If the rumblings of the attendees at last week's Storage Networking World conference are any indication, the IT community - users and vendors alike - is so desperate for alternatives that exploring them has become something of a professional lifestyle.

That's not an inherently bad thing. Satisfaction with the status quo breeds complacency, which will squelch progress faster than you can say "standardized external disk subsystem." Moreover, even though dissatisfaction tends to arise when some party isn't performing up to speed or living up to his end of a particular bargain, it can still be a good thing. As long as it's a vendor that's dissatisfied.

Take, for example, the announcement last week of an agreement between EMC and Intel, under which Intel will sell rebranded low-end EMC disk arrays. It's hard to imagine that EMC would have forged that agreement if it was totally satisfied with its existing arrangement with Dell to resell low-end storage systems (see Intel to distribute EMC arrays).

Andrew Monshaw, general manager of systems storage at IBM, said in an interview with Computerworld's Lucas Mearian last week that the Intel deal marks the beginning of the end of EMC's pact with Dell. "I think perhaps we're seeing our first signs of divorce here," he said.

Of course, that's wishful thinking on IBM's part. EMC and Dell are making a ton of money from their relationship, so they'll stay together for the sake of the bucks. But the Intel deal certainly indicates that EMC is antsy enough about Dell to want to hedge its bets. Whatever dissatisfaction lies there has created an alternative that many users who are disenchanted with Dell's customer service performance will no doubt embrace.

That's not to say that EMC doesn't have its own disenchanted users to deal with. Oliver Fischer-Samano, IT director at Baerlocher Productions USA, told (ComputerWorld's Lucas) Mearian last week that he has refused to buy small storage systems from EMC in the past because its sales reps soured him on the company. His problem isn't with the channel, but with EMC itself, which he finds "very arrogant."

Jerry Bartlett, CIO at TD Ameritrade, said in a panel discussion I moderated last week that his company is almost exclusively an EMC shop. But he indicated that nothing is necessarily forever.

That exclusivity is "a bit problematic because it limits your choices," Bartlett acknowledged. "That is one of the inhibitors to flexibility. The day you can move to a more heterogeneous environment, then you can introduce true competitiveness."

But getting to that heterogeneous state requires storage vendors to fulfill their promise to deliver interoperable products, and Bartlett gave them a grade of C- on that score. Another member of the panel, Charles Inches, IT director at Corner Banca in Lugano, Switzerland, was less charitable. He gave the vendors a D.

"I'm very, very critical" of the vendors' track record on interoperability, he said. "Almost all the vendors are bunched up into the [Storage Networking Industry Association], but they're not delivering yet."

Inches was equally scathing in his assessment of storage vendors' pricing policies. Storage pricing is a "Turkish carpet bazaar," Inches said, responding to a question I posed on the transparency and sensibility of pricing practices. The panelists were especially critical of having to license storage management software on the basis of server capacity -- a practice that Fischer-Samano called "just outrageous."

I came away from SNW convinced that what we need is a lifestyle change, because having to constantly be on the lookout for alternatives is lousy. Maybe being satisfied isn't such a bad thing after all.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him at [email protected]