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Data centres: the emergence of interoperability

By Christian Rookes, Vice President of Product management, ProLabs

For many years, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have dominated the data centre infrastructure industry and it is glaringly obvious to see how this has happened.

One of the most significant contributing factors is the self-compatibility of their products – OEMs have long created product ranges that work only alongside other products that they offer. This has had the desired effect of locking consumers into lasting relationships, forcing customers to return to the same provider each and every time an update in their infrastructure was required.

This model has made it difficult for smaller and mid-tier providers to enter the marketplace, creating apathy in the industry and a lack of disruptive commercial competitiveness. It can also be argued that the implications of this vendor ‘lock-in' and the lack of any serious challengers have created complacency within the data centre industry.

There is, however, an emerging sector within the industry, which is doing its best to disrupt the longstanding OEM monopoly. Over the last decade, a small number of specialist independent optical infrastructure providers have emerged and are creating products that are 100 percent compatible with the OEMs' ranges. The new entrants are providing products that can be precisely coded to OEMs, allowing them to work seamlessly with product ranges that were previously not capable of coexisting with other systems.

Not only do these products themselves work alongside the OEMs' but with the adaptation of products such as multi vendor direct attach cables (cables that can be coded to different vendors at either end), they can connect two or more previously incompatible products jointly. The scope for interoperability is huge.

For instance, ProLabs code products are compatible with over 50 different OEMs' ranges. Distributed in southern Africa by the region's leading value-added distributor, Networks Unlimited, ProLabs products not only allow compatibility between different OEM products, but they also connect to, and extend, the lifespan of older systems that had previously been made obsolete. There is even the potential to look towards multi-coded compatible products, which would reduce the number of spare parts that a data centre provider has to store.

It is not unlikely that we'll be seeing even more benefits for data centre providers as the compatibles industry matures. There are, naturally, critics of the compatibles expansion but these are largely unfounded. Some in the industry will scaremonger about the quality and reliability of compatibles providers. There are rational concerns over the potential damage that data centre failures can have, yet the implementation of rigorous due diligence standards will prove that the highest quality compatibles will stand the test of time. Good compatibles companies will go to great lengths to prove themselves – independent case studies are typically available online and the compatibles providers must adhere to the same industry standards of the OEMs.

To highlight the belief in its products, ProLabs became the very first optical infrastructure company to offer lifetime warranties on its ranges.There is also the misguided notion that compatible providers, which are usually smaller than the OEM behemoths, are seemingly less qualified to give advice on technology. This argument is also groundless.

By virtue of the number of different vendors' products that compatibles companies code to, their specialist technology teams have detailed, comparative and wide-ranging advice on a large range of products.It is clear to see how compatible technology is democratising data centre procurement by giving end-users the freedom of choice and increased flexibility when they are choosing to extend or replace their data centre infrastructure. It will be interesting to witness the significant value that compatibles companies will continue to add to the industry and how the increase in flexibility will help develop and change the way industry players purchase data centres.

The OEMs may have long ridden high on the vast majority of the market share, but as the benefits of compatible technology become better known and more widely appreciated by the end-user, this will slowly but surely be eroded.

For any queries regarding ProLabs, please contact Morne Delport at Networks Unlimited: or 011 202 8400.

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