Do we really need all these standards?

Do we really need all these standards? Does anybody care? In another life, I used to argue for product development that adhered strictly to industry-standard specifications. And I tried to bludgeon the competition for failing in that area. Many off-the-shelf board companies seem to relax standards adherence in certain areas – particularly with respect to keep-out areas and component height limitations.

That said, users of off-the-shelf boards are extremely forgiving. Most equipment developers care far more about feature content or price than strict standards adherence until the problem comes home to roost, with the inability to stack two boards together due to component conflict or failure of a board to fit in a standardized off-the-shelf enclosure.

Which points us back to the reason we have standards in the first place – to drive the ecosystem around a particular technology. It is the development of a rich ecosystem around a particular technology that ultimately makes or breaks it across the broad market. And this ecosystem is totally dependent upon formal, well-written, comprehensive industry standards. Imagine where we would be if everybody wanted to use their own proprietary pin-out for USB!

The downside, of course, is the increased similarity between products from different manufacturers. This forces suppliers to find alternate ways to differentiate their products through support, ruggedness, features, and price. The alternative is a mishmash of proprietary technologies and a reduction in the choices available for OEMs in the selection of I/O expansion boards, enclosures, cables, and yes, perhaps even software. Suppliers have finally figured out that it is virtually impossible to obtain a competitive advantage with a proprietary form factor, mounting holes, or connector placement.

If standards are a must, why are there so many? Just like product innovation, standards are driven by technological evolution, market demand, and just plain old good ideas. And as with product innovation, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In periods of technological upheaval (such as a wholesale changeover in bus architectures), different folks have different ideas on how to implement new technologies. Particularly in these times, people with strong ideas and opinions fight hard for their points of view. That’s why some of these standards take months or even years to get distilled down to a final specification. And even in our pristine little marketplace, Washington, DC-style political behavior is not unheard of.

Frequently, those whose opinions are not ultimately supported or those who feel left out of the process go their own way. Going one’s own way is more likely to result in a competing standard than a proprietary product line. This is the way it should be. Other manufacturers are free to join the club (or clubs) of their choice. Ultimately, the market will decide who the winners and losers will be. And in reality, there need not be any losers. The market opportunities are large enough to support multiple winners.

Does this “fragmentation” hurt the industry? Not if the standards are open and free to all. Ecosystem suppliers can place their bets. Every bet influences the final outcome. For in this marketplace, the standard with the largest ecosystem has a strong leg up. Size matters. Multiple standards only hurt when a single company owns or dominates a standard, charging licensing fees or operating a bogus “logo club” without true multiple sources.

SFF-SIG is proud to present technically innovative, multisourced open standards freely available to all to meet the needs of next-generation stacking architectures, Computer-On-Module (COM) products, and replaceable mass storage. Even more, we’re proud of the process that enabled us to bring these standards to the market quickly with an open, collegial process valuing the contributions of all. Our recently announced CoreExpress Specification is an excellent example of this process, taking a great idea from LiPPERT Embedded Computers and making it even better through the participation of eight member companies in the review process, all within a brief 90-day window.

Join us. Bring us your great idea. Or help make somebody else’s great idea even better.

Small Form Factor SIG 408-480-7900