"The nice thing about standards is there are so many to choose from."
After being in IT most of my life, this has to be one of the best quotes from a customer I have ever heard.
Standards are in place for customers. They define the interface or connection', which allows the various parts of a complete system to work together. This permits the customer to choose the best fit for their requirements, at each level, without purchasing everything from one vendor. Much like shopping, you want to purchase the meat from a butcher, groceries from the grocer, fruit from the fruiterer etc. It also means that if you are dissatisfied with one part, just that part can be replaced. Standards also set the bar for quality in an industry where Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) are commonplace.
It is in the interest of market leaders like EMC, HP, and Cisco to lead the way with standards. For example, for some time the lack of standards within the management of storage area networks has slowed down the market. Now that the market leaders have agreed to swap application programming interfaces (APIs) and drive the technology through the standards groups, it will force other vendors to join in the initiatives. Without standards, the market develops slower than necessary, denying customers new benefits, while hindering market leaders that are looking for new revenues.
The task of implementing an enterprise-class networked storage infrastructure has become an expensive, time-consuming problem that customers have often had to solve on their own. This has meant that the task of assuring interoperability has fallen to a handful of vendors capable of making the huge investments in equipment, people and expertise required to ensure interoperable solutions.
While all competitors agree that standards are the future, many are unwilling or unable to invest similar R&D amounts to match product functionality. So while loudly proclaiming their commitment to openness and the highest possible standard, they are force-fitting other companies' products, since they don't have a full suite themselves or appropriate open partnerships that are fully tested and accredited. Ask your vendor how many platforms are actually tested and accredited that are not just part of a marketing partnership!
Many people believe that adherence to a standard ensures that everything will work together. For mature' standards, this is certainly true. For example, in IP networking, we don't even ask questions anymore, we just assume it all works. Newer standards' are not this cut and dried. Remember that standards are set by committees and they leave scope for engineering decisions to be made. Unfortunately these decisions' lead to the interoperability issues that young standards suffer from. Looking back, it's the de facto standards that have then been adopted to industry standards that have been the quickest and most painless ones.
The end result of all this is that innovation slows, customers grow more confused and cynical, and confidence in the industry is lowered. Let the companies who invest most in R&D and innovation - who set the standards to create open environments - be rewarded with industry recognition so that everyone can get on with striving to offer our customers the best possible solution and solve their problems.
Steve Redman is managing director of EMC Australia/New Zealand.