Blog: How to Evaluate Non-OEM Hardware Providers

If you play any role in maintaining or building a data center, there’s a good chance you’ve been approached by non-OEM hardware vendors at some point. And if you’re like most data center operators these days, chances are you’ve been tempted by the lower price tag on brand-equivalent hardware. So how can you evaluate these offerings to ensure that short-term savings doesn’t lead to a major network issue down the road?

May 3rd, 2019
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If you play any role in maintaining or building a data center, there’s a good chance you’ve been approached by non-OEM hardware vendors at some point. And if you’re like most data center operators these days, chances are you’ve been tempted by the lower price tag on brand-equivalent hardware.

So how can you evaluate these offerings to ensure that short-term savings doesn’t lead to a major network issue down the road? This eight-step process will reveal any issues with functionality, interoperability, service, and support.

1: Request parts for testing

This should be a baseline expectation for non-OEM hardware providers. There is no good reason a vendor wouldn’t let you test sample equipment to see how it operates within your existing ecosystem. If the vendor denies this request, move on.

Assuming they send the equipment, check for basic functionality. When you plug it in, can data run through it? If not, it’s (obviously) not a good match.

Does the functionality require additional legwork on your part? If it does, consider whether the extra effort is worth the cost savings.

And don’t forget to test for any additional functionality that matters to your data center. For example, do you need to access the monitoring functions within the optics equipment? These functions let data centers keep tabs on how equipment is performing and when it starts to degrade, which enables proactive hardware management. If the non-OEM piece doesn’t let you access monitoring functions you require, send it back.

2: Verify end-to-end compatibility

Maybe the biggest argument in favor of sticking with OEM hardware is guaranteed compatibility. If it ain’t broke, as they say. But given that OEMs are known to mark up optical transceivers as much as 350%, there’s a clear cost incentive for switching to true brand-equivalent hardware in most cases.

When you’re testing parts, verify that they work with all your existing hardware. For additional reassurance, ask to speak with a vendor’s current customers to get their take.

3: Ask about OS patches

Maybe the hardware you’re considering passed all your functionality criteria, so you went ahead and placed an order. You installed the new equipment and everything ran fine – until you updated your software or applied a patch to your operating system (OS).

These are real-life scenarios we’ve witnessed. In one case, an OS security patch made all ports go down, thanks to less-than-stellar non-OEM equipment. The recovery costs were significant.

Be sure to ask your provider how the equipment is likely to behave after software or OS patches (or ask current customers how the products have behaved). If you’re not confident in their answer, move on.

4: Consider traceability and TAA compliance

If you’re running a federal government data center, the non-OEM vendor will need to comply with Trade Agreements Act (TAA) regulations. But even if you’re in the private sector, you may have traceability concerns. Ask your vendor to provide documentation on where their parts originated; if they’re not able to and traceability matters to you, consider an alternative source.

5: Consider stock volume and delivery turnaround

Every data center occasionally needs a rush order. Will the vendor you’re considering be able to fulfill it? Ask about their typical delivery time for orders.

If you’re a larger entity, you’ll need a vendor that can support large volumes and possibly stock large volumes – within reason. It’s reasonable to ask a vendor to stock based on a forecast you put together so you can receive parts quickly upon ordering.

6: Check the warranty

Warranties for parts can range from a year to limited lifetime. If the vendor doesn’t offer at least a three-year warranty, find someone else.

7: Consider service

The standard here is that the vendor provides excellent service and technical advice before and after the sale – and doesn’t charge extra for it. You can get a sense of a vendor’s overall service level pretty quickly: Are they quick to respond to emails? Do they answer the phone? Do you get clear answers when you have questions? Does your point of contact stay the same throughout your relationship?

If the answer to any of these is “no,” try another vendor.

8: Check their Duns number

Be aware: You want to work with a vendor that’s reputable and established. You want someone financially stable. Talking to existing customers (as I’ve mentioned above) is one way to gauge a vendor’s overall stability.

Another is to ask for their Duns number, which is akin to a corporate credit score. Larger data centers may ask to see financials for the last three years. Either way, the vendor should be willing and able to provide this information – if they have nothing to hide, there’s no harm in sharing their data. And if they have experience working with larger companies (which you certainly want them to have), they should have these materials readily available.

Choose non-OEM with confidence and obtain substantial savings!

In today’s “do more with less” environment, nearly every data center manager is looking for ways to save money without compromising security, speed, or performance. Choosing non-OEM hardware can significantly reduce your expenditures, as long as you choose vendors who offer customer service and products that are truly brand equivalent.

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.

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