7 alternatives to proprietary network protocols that can dramatically reduce your IT cost

Many of us have a tendency to buy the most expensive product we can afford, working on the basis that you get what you pay for. This is a common misconception when it comes to network switches that often results in the purchase of overly expensive equipment.

Certain switch vendors charge a premium for their products. Part of this is ‘paying for the name’ but is also due to customers paying extra for proprietary features that lock them in. The reality is that often lower cost, standards-based products are readily available from other vendors that can meet customers’ needs equally well and actually offer better interoperability. 

The high price of proprietary protocols

Standards-based network switches are a must when looking for value for money. Although managed switches come at an increased cost, SMBs have no need to pay a premium for switches from certain vendors that are packed with expensive, proprietary technology.

By definition, proprietary features mean a single source solution and higher prices, with the buyer often tied to a single vendor in order to maintain compatibility between equipment.  It is not only the purchase cost, switches with proprietary features often require specialist skills to work on them. This means increased costs employing and training in-house IT staff or taking out expensive support contracts. 

Here are seven examples of proprietary protocols with the industry alternatives shown alongside them. Proprietary protocols can only be run on specific vendor switches or on switches that are licensed by other vendors to support the proprietary protocols. As a result, very few switches from other vendors support these proprietary protocols.

Standards-based protocols, on the other hand, have widespread industry support across many different switch manufacturers, guaranteeing interoperability between different vendors’ products, increased competition, more flexibility and lower prices.

  1. CDP or LLDP
    Link Layer Discovery Protocol (LLDP) is a vendor-neutral discovery protocol used by network devices to advertise their identity and capabilities and to also receive the same from their peers. LLDP is similar to the proprietary Control Point Discovery (CDP). The big difference between the two is that LLDP is a standard while CDP is a proprietary protocol.
  2. VTP or GVRP
    GVRP (GARP VLAN Registration Protocol or Generic VLAN Registration Protocol) is a protocol that enables control of VLANs within a larger network. GVRP is the standards-based equivalent to the proprietary Virtual Trunk Protocol (VTP).
  3. HSRP or VRRP
    Virtual Router Redundancy Protocol (VRRP) is a standards-based protocol that provides automatic backup/redundancy for routers. The primary difference between VRRP and the proprietary HSRP (Hot Standby Router Protocol) is that HSRP can only be used on specific vendor devices.
    Spanning Tree Protocol (or Rapid STP) is a standards-based network protocol that builds a loop-free logical topology for Ethernet networks. The proprietary equivalent Per-VLAN Spanning Tree (PVST) also adds the ability to implement Spanning Trees for each VLAN (see MSTP below).
    The Multiple Spanning Tree Protocol (MSTP) is an IEEE standard that provides simple and full connectivity assigned to any given VLAN throughout a network. The proprietary equivalent is Per-VLAN Spanning Tree (PVST).
  6. PAgP or LACP
    Link Aggregation Control Protocol (LACP) provides a method to control the bundling of several physical ports together to form a single logical channel. The proprietary Port Aggregation Protocol (PAgP) enables a switch to learn the identity of its partners capable of supporting PAgP and dynamically groups similarly configured ports into a single logical channel.
  7. UDLD or DULD
    Unidirectional Link Detection (UDLD) is a data link layer protocol that monitors the physical configuration of cables and detects unidirectional links. In the absence of a standardised equivalent, in order to maintain the competitive costs of its products, D-Link has developed its own similar protocol DULD (D-Link Unidirectional Link Detection).

The bottom line is that when it comes to buying network switches, SMBs should stick to reputable manufacturers with standards-based products in order to achieve the reliable network performance they need with more competitive price points and increased flexibility.