The Attraction of Simplicity

Or why the goal of multi-vendor networks was never completely realistic

January 18, 2006

2 Min Read
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The tide of interoperability comes in, goes out, and inevitably comes back. Unfortunately, it leaves about as deep an impression on the storage landscape as a couple small breakers.

Storage vendors, industry associations, and even some enterprise users will tell you about the critical, unmet need for open interfaces and multi-vendor networks. But, to borrow from the overdone real estate billboards, if you'd really bought into interoperability, we'd have a lot more multi-vendor networks by now.

Clearly, on a practical level the last thing any enterprise wants to do is add complexity. It's hard enough getting a single vendor's gear to do what it's supposed to do. Add one or two more different brands of appliances, arrays, or software suites into the mix, and the troubleshooting/finger-pointing fun really begins.

This point was made a lot more simply and eloquently by Tony Parziale, CIO of Palm Beach Community College, profiled by Byte and Switch's Dave Raffo this week. (See Palm Beach Community College.) After a deep breath, Parziale went off the high-dive known as virtualization, almost as big a gamble as trying to get two or more vendors to play well together.

IBM's ability to handle everything from mainframes to servers, SANs, and network management apparently carried more weight than all the marketing muscle flexed by EMC and Hitachi Data Systems in competitive bids.The theoretical benefits behind interoperability are really appealing customers can get best-of-breed solutions, as well as a pick-and-choose dynamic that fits their budget and technical requirements. Interoperability also theoretically gives customers additional leverage over vendors if the alternative is just a second purchase order away.

It hasn't quite worked out that way. This stuff is a lot more complex to specify and design than most of us would have predicted. The reasons are both technical and political. Vendors will continue to pay a lot of lip service to their commitment to interoperability and multi-vendor networking, because that's the right PR move. Their shareholders will reward inertia and foot-dragging. And customers will keep to the simplified approach, rather than volunteer for unnecessary headaches.

Still, it feels as if we're near a low-water mark where the interoperability tide is concerned. Yes, we have SMI-S and Aperi, but neither have made any real impact on the way customers buy and build networks. They're checkboxes at best. It doesn't leave users high and dry, but it's hardly the Brave New World of multi-vendor networking that's been promised for more than 10 years. Simplicity, it seems, will remain the smart choice for the foreseeable future.

— Terry Sweeney, Editor in Chief, Byte and Switch

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