, or even a Palo Alto. Because they don’t support EIGRP either. Now I’m not going to start questioning whether or not the ASAs are a good product. They are “good enough” for a lot of people. But wouldn’t it be nice to choose what was best for you? Of course there is route redistribution, etc… But I have to believe that it’s got to be just painful because I meet people everyday who make EIGRP support as a reason for not been able to make a move off their current network supplier. There’s of course no way this could be a rationalization to support an emotional decision, right?

Now let’s look at IRF.

First: IRF is not really a protocol. It doesn’t run on IP. It’s actually control plane extension between two hardware compatible switches. Is it proprietary? Sure! 100%

You will never get an HP 5500EI to form an IRF stack with an Cisco 3750 or a Juniper EX4200. Not ever going to happen. IRF is HP’s secret sauce.

So where is the difference?

The differences is the extent of the consequences. HP’s IRF is just a control plane technology. Very similar in principal to Cisco’s VSS on the 6500 platform, or Juniper’s Virtual Chassis on the EX line of switches. All of those technologies are very limited in how far they can extend in their current implementations.

This means that if I make a choice to move towards IRF, I am at most going to be implementing it on a couple of chassis switches, or up to 9 stackables ( typically in the same closet). Now this is where the difference starts to happen….

HP has made a choice to support open standards. All of the protocols running on top of IRF are based on the standards. Instead of HSRP, there is VRRP that will run together with Juniper, Cisco, or any other vendors standard implementation of VRRP. OSPF/ISIS/BGP? Exactly the same thing. STP/RSTP/MSTP? Same thing!

Has there been a limitation of choice?

For sure!

If you WANT IRF, you need to buy the second switch from HP as well. But that’s because it’s a good technology that you really found value in, not because we’ve created a artificial limitation which prevents you from going anywhere else. and for everything else? You can choose what load balancer you want without worrying about WCCP support, or which firewall you want without worrying about EIGRP support, or what ever server platform you want without worrying about VNTag support. Everything else just works on top of it, and it plays nice with the other kids.

Perhaps a small distinction, but I think it’s an important one.

I grew up in place where independence and freedom where strongly ingrained in the culture. I would even dare to use the word “cowboy” to describe it. And anything that outs an unreasonable amount of restriction on my choices is something which I’ve been taught to resist from birth.

so Tom; If you would have compared IRF to VSS, Stackwise, or Virtual Chassis. I would have been just fine. I hope you’ll forgive my semantics debate, but I just felt the need to get this out.



2 thoughts on “Proprietary? So what? Don’t take away my right to choose!

  1. Interesting point: I had to think long and hard to come up with a non-Cisco proprietary protocol. IRF was the first one that popped into my head.

    I probably should have used VSS (or even FabricPath) to make the comparison a little more fair. I do see your point, though. A four-member IRF setup is going to have less of an impact on the network overall, since it basically turns everything into One Big Switch. You can still run standard protocols on top of it as opposed to locking yourself out of that choice with a higher level protocol. An important distinction, and one that does speak to the original idea behind the post concerning the scale of proprietary-ness and its location in your network. Thanks for setting me straight!

    • No problem at all. It gave me a chance to put down some thoughts on proprietary and PROPRIETARY. Matthew Norwood and I bang’d this around in Vegas as well. It’s a small distinction, but it’s something I believe in. 🙂

      Great post though!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s