Swiss army knife

Best of Breed vs. Best of Vendor

Best of breed vs. best of vendorTracy Corbo, a networking analyst with Enterprise Management Associates (EMA), just blogged about the future prospects for Web security and WAN optimization specialist Blue Coat Systems, which was acquired by Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm, in February. She is optimistic, at least for the near term, that Blue Coat will be reinvigorated, and may benefit from synergies with other networking companies acquired by Thoma Bravo.

This brings to mind the ongoing debate of ‘Best of Breed’ vs. ‘Best of Vendor’, also known as ‘Build vs. Buy’. This argument has raged for almost as long as there’s been an IT industry, and while a strong case can be made for both sides, I believe that in the end, a Buy (BOB) approach will pay higher returns than a Build, or all-in-one approach.

There are pros and cons for both sides of the Build vs Buy philosophies. In exchange for getting to pick and choose what features capabilities, and prices are important to you, there are also the challenges of integrating and managing different vendors’ products and services with a best-of-breed approach. A BOB-based environment tends to be more complex, and with non-technical people becoming more involved in the IT buying decisions, simplicity and ease of use are increasingly important.

Best of the vendor, typically an integrated set of products, also known as a ‘good-enough’ solution, offers the advantages of bundled features, pricing, and service and support. There is only one ‘throat to choke’ when something goes wrong, unlike the finger-pointing that often occurs in a multi-vendor environment.

But there are tradeoffs, not least of which is the reality that one size does not fit all. The Swiss Army knife can be a very useful and flexible tool when size and space are issues, but when you need a specific capability, an all-in-one tool can often prove inadequate.

Then there’s the issue of vendor lock-in. Like the Swiss Army knife, it’s great when a vendor’s solution addresses your needs, but when you need something unique, or for a limited application, time or budget, how quickly can they adapt and respond?

To me that’s the deal-breaker with an all-in-one solution, the rapid changes driving the market, and the need to respond to these changes in a timely fashion. IT vendors used to have a lot more time to prepare new products, upgrades and fixes, but in the 24×7 connected world, when a problem or opportunity arises, time is often critical. In most cases, good enough isn’t!