Category Archives: Analyst Life

The Tip of the Spear

So I caught an interesting Horses for Sources blog post via Twitter — Phil Fersht of HfS called out a blog post of ISG’s Stanton Jones discussing the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Managed Hosting that I published earlier this year.

Stanton Jones’s argument seems to be that analysts sit in ivory towers, theorizing about suppliers, and making broad general statements about the market, whereas sourcing consultants actually get down and dirty with clients who are buying stuff. He says, “Analyst research is not at the tip of the spear, where buying and selling is actually occurring.”

However, that’s not actually true at the end-user-focused research firms like Gartner and Forrester. As an analyst at Gartner, I can do over a thousand one-on-one (or one-on-client-team) interactions in a single year. Each of those interactions represents a client who is considering what to buy (or build), and then going through the procurement cycle. They’re short-listing vendors, writing RFPs, wanting to discuss RFP responses, negotiating contracts and prices. It is absolutely the tip of the spear, and critically, over the long term, you also get feedback from the client as to the success of their initiative, so you’re hopefully not throwing out advice that turns out to fail in the real world.

So yes, something like a Magic Quadrant provides broad, generic advice (although I do try to orient my advice towards specific use cases). But that’s all that written research can get you. However, nearly every Gartner client buys access to inquiry, so that they can get those one-on-one, freewheeling entirely-custom interactions — so they can say, this is my exact situation, and get to Stanton Jones’s “I’m a multinational company who wants a company that can support a transformational infrastructure sourcing initiative” and ask which of these vendors I’d recommend.

By the way, if a client asked that question, I’d tell them, “You don’t want a managed hoster for this. Try discussing this with our strategic sourcing analysts, or with our data center outsourcing analysts.” (And it’s not improbable that this would be caught at the level of our client services organization, which would look at that question and say, gosh, this doesn’t sound like managed hosting, maybe you’d like these other pieces of more appropriate research and a discussion with these other analysts instead. For negotiating that kind of deal, by the way, Gartner has a consulting division that can do it; analysts don’t do the kind of work they, or a competitor like TPI, do.)

One more note: If I published in an MQ the feedback, good bad and ugly, that I’ve gotten from clients using service providers “on the ground”, I would never ever actually be able to get the research out, because it would undoubtedly be caught in a zillion Ombudsman escalations from the vendors. But if you talk to me on an inquiry, I might very well tell you, “In the last six months, every customer I have talked to of Vendor X has been unhappy, which represents a big swing in their historical quality of customer service,” or even “Customers who use Vendor X for Use Case A are happy, but those who have Use Case B think they lack sufficient expertise with the technology”. Client inquiry volume at a big research house like Gartner gets you enough anecdotal data points to show you trends. Clients want the ground truth; that’s part of what they’re paying an analyst firm for.

Wanted – Cloud IaaS Expert

Back in December, I blogged about five reasons you should work at Gartner with me, and I’ve pleased to announce that Doug Toombs (formerly of Tier 1 Research / 451 Group) has joined my team.

However, Ted Chamberlin, my long-time colleague, has decided he’d like a change of pace, and has just left us for the vendor universe, and so we’re now seeking to backfill someone into his job. You can find the formal job listing here: IaaS and Managed Hosting Analyst.

In plain language, this analyst is going to spend their time assisting our clients who are trying to adopt cloud IaaS and hosting (especially managed hosting) solutions. The ideal candidate is someone who has real-world expertise with building solutions using cloud IaaS (and preferably has tried multiple cloud IaaS offerings and can intelligently discuss the pros and cons of each), or has been involved in building a cloud IaaS offering for a service provider (and is knowledgeable about the competing offerings). They’re sharp technically but also understand the needs of the business — someone who is currently in an architect role, or is working for a cloud provider, is probably the most likely fit.

If this sounds like you, please get in touch with me — send a resume in email, or ask me privately for more information. (If you applied the last time around, please feel free to get in touch again; the requirements for this role are somewhat different.)

Five reasons you should work at Gartner with me

Gartner is hiring again! We’ve got a number of open positions, actually, and somewhat flexible about how we use the headcount; we’re looking for great people and the jobs can adapt to some extent based on what they know. This also means we’re flexible on seniority level — anywhere from about five years of experience to “I have been in the industry forever” is fine. We’re very flexible on background, too; as long as you have a solid grasp of technology, with an understanding of business, we don’t care if you’re currently an engineer, IT manager, product manager, marketing person, journalist, etc.

First and foremost, we’re looking for an analyst to cover the colocation market, and preferably also data center leasing. Someone who knows one or more other adjacent spaces as well would be great — peering, IP transit, hosting, cloud IaaS, content delivery networks, network services, etc.

We could also use an analyst who can cover some of the things that I cover — cloud IaaS, managed hosting, CDNs, and general Internet topics (managed DNS, domain registration, peering, and so on).

These positions will primarily serve North American clients, but we don’t care where you’re located as long as you can accomodate normal US time zones; these positions are work-from-home.

I love my job. You’ve got to have the right set of personality traits to enjoy it, but if the following five things sound awesome to you, you should come work at Gartner:

1. It is an unbeatably interesting job for people who thrive on input. You will spend your days talking to IT people from an incredibly diverse array of businesses around the globe, who all have different stories to tell about their environments and needs. Vendors will tell you about the cool stuff that they’re doing. You will be encouraged to inhale as much information as you can, reading and researching on your own. You will have one-on-one meetings with hundreds of clients each year (our busiest analysts do over 1,500 one-on-one interactions!), and get to meet countless more in informal interactions. Many of the people you talk to will make you smarter, and all of them will make you more knowledgeable.

2. You get to help people in bite-sized chunks. People will tell you their problems and you will try your best to help them in thirty minutes. After those thirty minutes, their problem is no longer yours; they’re the ones who are going to have to go back and fight through their politics and tangled snarl of systems to get things done. It’s hugely satisfying if you enjoy that kind of thing, especially since you do often get long-term feedback about how much you helped them. You’ll help IT buyer clients choose the right strategy, pick the right vendors, and save tons of money by smart contract negotiation. You’ll help vendors with their strategy, design better products, understand the competition, and serve their customers better. You’ll help investors understand markets and companies and trends, which translates directly into helping them make money. Hopefully, you’ll get to influence the market in a way that’s good for everyone.

3. You get to work with great colleagues. Analysts here are smart and self-motivated. There’s no real hierarchy; we work collaboratively and as equals, regardless of our titles, with ad-hoc leadership as needed. Also, analysts are articulate, witty, and opinionated, which always makes for fun interactions. Your colleagues will routinely provide you with new insights, challenge your thinking, and provide amazing amounts of expertise in all kinds of things. There’s almost always someone who is deeply expert in whatever you want to talk about. Analysts are Gartner’s real product; research and events are a result of the people. Our turnover is extremely low.

4. Your work is self-directed. Nobody tells you what to do here beyond some general priorities and goals; there’s very little management. You’re expected to figure out what you need to do with some guidance from your manager and input from your peers, manage your time accordingly, and go do it. You mostly get to figure out how to cover your market, and aim towards what clients are interested in. Your research agenda and coverage are flexible, and you can expand into whatever you can be expert in. You set your own working hours. Most people work from home.

5. We don’t do any pay-for-play. Integrity is a core value at Gartner, so you won’t be selling your soul. About 80% of our revenue comes from IT buyers, not vendors. Unlike most other analyst firms, we don’t do commissioned white papers, or anything else that could be perceived as an endorsement of a vendor; also, unlike some other analyst firms, analysts don’t have any sales responsibility for bringing in vendor sales or consulting engagements, or being quoted in press releases, etc. You will neither need to know nor care which vendors are clients or what they’re paying (any vendor can do briefings, though only clients get inquiry). Analysts must be unbiased, and management fiercely defends your right to write and say anything you want, as long as it’s backed up by solid evidence and is presented professionally, no matter how upset it makes a vendor. (Important downside: We don’t allow side work like participation in expert nets, and we don’t allow you or your immediate family to have any financial interest in the areas you cover, including employment or stock ownership in related companies. If your spouse works in tech, this can be a serious limiter.)

Poke me if you’re interested. I have a keen interest in seeing great people hired into these roles fast, since they’re going to be taking a big chunk of my current workload.

Do you really want to be in the cloud?

People often ask me what it’s like to be an analyst at Gartner, and for me, the answer is, “It’s a life of constant client conversations.” Over the course of a typical year, I’ll do something on the order of 1,200 formal one-on-one conversations (or one-on-small-team, if the client brings in some other colleagues), generally 30 minutes in length. That doesn’t count the large number of other casual interactions at conferences and whatnot.

While Gartner serves pretty much the entire technology industry, and consequently I talk to plenty of folks at little start-ups and whatnot, our bread-and-butter client — 80% of Gartner’s revenue — comes from “end-users”, which means IT management at mid-market businesses and enterprise.

Over the years, I have learned a lot of important things about dealing with clients. One of them is that they generally aren’t really interested in best practices. They find best practices fascinating, but they frequently can’t put them to use in their own organizations. They’re actually interested in good practices — things that several other organizations like them have done successfully and which are practically applicable to their own environment.

More broadly, there’s a reason that analysts are still in business — people need advice that’s tailored to their particular needs. You know the Tolstoy line “Happy families are all alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” that starts Anna Karenina? Well, every corporate IT department has its own unique pathology. There are the constraints of the business (real and imagined) and the corporate culture, the culture in IT specifically, the existing IT environment in all of its broken glory and layers of legacy, the available budget and resources and skills (modified by whether or not they are willing to hire consultants and other outside help), the people and personalities and pet peeves and personal ambitions, and even the way that they like to deal with analysts. (Right down to the fact that some clients have openly said that they don’t like a woman telling them what to do.)

To be a successful advisor, you have to recognize that most people can’t aim for the “ideal” solution. They have to find a solution that will work for their particular circumstances, with all of the limitations of it — some admittedly self-imposed, but nevertheless important. You can start by articulating an ideal, but it has to quickly come down to earth.

But cloud computing has turned out to be an extra-special set of landmines. When clients come to me wanting to do a “cloud computing” or “cloud infrastructure” project, especially if they don’t have a specific thing in mind, I’ve learned to ask, “Why are you doing this?” Is this client reluctant, pushed into doing this only because someone higher-up is demanding that they do ‘something in the cloud’? Is this client genuinely interested in seeing this project succeed, or would he rather it fail? Does he want to put real effort into it, or just a token? Is he trying to create a proof of concept that he can build upon, or is this a one-shot effort? Is he doing this for career reasons? Does he hope to get his name in the press or be the subject of a case study? What are the constraints of his industry, his business, his environment, and his organization?

My answer to, “What should I do?” varies based on these factors, and I explain my reasoning to the client. My job is not to give academic theoretical answers — my job is to offer advice that will work for this client in his current circumstances, even if I think it’s directionally wrong for the organization in the long term. (I try to shake clients out of their complacency, but in the end, I’m just trying to leave them with something to think about, so they understand the implications of their decisions, and how clinging to the way things are now will have business ramfiications over the long term.) However, not-infrequently, my job involves helping a deeply reluctant client think of some token project that he can put on cloud infrastructure so he can tell his CEO/CFO/CIO that he’s done it.

Cloud providers dealing with traditional corporate IT should keep in mind that not everyone who inquires about their service has a genuine desire for the project to be a success — and even those who are hoping for success don’t necessarily have pure motivations.

Gartner Symposium this week

I am at Gartner Symposium in Orlando this week, and would happy to meet and greet anyone who feels like doing so.

I am conducting a workshop on Thursday, at 11 am in Salon 7 in Yacht and Beach, called “Using Amazon Web Services“. (The workshop is full, but it’s always possible there may be no-shows if you’re trying to get in.) This workshop is targeted at attendees who are currently AWS customers, or who are currently evaluating AWS.

Gartner Invest clients, I’ll be at the Monday night event, and willing to chatter about anything (CDNs, especially Akamai, seem to be the hot topic, but I’m getting a fair chunk of questions about Rackspace and Equinix).

I hope to blog about some trends on my one-on-one interactions and other conversations at the conference, as we go through the week.

Cloud IaaS coverage at Gartner

I’ve got a pair of new European colleagues, and I thought I’d take a moment to introduce, on my blog, the folks who cover public cloud infrastructure as a service here at Gartner, and to answer a common question about the way we cover the space here.

There are three groups of analysts here at Gartner who cover cloud IaaS, who belong to three different teams. Those teams are our Infrastructure and Operations (I&O) team, which is part of the division that offers advice to technology buyers (what Gartner calls “end-user organizations”) in the traditional Gartner client base of IT managers; our High-Tech and Telecom Provider (“HTTP”) division, which offers advice to vendors and investors along with end-users, and also produces quantitative market data such as forecasts and market statistics; and our IT1 division (formerly our Burton Group acquisition), which offers advice to technology implementors, generally IT architects and senior engineers in end-user organizations.

We all collaborate with one another, but these distinctions matter for anyone buying research from us. If you’re just buying what Gartner calls Core Research, you’ll have access to what the I&O analysts publish, along with anything that HTTP analysts publish into Core. To get access to HTTP-specific content, though, you’ll need to buy an upgrade, usually in the form of a Gartner for Business Laeders (GBL) research seat. The IT1 resesarch is sold separately; anything that IT1 analysts write (that’s not co-authored with analysts in other groups) goes solely to IT1 subscribers. The I&O analysts and HTTP analysts are available via inquiry by anyone who buys Gartner research, but the IT1 analysts are only inquiry-accessible by those who buy IT1 research specifically. You can, however, brief any of us — client status doesn’t matter for briefings.

So, we’re:

  • Lydia Leong (HTTP, North America) – Cloud IaaS, Web hosting and colocation, content delivery networks, cloud computing and Internet infrastructure in general.
  • Ted Chamberlin (I&O, North America) – Web and app hosting, colocation, cloud IaaS, network services (voice, data, and Internet).
  • Drue Reeves (IT1, North America) – Data centers and cloud infrastructure, both internal and external.
  • Kyle Hilgendorf (IT1, North America) – Data centers and cloud infrastructure, both internal and external.
  • Tiny Haynes (I&O, Europe) – Web and app hosting, colocation, cloud IaaS, carrier services.
  • Gregor Petri (HTTP, Europe) – Cloud IaaS, Web hosting and colocation, carrier services.
  • Chee-Eng To (HTTP, Asia) – Carrier services in Asia, including cloud IaaS.
  • Vincent Fu (HTTP, China) – Carrier services in China, including cloud IaaS.

Tiny Haynes and Gregor Petri are brand-new to Gartner, and they’ll be deepening our coverage of Europe as well as contributing to global research.

How to get a meeting with me at VMworld

I will be at VMworld in Las Vegas this year. If you’re interested in meeting with me during VMworld, please do the following:

Gartner clients and current prospects: Please contact your Gartner account executive to have them set up a meeting (they can use a Gartner internal system called WhereRU to schedule it). I’ve set aside Thursday, September 1st, for client meetings. If you absolutely cannot do Thursday, please have your account executive contact me and we’ll see what else we can work out. (Because there are often more meeting requests than there are meeting times available, I will allow our sales team to prioritize my time.)

Non-clients: Please contact me directly via email, with a range of times that you’re available. In general, these will be meetings after 5 pm, although depending on my schedule, I may fit in meetings throughout the day on Wednesday, August 31st, as well.

I am particularly interested in start-ups that have innovative cloud IaaS offerings, or which have especially interesting enabilng technologies targeted at the service provider market.

The process of a Magic Quadrant

There’ve been a number of ongoing dialogues on Twitter, on Quora, and various people’s blogs about the Magic Quadrant. I thought, however, that it would be helpful to talk about the process of doing a Magic Quadrant, before I write another blog post that explains how we came to our current cloud-and-hosting MQ. We lay this process out formally in the initiation letters sent to vendors when we start MQ research, so I’m not giving away any secrets here, just exposing a process that’s probably not well known to people outside of analyst relations roles.

A Magic Quadrant starts its life with a market definition and inclusion criteria. It’s proposed to our group of chief analysts (each sector we cover, like Software, has a chief), who are in charge of determining what markets are MQ-worthy, whether or not the market is defined in a reasonable way, and so forth. In other words, analysts can’t decide to arbitrarily write an MQ, and there’s oversight and a planning process, and an editorial calendar that lays out MQ publication schedules for the entire year.

The next thing that you do is to decide your evaluation criteria, and the weights for these criteria — in other words, how you are going to quantitatively score the MQ. These go out to the vendors near the beginning of the MQ process (usually about 3 months before the target publication date), and are also usually published well in advance in a research note describing the criteria in detail. (We didn’t do a separate criteria note for this past MQ for the simple reason that we were much too busy to do the writing necessary.) Gartner’s policy is to make analysts decide these things in advance for fairness — deciding your criteria and their weighting in advance makes it clear to vendors (hopefully) that you didn’t jigger things around to favor anyone.

In general, when you’re doing an MQ in a market, you are expected to already know the vendors well. The research process is useful for gathering metrics, letting the vendors tell you about small things that they might not have thought to brief you on previously, and getting the summary briefing of what the vendor thought were important business changes in the last year. Vendors get an hour to tell you what they think you need to know. We contact three to five reference customers provided by the vendor, but we also rely heavily upon what we’ve heard from our own clients. There should generally not be any surprises involved for either the analysts or the vendors, assuming that the vendors have done a decent job of analyst relations.

Client status and whatnot doesn’t make any difference whatsoever on the MQ. (Gartner gets 80% of its revenue from IT buyers who rely on us to be neutral evaluators. Nothing a vendor could pay us would ever be worth risking that revenue stream.) However, it generally helps vendors if they’ve been more transparent with us, over the previous year. That doesn’t require a client relationship, although I suspect most vendors are more comfortable being transparent if they have an NDA in place with us and can discuss these things in inquiry, rather than in the non-NDA context of a briefing (though we always keep things confidential if asked to). Ongoing contact tends to mean that we’re more likely to understand not just what a vendor has done, but why they’ve done it. Transparency also helps us to understand the vendor’s apparent problems and bad decisions, and the ways they’re working to overcome them. It leads to an evaluation that takes into account not just what the vendor is visibly doing, but also the thought process behind it.

Once the vendors have gone through their song and dance, we enter our numeric scores for the defined criteria into a tool that then produces the Magic Quadrant graph. We cannot arbitrarily move vendors around; you can’t say, well, gosh, that vendor seems like they ought to be a Leader / Challenger / Visionary / Niche Player, let’s put them in that box, or X vendor is superior to Y vendor and they should come out higher. The only way to change where a vendor is placed is to change their score on the criterion. We do decide the boundaries of the MQ (the scale of the overall graph compared to the whitespace in the graph) and thus where the axes fall, but since a good MQ is basically a scatterplot, any movement of axis placement alters the quadrant placement of not just one vendor but a bunch.

Once the authoring analysts get done with that, and have done all the write-up text, it goes into a peer review process. It’s formally presented in a research meeting, any analyst can comment, and we get challenged to defend the results. Content gets clarified, and in some cases, text as well as ratings get altered as people point out things that we might not have considered.

Every vendor then gets a fact-check review; they get a copy of the MQ graphic, plus the text we’ve written about them. They’re entitled to a phone call. They beg and plead, the ones who are clients call their account executives and make promises or threats. Vendors are also entitled to escalate into our management chain, and to the Ombudsman. We never change anything unless the vendor can demonstrate something is erroneous or unclear.

MQs also get management and methodologies review — ensuring that the process has been followed, basically, and that we haven’t done anything that we could get sued for. Then, and only then, does it go to editing and publication. Theoretically the process takes four months. It consumes an incredible amount of time and effort.

(Please note that per Gartner’s social media policies for analysts, I am posting this strictly as an individual; I am not speaking on behalf of the company.)

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Gartner is hiring!

Gartner is hiring cloud experts! We’re going to be hiring two analysts who are based in Europe. They’ll cover cloud computing and networking — specifically, they’ll be European counterparts to myself and Ted Chamberlin. That means we’re looking for people who know cloud IaaS, hosting and colocation, and, if possible, have some background in networking as well.

These are Research Director roles, so we’re looking for people who are pretty senior — currently a director or VP, probably, or equivalent, and therefore likely 10+ years of experience (though people with really intensive start-up experience might work out, too, with less).

If you’re interested, drop me a message on LinkedIn.

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Inquiries, Cloud/Hosting MQ, and availability in LA/SF

Prospects or Gartner clients who want to meet with me: I will be in Los Angeles on November 18th, and in the San Francisco Bay Area on November 22nd and 23rd. If you want to meet while I’m there, contact your account executive. I’ll also be at Gartner’s Application Architecture, Development, and Integration Summit in Los Angeles from November 15th-17th, and Gartner’s Data Center Conference in Las Vegas from December 6th-9th. (I’m giving a number of presentations and roundtables.)

I recently got some statistics on my inquiry volume, and I was shocked — inquiry is up for me by 93% year-over-year. I thought I had physically run out of hours in the day, but I realized that I’ve also cut back on some my travel and gotten more aggressive about back-to-back timeslots (letting 14 calls be crammed into a day, if necessary). I already had one of the highest workloads in the company last year, so it probably explains why I am feeling somewhat… frazzled. This is mostly cloud-related inquiry, although CDN inquiry still occupies some significant percentage of my time.

The Cloud Infrastructure as a Service and Web Hosting Magic Quadrant is finally finished. Assuming that our peer review goes well, it should be out to vendors for review next week, and published in December.

Last year’s Magic Quadrant was more hosting than cloud. This year, it’s reversed — it’s definitely more cloud than hosting. There’s lots of movement, and there are five new vendors. I’m sure that it will probably be controversial again. The next step is to do our Critical Capabilities note, which is a direct comparison of just the cloud services in their immediate state, separate from questions about things like customer service, managed and professional services, future roadmap, and so forth — just raw “how do these guys stack up in what they offer”.

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