In lieu of a normal episode of our Roll for Enterprise podcast this week, which was thwarted by myriad technical difficulties, we are trying to take our witty banter to text. Let’s see how this goes - thank you for taking the ride with us.
Mike starts us off with a bang, picking up on the release of the new Gartner Hype Cycle for Enterprise Networking (don’t worry, the link is to The Register, you don’t need a Gartner account to read it):
Mike: The reason I don’t trust most market research is that I am pretty sure vendors are writing it …
Dominic: I wish!
Lilac: Surely not. There are many capable people inside Forrester and possibly even Gartner. But, half the job is sorting through the embellishments of the vendors they do meet.
Dominic: I think this is an important point though. Many people have the impression that analysts are "pay to play", and while there are some out there that might fit that description, most of the big reputable analyst firms that you have heard of don’t work that way. There is one sense in which it is true: as a vendor, if you are a paying client of Gartner, Forrester, or whoever, you get more time with analysts, which translates to more opportunities to make your case to them. However, even in that sort of context, the good individual analysts are the ones who will pull you up if you make some sort of wild claim and demand proof, or tell you they are not hearing that type of request from individual practitioners, or whatever. These people tend to develop a personal reputation over and above that of the firm that employs them, because they provide an extremely valuable service.
To vendors, they act as a reality check, and give us an opportunity to refine our messaging and product plans in a semi-private setting rather than having to make corrections in the harsh glare of the public market.
Meanwhile to practitioners these analysts provide a validated starting point for their own investigations. For instance, if you are building a shortlist for a vendor selection, you might use the Gartner Magic Quadrant or the Forrester Wave for that market segment to double-check that you had made sensible selections. However, once again, the individual analysts leading the compilation of a particular Wave or MQ will make a big difference to the result, bringing their own experience and biases to bear, so it’s rarely as simple as just picking the vendor that’s furthest up and to the right.
Lilac: Totally agree. That has been my experience, Dominic - though we should hear from Zack here. I have been at large vendors with deep pockets that were panned by analysts - and small vendors with minuscule budgets that were lauded. Honesty, clarity, sanity … are both more valuable and harder to come by than contract dollars.
Zack: I have to be careful how I answer this question, but there aren't any surprises. Dominic’s point about vendor briefings is valid although you typically must be a paying client to schedule inquiries. Speaking from experience, a briefing is "supposed" to be one-way communication so you can update the analysts but you can’t ask questions about market landscapes or have conversations outside of the briefing. I would be more concerned about "real-world" experience as opposed to research exclusively. There are indeed some analysts that have never stepped foot in a data center although they’re basing their experience on multiple data points such as customer interactions, typically hundreds and across multiple analysts, vendor briefings & inquiries, and hands on labs in some cases, and research, but is that sufficient to form a conclusion? It might be, but as someone who spent many nights in a data center, there is nothing that takes the place of "real-world" experience. As with anything, people should use any analysts feedback as another data point in their quest to make a decision.
Dominic: Exactly – and the Hype Cycle is a perfect example, because people have a tendency to take it as predictive, assuming that every technology will eventually emerge on the Plateau of Productivity. In actual fact though there is a Pit of Oblivion somewhere at the bottom of the Trough of Disillusionment, which is where all the once-promising tech that never emerges goes to die. What is amazing about this particular Hype Cycle graphic is that IPv6 is still on it, and still in 5-to-10-years-out category!
Lilac: or VDI! It’s always the year for VDI. It’s going to be amazing.
The analysts aren’t giving you answers. They are giving you input. Things to consider. Independent checkpoints outside your organization. This isn’t a surgical specialist giving you the best answer. It’s a real estate agent, guiding you through options.
But then.. why do vendors seem to take the word of these analysts as validation and gospel? I never understood.
Dominic: At the risk of getting excessively philosophical, the answer is the same as it is for many things in grown-up life: because even with all the flaws, this is the least bad way we have found yet that is remotely practical. Right now I am sitting on both sides of different tables – wait, that metaphor sounds wrong. Swivelling my chair back and forth between two tables? Anyway. I am both running a procurement exercise which involves comparing different vendors, and participating as a vendor in a market survey.
At the customer table, I don’t have time to evaluate every vendor in even a relatively niche market, so I use analyst opinion as one of my tools to whittle down the list. Once I got to two, I took the time to talk to each one, and also talked to current customers, started figuring out pricing models, all of that – but all of that takes a lot of time.
This is kind of what I imagine readers are doing with the reports my employers participate in: not taking them as gospel, but as one input into their selection process. Getting philosophical again, it tends to be people furthest from the process who get most excited about the results – but it’s understandable: it’s one of the few results that are uncritically good. I get weirded out by vendors who trumpet their profitability, because that’s a short step to "I’m being overcharged!". Meanwhile, being certified as top of your particular field by a (supposedly) objective observer is pretty great.
But I still see no sign of IPv6 catching on anywhere. Even the hysteria about IPv4 address space running out seems to have died down.
I want to recommend the latest book by Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Wild-Built. If you’ve read her Wayfarers books (which I also recommend), you know what you are in for, even if this is a completely different setting. If you haven’t, the dedication should give you an idea: "For anybody who could use a break". It’s a delightful little SF novella that packs a lot into its short length.
Thanks for sticking with us! Normal service should be resumed next week. We hadn't missed an episode yet, thanks our innovative podcast architecture, which is based on a redundant array of independent co-hosts, and while it's a shame we couldn't keep the streak going, this is at least something. Apparently 26% of podcasts only ever produce a single episode, while we got to 62 before this hiccough.