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An example of compatible technology

Making cost savings in IT

Stephen Crick discusses optical technology in the academy sector

Posted by Stephanie Broad | November 26, 2015 | Law, finance, HR

At the end of the 20th century, optical technology in schools was a rare commodity, yet the explosive growth of computer use in education over the last two decades has heralded unprecedented demand for internal data networks and storage systems. Because of this, the procurement of optical infrastructure products in schools is now an undisputed necessity. 

Optical technology refers to the cabling, servers, transceivers and switches that make up any data network. As any IT manager knows, these networks can be expensive and complex. In part, this is due to the dominance in the industry of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), who command relatively large prices in exchange for their products. Although other options exist, these vendors have existed in a market monopoly.

Optical infrastructure equipment is delicate and a fault or error with even a minute part of a system set-up can have drastic and expensive implications for those reliant on the systems.  Not only can replacement parts and reparations be expensive, but it can also lead to downtime – a significant and very real issue in schools where so much of the system relies on the network working faultlessly. 

OEMs have also added a layer of ‘exclusivity’ to their components by coding each product to be incompatible outside of their respective brands. This causes customers to be ‘locked’ into a relationship with them from the outset; obliged then to return to the same brand each time they expand and upgrade, or having to replace their entire networks. 

In recent years, however, there has been the emergence of a sector in the optical infrastructure market that is liberating vendor lock-in and saving end-users significant money in a number of ways.

Some companies have started to produce products that are individually coded to OEM products, working alongside them at 100% compatibility. These products not only attach themselves to OEMs but with the use of direct attach cables (cables that can be coded separately at either end), can be used to attach two previously incompatible systems together, allowing them to work seamlessly.  These systems can be from different OEM providers, or older (formerly obsolete) systems - giving an IT manager increased flexibility to provide a new lease of life for systems that would otherwise have to be replaced. 

Compatible technology is now evolving into multi-coded products – single products with the ability to have multi-vendor identities. This has the potential to reduce the number of spare parts that schools have to stock: if one product can perform the same function across multiple different vendors, the need for numerous replacement components can be limited.

The cost of IT systems for schools need not be prohibitive where budgets can be freed-up and better spent on education - the cost-saving benefits of compatible technology are significant. This is the case both directly (in that compatibles products are notably cheaper than OEM systems) and indirectly (in the increased flexibility in choice of purchase, and the ability to work with discontinued systems).

There is some truth in ‘you get what you pay for’ and due diligence should be applied when weighing up the risk associated with alternative providers. Invariably smaller in size than the OEMs, the compatible providers are better equipped to offer bespoke solutions to schools, tailoring the products to the requirements of each school as opposed to a ‘one size fits all’ approach. The smaller size makes compatibles companies more nimble and means any maintenance or replacement works required can happen a lot quicker. 

Although the purchase of compatible products is a different approach to IT procurement, the benefits to flexibility, cost and service make it a sensible consideration. In short, with sufficient due diligence, compatibles can simplify data networks; allowing money and time to be spent on improving pupils’ experiences, without jeopardising IT performance.   

Stephen Crick is Regional Manager at ProLabs.    

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