Why you never let a vendor design your network

Cisco's ridiculous hardware spec for West Virginia's network underscores a troubling fact: You can never trust your vendor

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If you want to relate this story to those who don't know a Cisco 3945 from a Cisco 870, try this analogy: Imagine that the state had received a grant to supply cars to officials in various towns and cities. These cars, perhaps 1,200 in all, are to be used for state activities such as transportation to meetings, site travel for state inspectors, and other mundane tasks.

The group responsible for procuring these cars sends an RFQ to a large car dealership, which responds with a quote for 1,200 Maseratis. The request is rubber stamped and paid for by the grant agency without anyone questioning why the state should be buying 1,200 luxury sports cars. Imagine the public furor when those cars hit the road.

I don't know the intricacies of West Virginia's network, nor do I know who was responsible for the design and implementation of the network itself. I think it's a reasonable guess that those who signed off on the uncontested, amazingly bloated quotes from Cisco were not the same people who were responsible for the network design and construction. If they were, they have even more explaining to do. The engineers at Cisco who came up with the quote have some questions coming to them too.

There's talk of debarment of Cisco in West Virginia, which would mean that Cisco would be forbidden from bidding on future projects. I doubt anything so reasonable will ever come to pass, but perhaps the state can try to sell several hundred of those routers on eBay and get the routers it should've bought in the first place -- assuming they need routers for these locations at all. (I'm only partially kidding.)

If West Virginia had enlisted the assistance of a competent, independent network architect at any point during the design and procurement phase of this project, none of this would have happened. To an even reasonably skilled consultant, this quote and spec would have seemed absurd from the outset.

Unfortunately, this kind of budgetary disaster is still all too common when dealing with the "black magic" of large networks. Unless you know what you're talking about or hire someone who does, you have to trust the vendor to do the right thing. That's clearly not what Cisco had in mind for West Virginia.

This story, "Why you never let a vendor design your network," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Paul Venezia's The Deep End blog at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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