So, you’ve done your research, learned about the many benefits of open networking, and decided you’re interested in building an open network. Congratulations, and welcome to the future of networking! You’ve made a great first step, but maybe you’re concerned about where to begin when it comes to vendors. A lot of network providers will claim that they have open solutions…but how can you be sure you’re choosing the best one? Or how can you determine if your vendor is truly an open solution? Fortunately, there are ways to gauge if your solution is as open as you need it to be. If you don’t want to get duped by phony open vendors, make sure to keep these three things in mind:

The definition of “open networking” is not set in stone

While there are common criteria and ideologies that tend to be associated with open networks, the definition of open networking is still very fluid and can mean different things to different vendors. So, when you’re trying to decide which vendor to go with, don’t let them off easy with simple answers. Ask specific questions about what exactly “open” means to them. Simplicity, flexibility, and modularity are all important determining factors in deciding how open a network truly is. Gartner suggests that you “Request answers that relate specifically to the proposed solution, because vendors might generically claim an open-networking strategy, but implement it only in a few hardware and software platforms that are not their mainstream offerings and represent only a small portion of their portfolios.” Openness is a spectrum, rather than a static condition, so make sure you’re familiar with which open principles matter to you and how you want your vendor to match them.

It’s better to adopt modular approaches

The definition of open networking may still be in flux, but it’s been proven that end-to-end architectures don’t win in the long term. Gartner states that “This is because technology improvements reduce the gap between the advanced, end-to-end, proprietary solutions and the rest of the market. Competitors eventually gain ground and force the incumbent vendors to find new ‘can’t live without’ capabilities that justify a new architecture.” If you’re looking for longevity, it’s definitely wiser to opt for designs based on simple building blocks that leverage disaggregation, fit-for-purpose software and open source and avoid end-to-end proprietary architectures.

Just because a vendor claims “openness” doesn’t make it so

Again, the true definition of open networking is still up in the air. Some vendors like to take advantage of this ambiguity and slap the term “open” on solutions that really don’t provide much flexibility at all. According to Gartner, “Vendors can (and do) claim their solutions are open, because they support basic standards (e.g., Ethernet/IP) or have an API.” However, when you take a closer look at these “open” solutions, the cracks begin to show. The reality, as Gartner points out, is that “Nearly all network vendors market ‘fully open,’ solutions; however, in practice, this means dramatically different things, making it difficult to discern which solutions are truly open,” and “several network vendors have broad portfolios, which include both open and proprietary solutions, and even ‘hardened’ versions of open-source solutions. Thus, they can easily market open strategies, while leading with proprietary and closed solutions in most accounts.” With that in mind, it’s important to make sure you ask vendors the right questions about openness so you don’t get tricked into prescriptive, end-to-end blueprints.

Now you’ve got a factual base knowledge about open networking, but how can you ensure that your network is really as open as you need it to be? This report from Gartner outlines the five must-ask questions you should be posing to network vendors to gauge the openness of their solutions. From simplicity to flexibility, these questions cover all of the basic requirements for determining if a vendor’s solution is right for you. Check it out!