Use a one-stop-shop
When buying network devices, which approach is best – entrusting the entire purchase to a single supplier or shopping around for the best deal on each component?
There are, of course, pros and cons to the one-stop-shop approach to general IT purchasing. Buying a complete system from a single vendor has the significant advantage that should something go wrong, that vendor has to sort it out. You don't find yourself dealing with various companies, each denying responsibility for rectifying the fault. On the other hand, shopping around can often result in savings on individual system components.
For network systems, the situation is rather clearer. Broadly speaking, networks break down into hardware, software and cables. Cables are a specialised area, and the majority of network managers have a preferred, tried-and-tested cable supplier, able to supply not only standard, off-the-shelf cables and harnesses, but also bespoke items to meet very specific needs.
Don't go it alone
When it comes to network hardware and software, however, I would advise that, in almost all circumstances, you buy both from the same supplier, especially when purchasing refurbished products.
It's a matter of making use of your supplier's expertise and experience. When redecorating your house (or perhaps your comms room) you can take one of two approaches. Option one is to go it alone, fumbling through colour choices, buying undercoats and top coats, and trying to make sure the paint looks good against your perhaps dubious choice of flooring and woodwork finish.
That's fine if you're a DIY guru. For the rest of us mere mortals, the sensible way to go is to get an expert in to advise on colours, supply the right materials and finish the job to a professional standard. Their reputation is at stake – referrals and testimonials mean new customers for them – so they're going to make every effort to get the job done as well as possible.
You don't have to be Brain of Britain to know that your chances of impressing your friends and family with your newly decorated room will be significantly higher if you get the expert's input, than if you shop around yourself.
Hardware and software compatibility
Coming back to network purchasing, the issue at hand is the tricky matter of hardware/software compatibility. Many products remain on the market for several years, during which time the manufacturer updates both hardware and software several times. One result of these updates is that earlier versions of the hardware may not support later versions of the software. This can cause end users purchasing refurbished hardware no end of problems, especially when early revision devices are specified with later software versions.
In fact, I would take my recommendation a step further: as well as buying hardware and software from the same supplier, make it a supplier that was in the network systems business when the hardware was available new. That way, you get the benefit of the supplier's experience with the device. If there were compatibility issues with the device you're ordering, they will remember them, and will be able to flag them up at the quotation stage. If your supplier does this, hang onto them – it's a sure sign that they're up there with the best.
Don't forget memory
Memory is worthy of particular mention. Shopping around for a memory upgrade may make sense on paper, as there is no doubt that savings can be made. However, complexities can and frequently do arise. The memory may be the wrong type for the device, the firmware revision in use may not support the level of memory being installed, or the memory may simply be the wrong physical shape to fit the space available in the chassis.
The resulting wasted time, multiple phone calls and to-ing and fro-ing between suppliers each blaming the other for the problem add up to significant cost and delay. Such costs and delays need not arise. Purchase your memory upgrades from the same supplier as the hardware devices for which they are intended, and the responsibility for ensuring that the two are compatible rests fairly and squarely with that supplier.
When buying network devices, memory, peripherals and software, always use the one-stop-shop approach. Have your supplier analyse the products you are ordering and ensure that everything works as it should do.
You'll save time, money and stress. You'll reduce the risk of compatibility issues arising, and should end up with a reliable network with fewer problems, as well as the added bonus of no sideways glances and comments from your colleagues or friends about your network configuration. Or the colour of your comms room walls!