Through years of growth, mergers, and many other factors, most IT teams end up supporting what’s referred to as a multi-vendor environment. Now with today’s network device supply chain issues, let’s explore some alternatives we’ve seen from organizations in the field, including stepping up with support for multi-vendor environments and increased consolidation (AKA mergers and acquisitions).

The last few years have thrown about everything they could at the status quo. Shifting climates, political instability, and a global pandemic have all contributed to a broad host of network device supply chain issues. Consumers all over the globe are still affected by computer chip shortages and many other items delayed by supply chain issues. And it’s not expected to end anytime soon. The Uptime Institute expects suppliers to see problems with the supply chain for critical data center products and network devices to continue over the next two years.

What does this mean for IT admins? Specifically, plans that you probably had in mind to upgrade, standardize, or expand hardware infrastructure to cope with the new reality that the pandemic has brought to just about every network system in the world? Is everything shot to heck? Do we need to just hold everything together until the network device supply chain issues resolve themselves in 2024? Or are there other ways we can extend the life of our devices, and continue to optimize our networks through other means? Let’s explore some alternatives we’ve seen from organizations in the field, including stepping up with support for multi-vendor environments and increased consolidation (AKA mergers and acquisitions).

What is a multi-vendor environment?

In a perfect world, a hardware network would probably look pretty boring. If you’re looking to take advantage of scale for the price, and minimize the technical needs for ongoing support, having a network built entirely from one vendor’s product is probably the best way to go. Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work this way. Through years of growth, mergers, and many other factors, most IT teams end up supporting what’s referred to as a multi-vendor environment. A multi-vendor environment is pretty straightforward: it’s any computer network that supports multiple manufacturers, vendors, and providers. This can also include a ‘hybrid’ methodology—where a company may choose to add applications and systems to their stack to address specific business problems.

Pros & cons of multi-vendor environments

  • PRO: User adoption rates are higher. With a multi-vendor environment, users are more likely to use tools that help them resolve the issues they face daily, rather than struggle to adapt to a single-vendor solution.
  • PRO: Solves business problems. Every system, device, or cloud application used is meant to add value to the user. Whether it is resolving a problem, or adding to the bottom line, there’s a greater chance for success when vendor diversity is applied.
  • CON: Implementation and maintenance. Challenges can arise with regards to compatibility, complexity, and the need to merge data from different systems. In addition, updates and contract maintenance for a multi-vendor-supported environment can be time and labor-intensive.
  • CON: User education is necessary. Training for end users will be needed to properly utilize the pool of applications to address business problems.

What does multi-vendor look like in 2022?

Auvik conducts an annual survey to better understand multi-vendor management, and how the trend has changed since we first conducted the survey in 2018. Our conclusion in the Auvik Vendor Diversity Report for 2021, things are heating up. A minimum of 60 vendors are now competing for each device category. The largest category, network switches, now sees over 157 unique vendors. Despite this, Cisco still maintains its place as the most commonly deployed vendor for the fourth year in a row and managed to increase its share in 2021.

Vendor Diversity for Network Devices
  • Switches – 157 different vendors
  • Access Points – 120 different vendors
  • Routers – 86 different vendors
  • Firewalls – 60 different vendors
Top 10 Network Device Vendors
1. Cisco 2. Meraki 3. Ubiquiti 4. HP 5. Aruba (HP)
6. Ruckus 7. Fortinet 8. SonicWall 9. Dell 10. Netgear

In the MSP space, nearly two-thirds of all providers are currently managing more than 5 network device vendors. But look a little closer, and you’ll see that 90% of those networks only have between one and three device vendors actually deployed. What does this mean? It suggests that MSPs often support less complex networks, and are mastering the business science of standardizing equipment to both improve service for their clients and, ultimately, their bottom line. This isn’t always true for everyone, though. For some MSPs, standardization isn’t always feasible. Aside from network device supply chain issues, some MSPs are stuck supporting a client base with legacy equipment, due to budget constraints from the client, or through an acquisition of a less mature MSP where standardizing was not a focus.

Mature MSP businesses have learned that in order to create a truly streamlined MSP, they’re best to standardize the solutions, the hardware, and software stack as much as possible. This proactive action allows the MSP to run leaner support teams to take on additional clients.

A line of empty receiving bays in a warehouse.

MSPs Acquiring MSPs

These days, taking on additional clients for an MSP may come by way of an acquisition. Typically, when an MSP is purchased by another MSP, the customer base, and the marketing and sales channels are transferred. According to Channel E2E, more than 60 merger and acquisition deals (roughly 29%) in January and February of 2022 leaned heavily on MSPs. The influx of private equity funding has become a catalyst in the marketplace for consolidation among Managed Service Providers.

So what does this mean for the client? Ultimately, it’s a few hiccups in service. Things like additional time will be needed for meeting the new MSP, helping with password resets, and a collaborative effort to transfer services. This may include a reassessment and training as the incumbent MSP transitions.

But for the MSP, this can be a stressful process as it looks to strengthen its relationship with the new clients. Whether this comes in the form of streamlining services or repairing a broken relationship, MSPs are often under pressure to meet the physical and emotional demands of consuming a new client base during an acquisition.

For a more mature (in services) MSP, being the new provider will usually entail looking to implement a different level of support for those clients where break-fix has historically been that it was managed. For those client’s clinging to legacy equipment, the new MSP will most likely be ready to rip and replace in order to standardize and streamline. And with today’s thin supply chains, getting what you want, or what you need, to ‘standardize’ may be impossible.

Supporting legacy & multi-vendor systems

Managing the lifecycle of devices plays an important part of any IT strategy— but it’s one that’s oftentimes ignored until an issue or outage occurs. Industries still clinging to outdated hardware are faced with challenges like lack of support, integration complications, and poor user experience as the digital demands from the business continue to expand. In today’s networking environment, more applications are being requested, different systems need to be accessed, and even whole new network builds are expected.

Be that as it may, you might be reading this and thinking, “So what? Planning is great, but that doesn’t help the situation I’m in right now.” So let’s review: what can MSPs do right now, with current network device supply chain issues, to avoid putting projects on hold that require upgrades or standardizing hardware infrastructure?

  • Take time to identify and plan for capacity. Visibility into existing network resources and device health is a necessary step for effective planning. In today’s volatile environment full of hardware shortages, it’s imperative to have clarity in order to properly scale and meet digital transformation demands.
  • Adopt more cloud services. More companies are looking to cloud offerings, where the diversity of applications are readily available to help solve business problems as well as aid in offsetting on-premise limitations.
  • Seek help from an experienced VAR (Value Added Reseller). Partnering with a specialist to help bridge the hardware gap could be beneficial to an organization tied to supporting on-premise needs. VARs often understand the market and have greater insight to find resources and help meet project deadlines.
  • Look at pre-owned/refurbished hardware. The secondary market remains less affected by a chip shortage and supply chain crisis. Purchasing pre-owned hardware may be a good channel for consumers to seek out resources for impending network upgrades and data center equipment needs.
  • Support multi-vendor environments. Vendor diversity is king in today’s IT world. But with network hardware supply chain issues, it’s become a necessity for IT pros to become vendor-agnostic when supporting the company’s technology infrastructure.

Using a vendor-agnostic tool like Auvik, makes it easy to support today’s multi-vendor network. Auvik supports more than 15,000 devices from over 700 vendors out of the box and is frequently adding more. If we don’t support it, Auvik provides customers an easy way to request vendor support in the partner portal. Gaining visibility into your infrastructure is as easy as taking a lunch break. In under an hour, Auvik can be deployed offering instant insight into all the devices living on the network.

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