What’s so scary about compatibility?

What would the world be like if we only had ‘one provider, one brand’ for each product? A world in which consumers are at the mercy of a single provider, who would dictate the rate of product development, set prices high, and monitor their own standards. Thankfully this is not the case and product compatibility is common across the business world; accepted and demanded as a positive catalyst for industry development.

The adaptability of compatible systems has lead to technical diversity and new ideas that perpetuate evolution in product sectors; however, the most significant benefits are to the consumer.

Product compatibility gives flexibility to consumers when it’s the quality, not brand name, which is important. Consider car parts for instance – when replacing the windscreen wipers on a car, consumers don’t return to the same big name manufacturer that made the car. Instead they assess the performance of the numerous more affordable options in the market. These other options are, of course, completely compatible with their car, perform just as well, and are likely to save them significant amounts of money.

The benefits of embracing product compatibility are consistent across various industries, begging the question why it has never been as wholeheartedly adopted in the data network infrastructure space.

Optical equipment for data centres has long been monopolised by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), creating products incompatible with other providers’ systems. End-users are locked into relationships with the same providers that they have previously used; paying a premium each and every time their equipment needs updating. Aside from limiting the consumer’s flexibility and freedom of choice, this lack of compatibility is expensive and curtails the scope for industry-moving technological development from third party providers.

Yet, it’s not as though there are no compatible options within this industry. Over the last decade a number of companies have emerged providing optical equipment that can be coded to work (compatibly) alongside the OEMs; however, there has been somewhat of an unwillingness to embrace these providers.

It goes without saying that there is concern regarding failures within data networks. Problems with even a small piece of equipment can have drastic and costly implications in the damage that can be done to existing data centre parts, not to mention the cost of system downtime. Compatibles companies range from the ‘cheap and cheerful’, to high quality products tested to the same rigorous standards as OEMs; and so choosing the right provider can appear intimidating. There is also a concern that by using compatible products, users will void their warranties, which is simply not true.

The fear of the unknown and unfamiliar is largely responsible for repelling procurers from considering compatibles. However, compatibility has been picked up inside other sectors of the technology industry, bringing the anticipated benefits.

Memory is a delicate technology sector that has successfully embraced compatibility. Like data networks, memory is something that must be 100 percent reliable from both a personal and professional perspective, yet the democratisation of memory is now benefiting the end-user in choice, affordability and development. Until 20 years ago when Kingston Technology entered the market, memory equipment existed similarly to the data infrastructure network market as it is now.

If the industry was to embrace network infrastructure in a similar fashion, there is little doubt that benefits to the end-user would be the same as we have seen elsewhere. With adequate due diligence, companies can look past the preconception that to use the unfamiliar is intrinsically dangerous.

It may not happen immediately, but as awareness of the benefits of compatibility become more apparent, the market is likely to see a growth in the sector. Keep your eyes open.

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