Editor’s note: Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. Sanity Check is a regular weekly feature in LTW.
_______________________________________________________________________________________I use the television channel analogy as a way to relate to just about everyone, except of course the twenty-somethings who have always had cable and 120 channels to pick from.

There are so many choices now in every aspect of our lives from the most mundane; fat-free, low-fat, lactose-free, half-fat or whole milk.

To the extraordinary decisions regarding life and death like; going to a heart-hospital, cancer hospital, maternity hospital, or children’s Emergency Room, etc. How to make an informed decision when there are so many choices and usually so little time to explore the ramifications?

Hopefully the life changing decisions you are forced to make in your business life don’t involve a catastrophic event and an emergency room.

Let’s face it most of our decisions are based upon the ‘marketing’ materials we’ve seen, read or heard about a certain product, and not on actual experience with the item at hand. This seems to be particularly true in the networking space, with so many products, so many choices and so many vendors all lobbying for the same budget.

So how does anyone make sense out of all the choices without going into “analysis paralysis”? How do you cut all the vendors down to a ‘short-list’ without feeling like you’ve cut the wrong ones?

Here are a few simple guidelines for making networking choices, based upon the information you have at hand, your experience and what you ‘feel’ in your gut.

1. Understand your problem and what you are trying to accomplish before you entertain vendors and their solutions. If you don’t have a clear understanding of ‘where you are’ then the vendor can take you anywhere they want to go, not necessarily where you want or need to go.

2. Engage the vendors on a ‘partner’ level asking them to help solve your problem, rather than just asking them about their ‘tools’. Explain your ‘pain point’ to the vendors (on the short list) and ask them to create a scenario where they ‘solve’ the problem for you. This step will also shorten the list of vendors, because some will not be interested in solving your problems, they will only be interested in moving their products.

3. The ‘biggest’ or best known vendor of a product might have the budget to get their marketing message in front of you, but they might not have the best solution to your problem. Look at the details of the ‘marketing fluff’ and question the vendor about ‘real-world’ examples where their products solved problems exactly like yours.

4. The smallest or unknown vendor of a product might have the best solution but they have no way of ‘marketing’ it to you. So if you are ‘referred’ to a product, give it a good thorough review before dismissing it because you never heard of it before.

5. The smaller the vendor the more likely they are to be ‘more responsive’ to your organizations needs and the more willing they will be to work harder to please you.

6. If a vendor proposes multiple pieces to a solution, make sure you ask about the “bundle” versus the individual pricing for the products. Usually a “bundled” product will not be offered as individual solutions, meaning if you want to fix one problem you’ll have to buy the whole tool kit rather than the one wrench that works for you.

7. Remember that not making a decision is in fact a decision. By becoming paralyzed and fearful of making the wrong decision, you’ve actually made the decision to continue living with the problems at hand. Lots of times, decisions makers will hold off on making the selection in the belief that they are saving money by not spending money. Usually this is false. Money is still going down the drain on the problem that has not been resolved.

All of this sounds very fundamental, yet almost everyday I encounter very smart people struggling to make a decision about their networking infrastructure, usually because they have too much information.

It sounds simplistic to state it this way, but if the wrench fits then buy it; but if you don’t know whether you need a hammer or wrench, that’s a different problem you need to fix first.

Terri Grauer is a consultant and writer specializing in the application of network technologies to business challenges. She can be reached via email at terrigrauer@hotmail.com