With the recent debate around Cisco’s proprietary FabricPath version of TRILL in the twit-o-verse and Kurt Bales recent post Proprietary Cometh Before the Standard I want to make the opposing case. Because he isn’t looking deep enough, or encompassing enough history to see the damage that proprietary technology causes.
To try and summarise Kurt’s perspective:
- vendors develop proprietary features
- then those features get standardised
- what’s the problem ?
Kurt’s view is not a bad assessment but it’s overly simple. The real world is much more complex. It involves real money, and loads of corporate stupidity ( Hanlons Razor )
Lets look back at the some ethernet versions of proprietary and standards where it isn’t so clear.
HSRP / VRRP
- While it’s true that HSRP eventually evolved into VRRP, you should note that they are not compatible.
- Thus, anyone who adopted the proprietary version got ‘stuck’ with HSRP.
- in fact, VRRP was a poor standard, and no one used it much.
- until much later when it finally got features.
- why did it take so long to get worthy features ?
- because Cisco didn’t participate because it didn’t need to.
- until customers starting forcing VRRP support.
- It became a tick box on tenders and RFP’s
LACP / PaGP
- PaGP wasn’t a bad protocol, although not well documented, and poorly comprehended by most engineers.
- LACP is a far superior protocol.
- because Cisco got involved in the standards to help interoperability.
- because customers demanded it
- absolutely insisted on it as a prerequisite for purchase in fact.
- VTP is Cisco proprietary
- Cisco owns patents on VTP
- there are no standards for VTP ((that I know of))
- great feature
- but not the best solution
- MSTP still not well implemented by Cisco products
- because most customers don’t need it
- because Cisco has market dominance and quasi-monopoly
- standards not developing because there is no need
- because Cisco has no interest in it.
- Cisco has 80% or more of the some market categories
- Cisco can choose to create proprietary features even when not needed.
- Because it locks customers into their technology and products in the early adoption phase
- they can claim “increased” sales and “successful” adoption
- They can claim “market leadership” and “technical developments” and “R&D benefits”
- and Cisco management can then stop funding the standards projects.
- and tell customers that this is a “better solution”
- This forces the standards body to accept technology that aligns with Cisco’s choices
- because people want interoperability
- that we would have had, if only standards had been created anyway.
- but why are Cisco’s choices better than anyone else’s ?
- standards allow for competing visions & solutions to be resolved.
- standards are created by flawed processes
- individuals who create the standards are mainly drawn from the vendors
- thus Cisco actually helps to create most standards.
- And Brocade/Foundry, Avaya/Nortel, Huawei, 3Com and many more
- there are a few unaligned people involved, but not many
- vendors sometimes choose to play politics with standards to suit their commercial needs.
- e.g. It might suit Cisco just fine to delay TRILL and create their own proprietary standard and they can delay the ratification process.
- e.g. It might suit Brocade just fine to slow down the DCB standards because their feature development isn’t hitting the deadlines and they can delay the ratification process.
Too Many Standards Bodies
- It’s also true that there are too many standards bodies, with different processes, methods, politics and history.
- IEEE for Ethernet
- ANSI for FibreChannel
- IETF for IP
- And now these technologies are “melding” there are competitive aspects for each organisation.
VEPA vs VNTag
- VNtag modifies the Ethernet frame.
- it is Cisco proprietary
- requires new silicon to support the modified frame
- VEPA achieves similar capabilities using out of band signalling
- AFAICT, VNtag features could be replaced with out of band techniques
- Therefore VNtag is a deliberate lock in strategy.
- VEPA needs no change to existing switch silicon, no change to ethernet frame
- VEPA work was progressing until Cisco released ‘FabricPath’
- now there is little progress
- AFAICT, Cisco isn’t blocking the progress, but they aren’t helping to progress it either.
- Cisco’s dominant market position means that they must be a part of the process
- They are potentially abusing their market dominance.
- But the IEEE process is closed and we cannot see what’s happening.
- further proving that proprietary and closed is bad.
Proprietary Always Loses
- in twenty five years of IT that I have seen, proprietary networking always loses.
- There will always be a few exceptions to this but don’t think that “winning the lottery is an employment strategy”.
- and it stops industry growth
- it retards product sales
- Remember the early versions of proprietary IPsec ? You should. It’s educational.
- The Internet is the greatest success of standards based networking.
The EtherealMind View
- no vendor lasts for ever
- no product strategy lasts for more than a couple of years.
- new technologies are only new for a couple of years.
- never accept that proprietary is acceptable.
- proprietary will always waste your time and money.
- your networks will last longer than this years fashion for technology.
- you want to go home on time, after an organised and planned day.
- that’s what standards are for.