HP came on-site last week to conduct their annual lunch and learn.  You know the drill.  The sales rep goes over the product roadmap for the next year to inform you about what is coming and how it will be better than the current offerings.  A few digs at their competitors is expected and effortlessly delivered.  Not so coincidentally, HP’s fiscal year ended last week as well, and we were encouraged to tell them about any upcoming projects that may prompt large purchases of hardware or services.  We all know how the business works; no surprises there.  But as I listened to the presentation, I couldn’t help but think about how reliant we are on that one company for so much of our IT infrastructure.

Is there benefit to standardizing with one vendor to satisfy as many needs as possible?  Truth be told, partnerships with established IT companies possessing good track records can be very beneficial.  Besides cost savings and technical familiarity, there is a sense of comfort when you develop a relationship with, not only the company, but some of their support staff as well.  It’s reassuring to call for support on a critical problem and speak with the same individual that assisted with the original deployment plan three years ago.  Standardization, then, can generally be a good strategy.

But standardization can be taken too far.  Settling on one vendor for hardware components such as servers and workstations is one thing.  But giving any single vendor too much power and responsibility for your network could pose problems in the future.

It is easy to become accustomed to buying from a small number of designated vendors for most of your needs – servers, PCs, printers, storage and networking, not to mention software.  It’s quite likely that two or three vendors supply you with 90 percent of your total information technology.  What if you discover too late that you have relied on a single vendor (i.e. partner) for too much?  The more invested you are with an individual company, the more difficult it is to separate from them.  If your entire data center is full of HP servers and HP takes their hardware platform in a different direction than you want to go, it is incredibly expensive and difficult to switch to another vendor.  It’s not something that happens overnight and not without its political consequences either.  CIOs don’t seem to appreciate spending millions of dollars to rip out existing equipment and replace it again.

You’ve probably been told to be mindful of the personal relationships you keep.  Do you want your company being so tightly associated with the IT partnerships it keeps?  You can almost hear the customers’ and competitors’ whispers if you listen closely enough.  “ABC Trinkets is a Dell and Cisco shop.”  “Wells Manufacturing uses IBM.”  “Slanton Supply Company is using HP gear and moving from MS SQL to Oracle.”  While all of these companies offer quality products, you don’t want to blindly follow them because of their name.  Don’t be too quick to drink the Kool-Aid and purchase a new unproven technology and implement it in a critical business area without thoroughly researching it first.

The danger becomes allowing a vendor too much influence on your IT decisions and overall direction.  If you are making strategic changes to your hardware and OS platforms simply because that is the direction your vendors are going, then you are entrusting too much power with an entity that isn’t held directly responsible for your bottom line. 

I’ve focused almost exclusively on hardware vendors, but the same can be said for software vendors also.  Changing your desktop OS standard from Windows to Linux because your primary software vendor is moving that direction may not be the smartest move for your company.  Make your own decisions and don’t be afraid to move in a different direction than the vendors you’ve become complacent with.