December 5, 2019
By Brian McConnell
For both managed service providers (MSPs) and in-house data center managers, downward budgetary pressure combined with expectations for constantly improving performance can feel overwhelming. And while the recent proliferation of optical networking hardware vendors may theoretically make it easier to “do more with less,” actually vetting them takes time.
I can’t give you more hours in the day, but I can offer some insight into when your current hardware provider isn’t offering enough value, meaning you have a clear opportunity to make a change that could save money, improve performance, or both.
If you notice any of these red flags, it’s time to seriously reconsider your relationship with your current optical networking hardware provider and start looking at alternatives.
Falling quality. This one is obvious. If the quality of goods starts to fall, you need to move to a new provider. Further, if you’re shopping for new partners, they should happily provide you samples, explain their return policy and offer details about their technical support. For even more insight, ask about hardware other customers have returned: why was it returned and how did the provider make it right?
Lack of readiness for newer speeds and formats. More and more data centers are preparing for 100 Gbps (some are even preparing for 400 Gbps). Whether you’re looking to enable faster speeds or new networking formats like bidirectional (BiDi) optical technology and shortwave wavelength division multiplexing (SWDM), your hardware provider should be ready. In fact, they should be familiar with how these speeds and formats work and be able to counsel you about which hardware options might work best for your data center’s configuration. A lack of technical knowledge and preparedness here suggests that they’re not forward-thinking and will not be able to accommodate your needs or those of your clients as they evolve.
Slow inventory delivery. If you’ve been settling for hardware delivery times of up to 14 weeks, know that there are better options. Some vendors can offer next-day delivery. Inevitably, you or one of your clients will have a rush job or emergency. If your hardware partner can’t accommodate those conditions, pull the plug.
Refusal to buy and hold inventory. If you have a long track record of being a good customer (especially for larger orders), it’s reasonable to expect your hardware provider to occasionally buy and hold up to $1 million in inventory, if necessary. If your current provider won’t do this, ask why. It could point to financial instability, which is an excellent reason to cut ties. If they’re struggling for cash, will they look for cheaper components? Will those components still perform as well? Don’t stick around to find out.
High costs. Did you know that OEMs mark up their optical transceivers as much as 300%? If you’re looking for an easy way to reduce costs without compromising performance, look for OEM-equivalent products and you’ll see instant savings. Beware, though: the cheapest optics hardware choice is rarely the best. Be sure the equipment you choose is truly equivalent, meaning it’s been tested to show equal performance to OEM equipment. When in doubt, ask for samples.
High turnover. There’s turnover everywhere, but if you’re dealing with a new point of contact on a regular basis, it’s difficult to build a relationship with your hardware provider. That can make it harder to get timely support, information and advice. It also likely means you’re explaining yourself and your needs over and over again, which isn’t useful for anyone.
Poor communication. There’s no excuse for bad communication. If you find yourself dreading every interaction or you feel like wires always get crossed with your current provider, it may make sense to move on. Some communication breakdowns are just annoying; others can cause major problems for you or your clients.
The takeaway: Don’t settle for mediocre optics hardware. Buy from trusted providers who can reference trusted customers and who can shield you from supply chain tariff and trade issues. The good news about the many vendor choices you have is that, if your current experience is less than stellar, you have options. If you’ve noticed any of these red flags from your current vendor, start exploring alternatives — your data center deserves better.
Brian McConnell is CEO of InterOptic, a global independent provider of optics technology. InterOptic helps enterprise companies and government institutions meet increasing bandwidth, complexity and interoperability demands in their modern IT networks. Follow Brian on LinkedIn or on Twitter @GetInterconnect.
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