Q&A with ProLabs: Compatible Network Products

By Contributed Article | April 13, 2015

Recently we spoke with Ward Williams, chief commercial officer at ProLabs, to learn more about the compatible product market.


ProLabs optical transceivers

A sample of the range of optical and copper transceivers, all MSA-compliant, available from ProLabs

Q: What are compatible network products?

A: Compatible products can include transceivers, direct-attach cables (DAC), active optical cables (AOC), and media converters, among others. Compatibles are designed to work with all manufacturers’ equipment and can be used in virtually any industry, from telecommunications and education to healthcare and financial services. Additionally, the cost savings are undeniable, with potential savings of 50 – 70% over comparable products from original equipment manufacturers (OEM). But cost, while compelling, is just one part of the equation. Compatible transceivers need to be completely reliable as well. 

Q: What’s driving the increasing focus on the compatible market?

A: As you know, the IT industry constantly changes and is undergoing a massive shift. First, there’s the demand for faster speeds, more capacity, and greater connectivity. As IT professionals are pressed to do more with less, they are taking a fresh look at whether they can use compatible products within their current infrastructure. Second, there’s been a rise with open compute, thanks to a major push from the Facebook-led Open Compute Project, an initiative that allows engineers to no longer be “locked in” to OEM products.

Q: What are some of the biggest concerns about OEM-compatible transceivers?

A: With compatibles, there are about three major concerns for IT professionals.

First, there’s the concern that compatible products are lacking quality. Although not all compatibles are the same, there are suppliers, typically mid-tier, that offer the same quality as OEMs. Also, IT professionals need to be aware that there are also low-end brokers/agents, who buy and sell inferior products from low-quality manufacturers that fall short in terms of reliability. IT professionals need to be diligent about researching the market and finding suppliers they can trust.

Second, another misconception is the idea that only optical transceivers provided by the OEM will work with existing equipment. Third-party transceivers are designed to comply with industry standard multi-source agreements (MSA) and are therefore fully compatible with OEM products and infrastructures. Interestingly, the majority of transceivers, both from OEMs and those sold by quality mid-tier suppliers, are produced in the same manufacturing facilities. One exception is that a small number of mid-tier suppliers have their own facilities that allow them to custom-design and code their transceivers to meet specific client needs, and retain full control over quality issues.

Third, there is a major fear factor among network operators when it comes to warranties. They believe using a compatible transceiver will invalidate the warranty on any host device. This is simply not true. OEMs will not invalidate a warranty based on the use of a compatible product. Further, some compatible suppliers offer lifetime warranties.

Q: How would someone find the best supplier?

A: There are a few considerations when researching a supplier, such as processing and delivery for quick turnaround, quality of service and expertise, commitment to innovation to adapt to the industry, cost savings, and reliability testing for optimal uptime.

Visit ProLabs.com online.

Ward Williams is chief commercial officer at ProLabs, an independent provider of global optical network infrastructure products, including transceivers, cables, and converters. Ward was previously VP of global sales and marketing for the datacomm business unit of TE Connectivity. His key responsibility is to drive global sales and marketing, including key customer relationships.

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