LAS VEGAS - The idea of a heterogeneous environment remains a very powerful force in IT.
Where a heterogeneous environment years ago may have been multiple Unix systems, today it could include two or more types of hypervisors on x86 systems. In the cloud era, being heterogeneous will mean using multiple clouds for compute and storage.
Even Hewlett-Packard, at its big user conference here this week, bowed to that reality, and announced it would support Amazon's hosted system as well as its own through its cloud management systems and services.
"We're not here to force anyone to one (cloud) bursting provider, we're about choice," said Scott Weller, HP vice president and general manager technology services support.
Hardware environments that mix and match multiple vendors are also important to some users.
Hector Fuentes, a storage administrator at a communications industry firm who was at the HP conference this week, believes that by using different storage vendors in his environment he can leverage them "for better pricing, better tools, and better support."
Fuentes uses storage systems from HP, NetApp and EMC in an environment that handles multiple petabytes of data.
With one vendor, "they know what you need and they can set the tone for the conversation," said Fuentes. "If you have multiple vendors, you set the tone."
It takes more work to support different hardware devices, said Fuentes, but the tradeoff is still worth it.
"It's not the amount of the work you have to put in it," said Fuentes, about supporting multiple system, "but what's best for your business."
Similarly, Jim Sievers, a systems infrastructure manager at a user firm, buys x86 servers from three vendors, HP, Dell and Cisco.
This competition among vendors "definitely helps - it never hurts to play one against the other," said Sievers.
It also allows Sievers to take advantage of the relative strengths of vendor release cycles. If he feels one vendor is ahead of another in a particular technology in a given year he may focus on that vendor.
Supporting multiple vendors "has it challenges because you end up with two or three sets of tools," said Sievers.
Jean Bozman, an analyst at IDC, said it isn't a coincidence that these users are pitting multiple vendors against each another. It's a historical trend.
In era of the IBM-compatible mainframe, Hitachi, Amdahl and IBM competed.
Among Unix, the major competition was, and still is, around Solaris, AIX and HP-UX.
"I think the number three is significant," said Bozman. "The dynamic of three [vendors] is very important."
Users who mix and match three separate hardware vendors are also leveraging the fact that there is lot of standards built into these environments, said Bozman.
But there are also many users who believe that working with one vendor has much merit.
Marco Baptista, the CIO of Inter, a Venezuela-based telecommunications company, uses HP in is IT shop.
By using a single vendor, Baptista, feels he gains economies of scale, systems are easy to replace, and management is easier.
Baptista believes you do loose some competitiveness by relying on one vendor, but said that relationships matter and he has had one with HP for 15 years, "and we're really happy with the products."
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.