Would you buy a car if you could only put one brand of gas in it? Think about how inconvenient and nerve wracking it would be if your gas gauge was hovering over “E” and you had to bypass the Shell station on the corner to find a Chevron.

Obviously, limitations such as these have prompted a number of industries to emulate their automotive counterparts and design their products to work with others that contribute to the benefits of their customers. To place this concept into a more contemporary context, think about your iPhone or Android and the plethora of applications that work with them. By opening their platforms to application developers, these devices increase the value they deliver to their customers by doing everything from helping them listen to their favorite radio station to locating that desperately needed gas station.

So why do companies open themselves up to allow companies to build upon the foundations they have built you might ask? Certainly it’s not just because they are nice guys. While they might be, in the world of business, altruism can take you only so far. What this strategy delivers to the Apples, Googles, and Microsofts of the world is that it enhances the value and broadens the market for their products. This “open” platform strategy is also used for its ability to capitalize on the brainpower of a community of developers whose numbers are far in excess of the headcount of any of these organizations.

Thus, rather than taking a close minded, not invented here mindset, by making their products proprietary only to applications and capabilities that they develop themselves, these companies recognize their ability to deliver more value to their customers — and sell more of their own product — by letting others add to their feature sets without having to expend their own development dollars. In essence, they owe the landlords of the software world.

While this open software platform concept is hardly unique — or new, for that matter — it would seem to be viewed as blasphemous by many of today’s DCIM/BMS providers. By taking this closed platform approach these vendors, both those who are ancillary to the data center industry and the providers themselves, product users are limited to only the functionality that their chosen vendor can provide. Obviously, this principle of design limits the market for providers to a limited number of potential organizations. While that may “lock in” its base, it doesn’t throw open the doors to a wealth of new customers either.

A prime example of this limitation is a recent article I read that said that the entrance of a new provider into the DCIM market could have a negative effect on the market potential of other competitors due to the fact that they have a large number of existing data centers. While their  installed base of facilities is “large” relative to any single competitor, it is a fraction of the larger worldwide market. Reasoning such as this on the part of the analyst and leading firms in the DCIM market goes a long way to explaining why market growth, though anxiously anticipated, continues to lag below expectations.

So what does the industry and an enterprising vendor or two have to do to make BMS/DCIM a tool that customers will embrace, and pay for, in large numbers? As with so many things in life, the answer lies in the past. The networking business of the ‘80s and early ‘90s was characterized by the same lack of standardization in management platforms, and typically each proprietary solution was added at no cost with the provider’s hardware due to its limited value to the end customer. To alleviate this problem the industry came together — are you reading this OpenStack guys? — to develop the simple networking management protocol (SNMP) that enabled any device to be viewed and managed through the addition of a little bit of code. In combination with the emergence of this new capability, HP opened its OpenView platform to the developer community, and the result was a profitable product for the boys at Hewlett-Packard and a new value added management platform that was regularly enhanced by a host of non-HP developers.

Now I can’t tell you which BMS/DCIM provider has realized that an open platform is the key to market share and a profitable product line (hint: Schneider Electric’s Struxureware), but I can say that historical precedent tells us that the answer is out there for the company that opens their offering to the development community rather than hovering over it like a squirrel with a nut. History has a funny way of repeating itself, and it’s about time for DCIM to go back to the future.