Best-of-breed vs. integrated solutions; experts debate the issue

Best-of-breed vs. integrated solutions; experts debate the issue

There's hardly a shortage of security products to buy.

Some vendors market their products as best-of-breed standalone offerings that seek to do a specific job very well. Others corral their products into suites for those enterprise customers looking for a variety of integrated products.

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Ralph MacCheyne, IT security manager for a lottery-related business in the Northeast, has purchased both best-of-breed products and product suites and bemoaned integration woes on both types of solutions.

"Each solution provides its own set of problems. For spot solutions, it's integration," he said during a recent e-mail interview. "For complete packages, they are not all-inclusive; therefore there are still integration issues."

Centralizing alerts and monitoring is also a concern for MacCheyne.

"This was a real problem not too long ago, but the newer products are more cognizant of other vendor products," he said. "The market leaders still think they are the only answer, and therefore their solutions are more proprietary."

A heterogeneous computing environment also complicates buying decisions, especially when purchasing off-the-shelf products, MacCheyne said. "I have yet to find a single product that works for all," he said.

Perry Godwin, WAN administrator with Mason, Mich.-based Dart Container Corp., looks for the best product from vendors already being used. Products from newer, bleeding-edge vendors are avoided.

"My company believes in only purchasing proven technology that has a record in the marketplace," Godwin said in a recent e-mail exchange.

The debate over best-of-breed versus integrated solutions is probably a tad overblown, said Robert Lonadier, president of Boston-based analyst firm RCL Associates.

"Some vendors are trying to do what Microsoft did in the desktop application world. In other words, they want to take over the entire market," he said.

Yet Lonadier doubts that a one-stop shopping approach will work in the security space. "The rate of change in the security marketplace is too fast as new threats appear," he said.

Lonadier recommends that companies look beyond the marketing jargon and concentrate on what they are going to be using a product for. For example, if a product is going to be used for one specific job then it should do that very well. By contrast, a product that is flexible and can be used for multiple uses may be the better choice for a more general purpose.

Neil Jackson, a business manager with an online brokerage, is also suspicious of vendors' claims that their products are best-of-breed.

"Since we are not horse breeders, we have no confidence in any claim that is not supported," he said. "Best-of-breed seems a stretch if you are talking about software."

Jackson doesn't rely on the claims made by vendors but seeks to verify connectivity and integration issues of products before purchase. He looks at the vendor's financial strength, the experiences of other customers and internal reviews of the product. Partnerships the vendor has are also important.

"Not doing that before committing to the solution won't bring any long term comfort," he said.

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