5 min read

Cisco vs Dell Networking: A Review

September 17, 2018

Choosing the right networking solution for your business has never been more important. Regardless of industry, everybody seems to be feeling the pinch of shrinking budgets, and large estates are often manned by an insufficiently staffed IT Team. With the ever growing demand for a stable and secure network which can support the latest speeds and content, and including the additional considerations such as BYOD, it’s a downplay to call it a headache.

In a landscape traditionally dominated by Cisco, it is often easy to default to the industry favourite for networking without first considering the alternative solutions. Cisco may well be a networking powerhouse, but fundamentally their technology is equalled by other vendors e.g. Dell EMC. Both simplify their networks, to make them faster and easier to manage with a seamless and reliable user experience; one just happens to be more well-known for it (few companies market themselves as well as Cisco).


Whilst Dell EMC and Cisco follow different strategies for their networking solutions and therefore bring varying benefits and disadvantages, it is this difference in approach for arguably comparable technologies that provides your business with the opportunity to tailor your network to your own particular needs.

What does Cisco bring to the table?

Cisco: your friendly neighbourhood networking business

As a result of their many years’ experience, Cisco have been an innovator of the networking sector, rather than a follower. They introduced many new protocols which have since been perfected and adopted by the industry and it is not unreasonable to suggest Cisco’s innovation has shaped the modern networking market.

When you think about networks, you immediately think of Cisco — and that didn’t happen by accident. Similar to our use of Microsoft Office or Google products, Cisco have become synonymous with everyday activities in an IT department. Cisco’s focus on education in schools/colleges (Cisco Academies) and beyond with certifications (used as a market benchmark), that can carry the same weight as a university degree, are used to demonstrate capability when it comes to networking. Even at LAN3, we use Cisco certifications as a benchmark during recruitment and a go-to for training networking fundamentals. As a result, many industry professionals feel very comfortable in the Cisco ecosystem.

Let’s call them out for what they are — Cisco are innovators, who have pioneered much of the modern networking that we know today.

The single pane of glass solution

Their reputation as market leaders is not an accident and they have earned the perception that if you want a network to work and last for as long as you need it to, then Cisco is a favourable option.

Cisco offer a wide range of switching portfolios, as well as software overlays, which fully integrate with each other and provide additional functionality that benefits the overall network. Their specialism is demonstrable as they do this technology so well, with solutions such as Cisco DNA adding the benefit of a single pane of glass.

To deliver the much desired layers of security, the inclusion of firewalls in their portfolio has enabled the provision of a fully secure network design from edge to perimeter, as well as their wireless or VoIP offerings. That said, it is important to remember that for many, a single pane of glass solution is not the ‘be-all-and-end-all’ and products such as SonicWALL sitting within the Dell Technologies ecosystem do a comparable, or better job.

How Dell Technologies took those concepts and built on them

Not just for servers and storage

Known for their PC’s, laptops, server and storage solutions, rather than networking, we often witness resistance to the idea of opting for Dell Technologies over Cisco (such an entrenched perception of market leadership will inevitably do that). But let’s stay open minded here...

Along with many Cisco alternatives, Dell Technologies have long extolled the virtues of an open-standards-first business model, alongside their own proprietary protocols. The outcome? An end-to-end, integrated market-leading solution, via an ecosystem of technology partners.

VMWare, Ruckus, Aerohive and SonicWALL sit in an extensive ecosystem of products and solutions from Dell Technologies. Whilst this can be difficult to unify into a single pane of glass solution, there is arguably a solution for any situation due to the amount of products on offer. A business can pick and choose a solution that is truly tailored to their needs, whilst delivering simplified support contracts as well as minimal points of contact. Whilst this is indeed possible with Cisco too, the sheer range of options available with Dell Technologies make this an important factor in the decision-making process, particularly for businesses who have complex requirements.

Due to their well-established servers and storage business, the majority of businesses tend to have some kind of Dell EMC networking switch in their server rooms. This gateway to the Dell Technologies ecosystem with reference architecture and recommended designs often begins the discussion of “well, if it’s good enough for a critical system such as servers and storage then surely it’s good enough as a core or edge solution as well?”.

The flexible roll-out that could maximise your budget

It is inevitable that in a discussion comparing Cisco and Dell Technologies, the topic of diminishing budgets will eventually lead to the recognition that on average, Dell come in at a much more aggressive price-point (up to 60% saving) despite their comparable technology, and the plethora of other value-add solutions. For many businesses, a reduction in cost must be weighed-up against the work required to move from an embedded solution which has been in place for years to a new one.

Dell Technologies’ Networking solutions are similar enough to be able to provide the option for a phased rollout model for businesses moving from HP or Cisco rather than a rip and replace approach. By supporting both Cisco proprietary and the industry standard protocols supported by other vendors, there is an option to replace the core with one year’s budget and later the edge, when further funds become available. Additionally, engineers familiar with Cisco’s command line will be very comfortable when working on Dell EMC networks. For many, this flexibility along with the ability to choose the details of which products go into their solution, from a range of options, can be music to the ears of IT professionals. That’s not to mention the saving grace of minimal downtime during the switchover, which is often crucial for the ‘always on’ businesses of the modern technological era.

Looking towards the future

Fundamentally, with technologies that are of a very similar standard this comparison really does hinge on the way Cisco and Dell Technologies are marketing their solutions. Cisco paved the way with pioneering and innovation that became industry standard, whilst Dell have taken that standard and developed a portfolio of products and solutions ripe for the picking.

Whilst Dell Technologies networking division has been established and proven for many years, particularly in conjunction with servers and storage (top of rack), it is only in recent years that they have more publicly demonstrated their capabilities in the campus and datacentre spectrums. Dell are now a formidable alternative to Cisco (and other competing technologies), if not providing enhanced solutions.

Talking of innovation, it would be remiss not to touch on the topic of future technologies and the direction of networking in the coming years. Whilst Cisco may have laid the foundations of networking standards, software defined networking, open networking and big data is arguably taking a lead from Dell Technologies. We will look to provide additional information regarding the benefits of these in future posts.

If you’re looking for a networking solution, Cisco should certainly be in the picture (it would be wrong of me not to say so). But with other comparable technologies offering alternative solutions, without the need to pay the premium for the badge, it’s worth taking the time to do your research and due diligence.

Network health check

Topics: Insider

Written by Josh Blakey

Until recently a Networking Engineeer, Josh now heads LAN3's Pre-Sales Dept.