Category Archives: Industry
Investors are asking, probably reasonably, what’s going on here. Is the overall market for cloud computing weakening? Are competitors taking more market share? Or is this largely the result of the price cuts that went into effect at the beginning of 2Q? And if it’s the price cuts, are these price cuts temporary, or are they part of a larger trend that eventually drives the price to zero?
The TL;DR version: No, cloud growth remains tremendous. No, AWS’s market share likely continues to grow despite the fact that they’re already the dominant player. Yes, this is a result of the price cuts. No, the price cuts are permanent, and yes, cuts will eventually likely drive prices down to near-cost, but this is nevertheless not a commodity market.
The deep dive follows. Note that when I use the term “market share”, I do not mean revenue; I mean revenue-generating capacity-in-use, which controls for the fact that prices vary significantly across providers.
What’s with these price drops?
I have said repeatedly in the past that the dynamics of the cloud IaaS market (which is increasingly also convergent with the high-control PaaS market) are fundamentally those of a software market. It is a market in which customers are ultimately buying IT operations management software as a service, and as they go up-stack, middleware as a service. Yes, they are also getting the underlying compute, storage, and networking resources, but the major value is the actually in all the software that automates this stuff and delivers it as an easy-to-consume, less-effort-to-manage solution. The automation reduces a customer’s labor costs, which is where the customer sees cost-savings in services over doing it themselves.
You’ll note that in other SaaS markets, the infrastructure is effectively delivered at cost. That’s extremely likely to be true of the IaaS market over time, as well. Furthermore, like other software markets, the largest vendors with the greatest breadth and depth of capabilities are the winners, and they’re made extra-sticky by their ecosystems. (Think Oracle.) Over time, the IaaS providers will make most of their margin off higher-level services rather than the raw resources; think about the difference between what a customer pays for Redshift data warehousing, versus raw EC2 compute plus EBS storage.
The magnitude of the price drops is scaring away many rival providers. So is the pace of innovation. Few competitors have the deep pockets or willpower to pour money into engineering and data centers in order to compete at this level. Most are now scurrying to stake out a niche of the market where they believe they can differentiate.
Lowering the price expands the addressable market, as well. The cheaper it is to do it in the cloud, the more difficult it is to make a business case to do an on-premises solution, especially a private cloud. Many of Gartner’s clients tell us that even if they have a financially viable case to build a private cloud right now, their costs will be essentially static over the amortization period of 3 to 5 years — versus their expectation that the major IaaS providers will drop prices 30% every year. Time-to-value for private cloud is generally 18 to 24 months, and it typically delivers a much more limited set of features, especially where developer enablement is concerned. It’s tough for internal IT to compete, especially when the major IT vendors aren’t delivering software that allows IT to create equivalent capabilities at the speed of an AWS, Microsoft, or Google.
The size of the price cut certainly had a negative impact on AWS’s revenues this past quarter. The price cut is likely larger than AWS would have done without pressure from Google. At the same time, the slight dip in revenue, versus the magnitude of the cuts, makes it clear that AWS is still growing at a staggeringly fast pace.
The Impact of Microsoft Azure
Microsoft has certainly been on an aggressive tear in the market over the last year, especially since September 2013, and Azure has been growing impressively. Microsoft has been extremely generous with both discounts and with free credits, which has helped fuel the growth of Azure usage. But interestingly, Microsoft’s proactive evangelism to their customers has helped expand the market, particularly because Microsoft has been good at convincing mainstream adopters that they’re actually late adopters, spurring companies to action. Microsoft’s comprehensive hybrid story, which spans applications and platforms as well as infrastructure, is highly attractive to many companies, drawing them towards the cloud in general.
Some customers who have been pitched Azure will actually go to Azure. But for many, this is a trigger to look at several providers. It’s not unusual for customers to then choose AWS over Azure as the primary provider, due to AWS’s better feature set, greater maturity, and better ecosystem; those customers will probably also do things in Azure, although they may be earlier-stage and smaller projects. Of course, many existing AWS customers are also adding Azure as a secondary provider. But it may well be that Microsoft’s serious entry into this market has actually helped AWS, in terms of absolute usage gains, more than it has hurt it — for the time being, of course. Over time, Microsoft’s share gains will come at AWS’s expense.
The Impact of Google
Google has been delivering technology at an impressive pace, but there is an enormous gulf between its technology capabilities and its go-to-market prowess. They also have to overcome the perception problem that people aren’t sure if Google is serious about this market, and are therefore reluctant to commit to the platform.
While everyone is super-interested in what Google is doing, at the moment they do not seem to be winning significant customers from AWS. They’re doing reasonably well in batch-computing scenarios (more as a rival to AWS spot instances), and in scenarios where all of Google Cloud Platform, including App Engine, is of interest. But they do not seem to have really gotten market momentum, yet.
However, in this market and in many other markets, a competitor does not need to win over the market leader in order to hurt them. They merely need to change customer expectations of what the price should be — and AWS has allowed Google to set the price. As long as Google seems like a credible threat, AWS will likely continue to be competitive on price, at least for those things that Google also offers. Microsoft has already publicly pledged to be price-competitive with AWS, so that pretty much guarantees that the three providers will move in lockstep on pricing.
The Impact of Smaller Providers
Digital Ocean, in particular, is making a lot of noise in the market. They’ve clearly established themselves as a VPS provider to watch. (VPS: virtual private server, a form of mass-market hosting.) However, my expectation is that Digital Ocean’s growth comes primarily at the expense of providers like Rackspace and Media Temple (owned by GoDaddy), rather than at the expense of AWS et.al. A Digital Ocean droplet (VM) is half the price of an AWS t2.micro (the cheapest thing you can get from AWS), and they’ve been generous with free-service coupons.
VPS providers have friendly control panels, services that are simple and thus easy to use, and super-low prices; they tend to have a huge customer base, but each customer is, on the average, tiny (usually just a single VM). These days, VPS is looking more and more like cloud IaaS, but the orientation of the providers tends to be quite different, both from a technology and a go-to-market perspective. There’s increasing fluidity between the VPS and cloud IaaS market, but the impact on AWS is almost certainly minimal. (I imagine that some not-insignificant percentage of AWS’s free tier would be on VPS instead if not for the free service, though.)
There’s plenty of other noise out there. IBM is aggressively pitching SoftLayer to its customer base, but the deals I’ve seen have generally been bare metal on long-term contracts, usually as a replatform of an IBM data center outsourcing deal. Rackspace’s return to its managed hosting roots is revitalizing. CenturyLink continues to have persuasive sales. VMware customers remain curious about vCHS. And so on. But none of these providers are growing the way that AWS and Microsoft Azure are, and both providers are gaining overall market share at the expense of pretty much everyone else.
The sky is not falling
With Microsoft and Google apparently now serious about this market, AWS finally has credible competitors. Having aggressive, innovative rivals are helping to push this market forward even faster, to the detriment of most other providers in the market, as well as the IT vendors selling do-it-yourself on-premises private cloud. AWS is likely to continue to dominate this market for years, but the market direction is no longer as thoroughly in its control.
Once upon a time, IBM Pulse was a systems management conference. But this year, IBM has marketed it as a “cloud” conference. The first day of keynotes was largely devoted to IBM’s cloud efforts, although the second day keynote went back to the systems management roots (if still with a cloudy spin). IBM has done a good job of presenting a coherent vision of how it intends to go forward into the world of cloud, which is explicitly a world of changing business demands and an altered relationship between business and IT.
Notably absent amidst all of this has been any mention of IBM’s traditional services business (strategic outsourcing et.al.), but the theme of “IBM as a service” has resonated strongly throughout. IBM possesses a deep portfolio of assets, and exposing those assets as services is key to its strategy. This is going to require radical changes in the way that IBM goes to market, with a much greater emphasis on marketing-driven online sign-up and self-service. (IBM, like other large tech vendors, is largely sales-driven today.)
Some serious brand-building for IBM’s SoftLayer acquisition is being done here, although IBM seems to be trying to redefine everything that SoftLayer does as cloud, although SoftLayer’s business is almost all dedicated hosting (bare metal, sold month-to-month), not cloud IaaS in the usual sense of the word. There’s abundant confusion as a result; the cloudwashing is to IBM’s benefit, though, at least for now.
IBM has an enormous installed base, across its broad portfolio, and for a large percentage of that base, it is a strategic vendor. IBM has to figure out how to get that customer base to buy into its cloud vision, and to make the bet that IBM is the right strategic partner for that cloud journey. IBM looks to be taking a highly neutral stance on the balance of cloud (services) versus internal IT; arguably, much like Microsoft, its strength lies in the ostensible ability to blend on-premises do-it-yourself IT with services in the cloud, extending the lifetime of existing technology stacks.
Much like Microsoft, IBM has an existing legacy of enterprise software — specifically, software built for single-tenant, on-premise, bespoke environments. Such software tends not to scale, and it tends not to be easily retrofitted into a services model. Again like Microsoft, IBM is on a journey towards “cloud first” architecture. IBM’s acquisition of Cloudant isn’t just the acquisition of a nice bit of technology — it’s also the acquisition of the know-how of how to build a service at scale, a crucial bit of engineering expertise that it needs to absorb and teach within IBM, as IBM’s engineers embark on turning its software into services.
Again like Microsoft, IBM has the advantage of an existing developer ecosystem and middleware that’s proven to be sticky for that ecosystem — and consequently IBM has the potential to turn itself into a compelling cloud platform (in the broadest of senses, integrated across the IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS boundaries). Since cloud is in many ways about the empowerment of the line-of-business and developers, this is decidedly helpful for IBM’s future ambitions in the cloud.
So another juggernaut is on the move. Things should get interesting, especially when it comes to platforms, which is arguably where the real war for the cloud will be fought.
I’m writing this blog post for vendors who are in Magic Quadrants or who are hoping to be in Magic Quadrants, as well as the Gartner account executives (AEs) who have such vendors as clients and prospects. It’s in lieu of having to send an email blast to a lot of people; since it’s more generic than just my own Magic Quadrants, here it is for the world.
So, to sum up:
Whether or not a vendor is a Gartner client has no bearing on whether they are on a Magic Quadrant, or how they are rated. Vendors should therefore refrain from attempting to use pressure tactics on Gartner AEs, and Gartner AEs should be careful to avoid even the appearance of impropriety in dealing with vendors in a Magic Quadrant context. Vendors should conduct Magic Quadrant communications directly, using the contact information they were given.
And here’s the deeper dive:
Vendors, you’ve been given contact info for a reason. Please use it. As part of the process, every vendor being considered for an MQ is given points of contact — generally an admin coordinator as well as one or more of the analysts involved in the MQ. You’re told who you should go to if you have questions or issues — often the coordinator, lead analyst, or some specific analyst designated as your point of contact (POC). You should communicate directly with the POC. Do not go through your Gartner AE, other analysts that you deal with, or otherwise attempt to have a third party relay your concerns. Also, communicate via the contact you designated as the responsible party within your organization; we cannot, for instance, work with your PR firm. Gartner has a strict process that governs MQ-related communications; we ask that you do this so that we can ensure that all conversations are documented, and that your message is clearly and directly heard.
Yes, we mean it. Please contact us with questions and issues. If you’ve read everything available to you (the official communications, the Gartner documentation on how MQs work, any URLs you were given, and so on), and it doesn’t answer your question, please reach out to us. If you have an issue, please let us know. The analyst is the authoritative source. Anything you hear from anyone else isn’t. Gartner AEs don’t have any kind of privileged knowledge about the process, so don’t depend on them for information.
A vendor’s client relationship is of no relevance. The analysts do not care if a vendor is a client, how big of a client they are, whether they’re going to buy reprints if they get a certain placement, will become a client if they’re included on the MQ, or about any other attempt to throw their weight around. Vendors who try to do so are likely to be laughed at. Gartner AEs who try to advocate on behalf of their clients will annoy the analyst, and if it doesn’t cease, strongly risk having the analyst complain about them to the Ombudsman. In general, analysts prefer not to even know about what issues an AE might be having that may in some way be impacted by the MQ. It may even backfire, as the analyst’s desire to avoid any appearance of impropriety may lead to much closer scrutiny of any positive statements made about that vendor.
In short: Vendors shouldn’t try to go through Gartner Sales to communicate with the analysts involved in a Magic Quadrant. The right way to do this is direct, via the designated contacts. I know it’s natural to go to someone whom you may feel is better able to plead your case or tell you how they think you can best deal with the analyst, but please avoid the urge, unless you really just want a sounding board and not a relay. If you want to talk, get in touch.
This is part 2 of a two-part post. The first part contains general tips for Magic Quadrant briefings, applicable to any vendor regardless of how much contact they’ve had with the analyst. This second part divides the tips by that level of contact.
Richard Stiennon’s UP and to the RIGHT, which provides advice about the Magic Quadrants, stresses that preparation for this process is really a continuous thing — not a massive effort that’s just focused upon the evaluation period itself. I agree very strongly with that advice.
Nevertheless, even AR professionals — indeed, even AR professionals who are part of big teams at big vendors — often don’t do that long-term prep work. Consequently, there are really three types of vendors that enter into this process — vendors that the analyst is already deeply familiar with and where the vendor and analyst maintain regular contact (no client relationship necessary, can just be through briefings), vendors that the analyst has had some contact with but doesn’t speak to regularly, and vendors that the analyst doesn’t really know.
Tips for Vendors the Analyst is in Frequent Contact With
In general, if you have regular contact with the analyst — at least once, if not several times, a quarter — a briefing like this shouldn’t contain any surprises. It’s an opportunity to pull everything together in a unified way and back up your statements with data — to turn what might have been a disjointed set of updates and conversations, over the course of a year, into one unified picture.
Hit the highlights. Use the beginning of the briefing as a way to summarize your accomplishments over the course of the year, and refresh the analyst’s memory on things you consider particularly important. You may want to lay out your achievements in a quarter-by-quarter way in the slide deck, for easy reference.
Provide information that hasn’t been covered in previous briefings. Make sure you remember to mention your general corporate achievements. Customer satisfaction, changes to your channel and partnership model, financial accomplishments, and other general initiatives are examples of things you might want to touch on.
Focus on the future. Lay out where you see your business going. If you can do so on a quarter-by-quarter basis (which you may want to stipulate is under an NDA), do so.
Tips for Vendors the Analyst Knows, Without Frequent Contact
If the analyst knows you pretty well, but you haven’t been in regular contact — the analyst hasn’t gotten consistently briefed on updates, or been asked for input on future plans — not only do you want to present the big picture, but you want to make sure that they haven’t missed anything. Your briefing is going to look much like the briefing of a vendor who has been in frequent contact, but with a couple of additional points:
Tell a clear story. When you go through the highlights of your year, explain how what you’ve done and what you’re planning fits into a coherent vision of the market, where you see yourself going, and how it contributes to your unique value proposition.
Have plenty of supplemental material. Because the analyst might not have seen all the announcements, it’s particularly important that you ensure that your slide deck has an appendix that summarizes everything. Link to the press release or more detailed product description, if need be.
Tips for Vendors the Analyst Doesn’t Really Know
Sometimes, you just won’t know the analyst very well. Maybe you’re a new vendor to the space, or previously been too small to draw attention from the analyst. Maybe this space isn’t a big focus for you. Maybe you’ve briefed the analyst once a year or so, but don’t really stay in touch. Whatever the case, the analyst doesn’t know you well, and therefore you’re going to spend your briefing building a case from the ground up.
Clearly articulate who you are. Start the briefing with your elevator pitch. This is your business and differentiation in a handful of sentences that occupy less than two minutes. The analyst is trying to figure out how to summarize you in a nutshell. Your best chance of controlling that message is to (credibly) assert a summary yourself. Put your company history and salient facts on an appendix to the slides, for later perusal. Up front, just have your core pitch and any metrics that support it.
Pare your story to the bare essentials. Spend the most time talking about whatever it is that is your differentiation. (Example: If you know your product isn’t significantly differentiated but for whatever reason they love you in emerging markets, sweep through describing your product by comparing it to a common baseline in your market, and conceding that’s not where you differentiate, then focus on your emerging markets story in detail.) If your differentiation is in your product/service and not in your general business, focus on that — you can assume the analyst knows what the common baseline is, so you can gloss over that baseline in a few sentences (you can have more detail on your slides if need be) and then move on to talking about how you’re unique.
Be customer-centric. Explain the profile of your customers and their use cases, and make it clear why they typically choose you. Resist the urge to focus on brand-name logos, especially if those aren’t typical or aren’t your normal use case. Logo slides are nice, but they’re even better if the logos are divided by use case or some other organizing function that makes it clear what won you the deal.
Ensure you talk about your go-to-market strategy. Specifically, explain how you sell and market your product/service. Even if this isn’t especially exciting, spend at least a slide talking about how you’re creating market awareness of your company and product/service, and how you actually get it into the hands of prospects and win those deals.
Provide a deep appendix to your slide deck. You should feel free to put as much supplemental material as you think would be useful into an appendix or separate slide deck for the analyst’s later perusal. Everything from executive bios to a deep dive on your product can go here. If it’s in your presentation for investors, or part of your standard pitch to customers, it can probably go in the deck.
Three years ago, I wrote a blog post called “What Makes for an Effective MQ Briefing?” This is a follow-up, with my thoughts somewhat more organized.
For AR and PR people, before you do anything else, if you have not read it, get and read Richard Stiennon’s UP and to the RIGHT. I cannot recommend it enough; Richard has seen the process as both a Gartner analyst and as a vendor, and it is chock full of good tips. It will help you understand the process, how the analysts think, and how you can best present yourselves.
This is part 1 of a two-part post contains the general tips. The next post contains tips that are applicable specifically to each of the three types of vendors. Every single one of these tips comes with one or more horror stories that I can tell you about past Magic Quadrant briefings. What seems obvious often isn’t.
Pick the right presenters. You don’t need your most senior executives on the phone. You do need people who can present well, who thoroughly know the source material, and can answer whatever questions arise. Ensure that your presenters will have a good clear phone connection (use of cellphones or speakerphones should be strongly discouraged), and a quiet environment. If possible, choose presenters that speak fluent English and do not have accents that are difficult to understand — even if that requires using someone more junior and simply having the expert or executive on hand to take questions. You may even want to choose presenters that speak relatively quickly, if you feel time-crunched.
Send the presentation in advance. Ensure that you have emailed a copy of the presentation deck, in PowerPoint format, a day in advance of the briefing, to the administrative coordinator (who can take care of distributing it to the analysts). Be prepared to quickly resend it to anyone who has not received it. Do not send PDFs; analysts like to take notes on the slides. If you’re relying on a web conference, make sure that you still send the slides in advance — and get set up on it ahead of time and use a single PC to drive the whole presentation so you don’t waste time and possibly run into technical difficulties switching from screen to screen.
Be on time, and don’t waste time. Make sure that your dial-in number is distributed to everyone who needs to be on the call. Dial into the bridge early if need be. Have someone available to wrangle your executives if they’re running late. Have a backup presenter if you have an executive who’s notorious for not making meetings on time. Do not waste time making introductions. A presenter can briefly state their name and functional role (“I’m Joe Smith, and I run our support organization”) before starting their portion of the presentation. If you think your executive bios are important, include them as an appendix to your slides. Do not spend time having analysts introduce themselves; there are bios for them on Gartner’s website, and they will state their names when they ask questions.
Watch the clock. In a Magic Quadrant briefing, you typically have one hour to present your thoughts. Analysts are almost always scheduled back to back, so you will not have one minute extra to present, and may in fact have several minutes less if for some reason the analysts are held up from a previous meeting. Also, you want to have some time left for questions, so you should target a 45-minute presentation. If you think you have too many slides, you probably do. Rehearse to make sure you can get through your material in 45 minutes, if need be. Do not expect to be given the opportunity to do another briefing if you fail to finish in your allotted hour.
When an analyst prods you along, move on. One or more of the analysts may cut you short and ask you to move to the next slide or even skip a few slides. Listen to this and move on. By the time someone has gotten to the point of cutting you off, the analysts, who are almost certainly in an IM conversation with each other, have all already agreed that what you are saying is collectively useless to them, and that this part of the presentation is dull beyond enduring. If you think that there’s a really important point somewhere in what you’re saying, make it and move on. Or incorporate it into some other part of your presentation. Do not keep plodding along.
Focus on this particular Magic Quadrant’s market. If you have a broad solutions portfolio, that’s great, but remember that the analysts, and this Magic Quadrant, will be focused on something specific. The broader solutions portfolio can be worth mentioning, especially if it allows you to deliver higher-value and directly-relevant highly-integrated solutions, but not at the expense of focus on this Magic Quadrant’s topic. That topic should always be front-and-center. If you’re finding yourself wanting to instead talk about this somewhat-related market that you think you’re much stronger in, don’t — re-focus on the core topic.
Don’t talk about the market in general. Any analyst involved in a Magic Quadrant is, at least in theory, an expert on the market. They don’t want or need to hear about it. The only exception might be if you serve some specialized niche that the analyst does not often come into contact with. Your perspective on the market should be made clear by the specific actions that your company has taken, and will take in the future; you can explain your rationale for those decisions when you go through them, without doing a big up-front thing about the market.
Focus on your differentiation. The analysts want to know what you think makes you different, not just from the market leaders, but from your closest competitors. They want to know who you’re locked in bloody-knuckled combat each day, and why you win or lose those deals. But focus on explaining what you do well and where you intend to be superior in the future — don’t waste time badmouthing your competitors.
Be concrete and incorporate metrics whenever possible. Analysts hear broad directional statements all the time, and are usually unimpressed by them; they’re interested in the specifics of what you’ve done and what you’re going to do. Analysts love numbers. Their lives are full of vendors making grandiose claims, so they like to see evidence whenever possible. (For instance, are you claiming that your customers are much happier this year than last year? Show last year and this year’s NPS scores, ticket closure times, whatever — concrete evidence.) You don’t need to read the metrics. Just make the general point (“customer satisfaction has increased greatly in the last year, as our NPS scores show”), and have the metrics on the slides so the analysts can dive into them later. You can request that the metrics be kept under NDA if need be.
Disclose your future roadmap. A one-year or two-year roadmap, especially one that’s quarter-by-quarter, is going to make a much bigger impression than a general statement about aspirations. If you have to state that part of the briefing is under NDA, that’s fine; the analysts will still factor that information into the rating, implicitly. You may have great things planned, but if the analysts don’t know about them, you’ll get zero credit for those things when they consider your vision.
Something for analyst relations folks and the PR firms that help them, to take note of when participating in a Magic Quadrant:
Read every communication that you’re sent, in its entirety.
One might think this would be a simple thing, but multiple years of experience have shown that this is not the case. Granted, sometimes these communications are long, but they are long because they contain lots of information. The information is not gratuitous; it is information that you need to know.
Many vendor AR folks have told me that these communications essentially fall into the TL;DR category — they’re only glanced through. I recognize that it is only human to skim long emails, and even more human to skim through lengthy Word documents. I am resigned to the fact that you may completely ignore even the things that are in boldface type, especially if they’re in the middle of the message or at the bottom. I also recognize that it is only human to ask questions, rather than spending the time to read what you are sent.
But I must also point out that for many vendors, the Magic Quadrant is viewed as a high-stakes exercise that will consume a tremendous number of hours of your time and the time of your executives. You do yourself a disservice if you do not read every single word of every single communication that’s sent to you with regard to the Magic Quadrant. You don’t have to do so instantly, but you probably want to carefully read what you’re sent within a business day — and to take the time to mark deadlines on your calendar, add contacts to your address book, and so forth.
Gartner tries very hard, through the prescribed form-letter formats that it requires that analysts use for Magic Quadrant communications, to make sure that you get all the information that you need. It is true that we generally err on the side of providing too much detail, rather than being overly succinct. This is because we generally try to anticipate the questions that you are going to ask. Also, sometimes we are constrained by the form letter, which requires that we provide certain information in a certain format, which might not be the most concise possible approach.
Many of the analysts try to deal with your collective reluctance to read by making use of boldface and colorful text to highlight critical information, and in longer communications, to put a summary up-front so it’s instantly in front of you. However, in the end, glancing through the highlights and the summary is often not sufficient. There’s simply no substitute for reading everything.
To make sure that you do not drop critical communications into your spam folder, ensure that you whitelist the admin coordinator at Gartner (who will usually be your point of contact and will send out most of the official communications), along with each of the analysts involved in the Magic Quadrant. Analysts don’t do general email blasts. You should even consider just whitelisting gartner.com email addresses.
By the way, if you can spare the time, you also want to read the research that’s been published by the analysts who will be involved in the process, and more broadly, about your market. Some of the analysts blog, so looking through their postings may be helpful as well. Again, it’s time-consuming, but if Magic Quadrant placement is important to your company, it can give you a good idea of what the analysts will care about in their evaluation.
In the course of my career at Gartner, and my pre-Gartner life as an engineering director who spent giant piles of money on purchasing technology that was often very early-stage, I have spoken to an awful lot of customer references. I’m about to soon dive into the reference-a-thon that a Magic Quadrant represents (we call as many as 5 references per vendor), and it’s leading me to think about what makes for a good or a bad reference, from my personal perspective. So, here are some thoughts, targeted at vendors and service providers.
Make sure your references like you. Nothing will create a worse impression than a reference that isn’t happy with you, and hasn’t been happy with you for some time. It’s fine for a reference to currently be having a transient problem, or even to have experienced some kind of disaster — that sometimes even makes for good stories about how good your support has been during the crisis. But a reference that isn’t a promoter is hugely problematic, because not only does it create a negative impression, it makes it clear that you have failed to keep track of this customer’s sentiment, and to communicate internally about it, to the point where you’re using an unhappy customer as a key reference. You should get in touch with your references on a regular basis to make sure they’re still delighted with you.
Your references should be engaged customers. Engaged customers know why they chose you (and can talk about the competition they looked at and why your solution was the best fit for them), have an opinion on their ongoing use of your product and service, and are passionate enough about it to talk about the good and the bad, what you do well and what they’d like you to improve. Customers who are just, yeah, we selected these guys and it all works okay — fine, you’ve checked the box on “you haven’t actively sucked”, but they’ve really said nothing interesting. This can be fine if you’re just offering a reference to a prospective customer (who wants to make sure that you’ve done an implementation similar to the one he’s contemplating and that it went fine), but it’s deadly in an analyst reference (because the analyst is interested in getting a first-hand picture of what it’s like to deal with you and your product/service, and someone who is neither enthused nor analytical makes for a deathly-dull and not very useful reference).
Your references should be targeted. If you are offering a reference customer to a prospect, the reference should be as similar to that prospect as possible, in terms of solution, industry, approach, and role (likely in that order). If you are offering references to an analyst, they should represent a spread of customers — different use cases, industries, and length of time they’ve been customers (from new implementations to long-term customers).
Your references should be representative. If you’re dealing with an individual customer, your references should be as close to that customer’s expected implementation as possible, even if that is exotic. But if you’re dealing with an analyst, the references should be representative of typical use cases, implementations, and customer types. If you choose to offer some more exotic outliers, great, but make sure the analyst knows that they’re not typical of your customer base. You don’t want to give the analyst the wrong impression about who you normally serve.
Your reference list should be periodically refreshed. You want references that are still actively engaged with you, and represent the current state of your business, in terms of version deployed, use case, and experience with your company. While long-term customers are sometimes nice to talk to (especially in a space where customers sign very long contracts, like 7-year outsourcing deals), for products, or for services bought on shorter contracts, current references are very important. If you are offering references to an analyst, especially in the context of a yearly process like a Magic Quadrant, do not repeat references from year to year; not only will the analyst prefer to talk to someone new, but he will wonder why you can’t easily produce new reference customers.
Ignore client relationships with analyst firms. When offering references to analysts, don’t worry about whether or not a reference has a client relationship with their firm. Reference interviews are typically conducted under NDA, and as far as I know across all research firms, without any regard to client status. Even if an analyst helped a client through the process that resulted in your being selected, he might not have gotten any feedback from the client about what has happened since. Even if the analyst has an ongoing relationship with that client, it’s usually in the context of inquiry, where the analyst, constrained by the 30-minute timeslot and the client’s specific questions, rarely gets to satisfy his curiosity. Reference interviews are very different, and the analyst conducting the interview might not be the same one as previously helped the client.
Consider supplementing references with a customer list. A list of customer logos and, if possible, a one-sentence description of their use case, can be extremely helpful for getting a better general understanding of who you serve, and what they use you for. If providing this list to an analyst, it can usually be done under an NDA.
At the risk of opening up a can of worms:
As a user of the Public Cloud IaaS Magic Quadrant — either as a technology buyer looking to make a vendor decision, or as a vendor looking to understand the market, what would make the document better?
Understand that I cannot change the process itself (which Gartner explicates to its analysts in a lengthy, excrutiatingly detailed document with oodles of accompanying paperwork, and while internally we may discuss what improvements could be made, from my perspective from a practical standpoint of an MQ being done right now, the process might as well be handed down on tablets of stone).
However, there are plenty of things that are not covered by the process, from the way communications are done to the information contained in the document. I am genuinely interested in what I can do to make the document more useful, as we embark on the 2012 update.
(Yes, we’re on a faster-than-annual update cycle due to the speed at which the market is moving.)
Free free to comment on my blog, or email me privately.
For those who have been wondering where I personally stand in the brouhaha over Amazon, Citrix, Eucalyptus, CloudStack, OpenStack, Rackspace, HP, and so on, along with the broader competitive market that includes VMware, Microsoft, and the Four Horsemen of management tools… I should state up-front that I hold the optimistic viewpoint that I want everyone to be successful as possible — service providers, commercial vendors, open-source projects, and the customers and users that depend upon them.
I feel that the more competent the competition in a market, the more that everyone in the ecosystem is motivated to do better, and the more customers benefit as a result. Customers benefit from better technology, lower costs, more responsive sales, and differentiated approaches to the market. Clearly, competition can hurt companies, but especially with emerging technology markets, competition often results in making the pie bigger for everyone, by expanding the range of customers that can be served — although yes, sometimes weaker competitors will be culled from the herd.
I believe that companies are best served by being the best they can be — you can target a competitor by responding on a tactical basis, and sometimes you want to, but for your optimal long-term success, you should strive to be great yourself. Obsessing over what your competitors are doing can easily distract companies from doing the right thing on a long-term strategic basis.
Dan Woods over on Forbes has written a blog post about questions around Amazon’s API strategy, and Jim Plamondon (Rackspace Developer Relations) has posted a comment on my blog about Amazon ecosystem zombiefication.
I’ve been thinking about the implications of Amazon API compatibility, and the degree to which it is or isn’t to Amazon’s advantage to encourage other people to build Amazon-compatible clouds.
I think it comes down to the following: If Amazon believes that they can innovate faster, drive lower costs, and deliver better service than all of their competitors that are using the same APIs (or, for that matter, enterprises who are using those same APIs), then it is to their advantage to encourage as many ways to “on-ramp” onto those APIs as possible, with the expectation that they will switch onto the superior Amazon platform over time.
But I would also argue that all this nattering about the basic semantics of provisioning bare resource elements is largely a waste of time for most people. None of the APIs for provisioning compute and storage (whether EC2/S3/EBS or their counterparts in other clouds) are complicated things at their core. They’re almost always wrappered with an abstraction layer, third-party library, or management tool. However, APIs may matter to people who are building clouds because they implicitly express the underlying conceptual framework of the system, though, and the richness of the API semantics constrain what can be expressed and therefore, what can be controlled via the API; the constraints of the Amazon APIs forces everyone else to express richer concepts in some other way.
But the battle will increasingly not be fought at this very basic level of ‘how do I get raw resources’. I recognize that building a cloud infrastructure platform at scale and with a lot of flexibility is a very difficult problem (although a simple and rigid one is not an especially difficult problem, as you can see from the zillion CMPs out in the market). But it’s not where value is ultimately created for users.
Value for users is ultimately created at the layers above the core infrastructure. Everyone has to get core infrastructure right, but the real question is: How quickly can you build value-added services, and how well does the adaptibility of your core infrastructure allow you to serve a broad range of use cases (or serve a narrow range of use cases in a fashion superior to everyone else) and to deliver new capabilities to your users?
There are two primary ecosystems developing in the world: VMware and Amazon. Other possibilities, like Microsoft and OpenStack, are completely secondary to those two. You can think of VMware as “cloud-out” and Amazon as “cloud-in” approaches.
In the VMware world, you move your data center (with its legacy applications) into the modern era with virtualization, and then you build a private cloud on top of that virtualized infrastructure; to get additional capacity, business agility, and so forth, you add external cloud IaaS, and hopefully do so with a VMware-virtualized provider (and, they hope, specifically a vCloud provider who has adopted the stack all the way up to vCloud Director).
In the Amazon world, you build and launch new applications directly onto cloud IaaS. Then, as you get to scale and a significant amount of steady-state capacity, you pull workloads back into your own data center, where you have Amazon-API-compatible infrastructure. Because you have a common API and set of tools across both, where to place your workloads is largely a matter of economics (assuming that you’re not using AWS capabilities beyond EC2, S3, and EBS). You can develop and test internally or externally, though if you intend to run production on AWS, you have to take its availability and performance characteristics into account when you do your application architecture. You might also adopt this strategy for disaster recovery.
While CloudStack has been an important CMP option for service providers — notably competing against the vCloud stack, OnApp, Hexagrid, and OpenStack — in the end, these providers are almost a decoration to the Amazon ecosystem. They’re mostly successful competing in places that Amazon doesn’t play — in countries where Amazon doesn’t have a data center, in the managed services / hosting space, in the hypervisor-neutral space (Amazon-style clouds built on top of VMware’s hypervisor, more specifically), and in a higher-performance, higher-availability market.
Where CloudStack has been more interesting is in its use to be a “cloud-in” platform for organizations who are using AWS in a significant fashion, and who want their own private cloud that’s compatible with it. Eucalyptus fills this niche as well, although Eucalyptus customers tend to be smaller and Eucalyptus tends to compete in the general private-cloud-builder CMP space targeted at enterprises — against the vCloud stack, Abiquo, HP CloudSystem, BMC Cloud Lifecycle Manager, CA’s 3Tera AppLogic, and so on. CloudStack tends to be used by bigger organizations; while it’s in the general CMP competitive space, enterprises that evaluate it are more likely to be also evaluating, say, Nimbula and OpenStack.
CloudStack has firmly aligned itself with the Amazon ecosystem. But OpenStack is an interesting case of an organization caught in the middle. Its service provider supporters are fundamentally interested in competing against AWS (far more so than with the VMware-based cloud providers, at least in terms of whatever service they’re building on top of OpenStack). Many of its vendor contributors are afraid of a VMware-centric world (especially as VMware moves from virtualizing compute to also virtualizing storage and networks), but just as importantly they’re afraid of a world in which AWS becomes the primary way that businesses buy infrastructure. It is to their advantage to have at least one additional successful widely-adopted CMP in the market, and at least one service provider successfully competing strongly against AWS. Yet AWS has established itself as a de facto standard for cloud APIs and for the way that a service “should” be designed. (This is why OpenStack has an aptly named “Nova Feature Parity Team” playing catch-up to AWS, after all, and why debates about the API continue in the OpenStack community.)
But make no mistake about it. This is not about scrappy free open-source upstarts trying to upset an established vendor ecosystem. This is a war between vendors. As Simon Wardley put it, beware of geeks bearing gifts. CloudStack is Citrix’s effort to take on VMware and enlist the rest of the vendor community in doing so. OpenStack is an effort on the part of multiple vendors — notably Rackspace and HP — to pool their engineering efforts in order to take on Amazon. There’s no altruism here, and it’s not coincidental that the committers to the projects have an explicit and direct commercial interest — they are people working full-time for vendors, contributing as employees of those vendors, and by and large not individuals contributing for fun.
So it really comes down to this: Who can innovate more quickly, and choose the right ways to innovate that will drive customer adoption?
Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.