Thursday, September 17, 2015

Gartner: Trusted Vendor Consultant or Pure Research Firm?

If you’ve ever been in the market for a new solution for your datacenter, chances are high that you’ve attended at least one sales presentation from a vendor that touts their membership in the elite ”Gartner Magic Quadrant.“ In my experience, this is one of the first things mentioned or focused upon in the intro PowerPoint slide of any C-level presentation on why you should consider that vendor better than its competitors.

But what does it really mean? Are you supposed to be impressed, and immediately consider that vendor to be part of an exclusive club? Should you immediately introduce your Accounts Payable Team and declare, “Shut up and take my money!” and save yourself from the rest of the sales presentation? Let’s find out.

So who is Gartner?

Since 1979, Gartner, Inc. has been providing objective third-party market analysis for technology corporations, government agencies, and investment communities. They’ve grown to over 5,300 employees across 85 countries, and employ over 1,000 expert analysts whose “…rigorous research process and proven methodologies provide the foundation for unbiased, pragmatic, and actionable insight.”  

What the heck is the Magic Quadrant?

The Gartner Magic Quadrant (MQ) is the brand name for a series of market research reports that Gartner publishes every 1-2 years across several specific technology industries. According to Gartner, the Magic Quadrant aims to provide a qualitative analysis into a market and its direction, maturity and participants. They first rate vendors upon two main criteria, which are ”completeness of vision” and ”ability to execute.“ Then, they use an undisclosed proprietary methodology to create vendor scores across four quadrants which include Leaders, Challengers, Visionaries, and Niche Players. 

Sounds great! I’m a technology vendor. Count me in!

Well, it’s not that simple. First of all, vendors cannot choose to opt-in or opt-out. Gartner chooses you, and not the other way around.Vendors are included in the research only if they meet the market definition and inclusion criteria established by the Gartner Analyst. A vendor may choose not to participate in the process or respond to research requests for information, in which case, the analysts will gather as much current information as possible from publicly available sources and will indicate this in the disclaimer in the published document.  

Well, that sounds fishy.  

You’re not alone. Gartner has been criticized on the lack of disclosure of vendor's component scores and the lack of transparency in Gartner's methodology used to derive the vendor's position on the Magic Quadrant map.  However, to ensure consistency in their ratings and placements, a formal process is used. Research Proposals go through several internal review levels, and eventually a review from a senior research board. If you’re still not convinced, remember that that Gartner employs about 1,280 R&D Analysts that are probably much smarter than you.

Hey, I got an e-mail from a Gartner Analyst! I’m somebody! 

Maybe, but now you’re on the hook to provide them with information – and you had better be ready to provide lots of it. It is said that a typical "landscape report" can take up to 150 to 200 hours to produce for each vendor. Unless you have a dedicated Analyst Relations team, you’ll be working through some holidays.

Sweet! We’re mentioned in their report! But wait a minute… I vehemently disagree with where we are ranked.

Though Gartner assures us that their data collection and review process is the exact same for all vendors, contention does occur. The first point of escalation is the analyst who created the research being questioned. The second point of escalation is the analyst’s manager, whose role is to verify that all required methodologies and processes were followed by the analyst(s), and that all research positions have been appropriately supported. The third is the Office of the Ombudsman.


Sure, the Office of the Ombudsman. It’s a Department of State Governmental Agency whose principles pride themselves in Independence, Neutrality and Impartiality, Confidentiality, and Informality. Your tax dollars at work – the Department of State has employees that span 200 Countries, 178 Embassies, 86 Consulates, and 9 Missions.

Johnson, get that PowerPoint slide deck ready! Let’s go sell!  

Fine. Just be sure to include this disclaimer, which few vendors do:

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product, or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner's research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Got Cloud?

Clouds, those white billowy puffs of moisture, challenge our imaginations into by delivering perceived images to our brains. They have existed since the beginning of time, constantly moving and changing, and can appear differently to each individual person. Some people would look at this picture on the right and see a heart; however, I look at it and see a heart on fire with flames shooting out the back.
So, you can imagine how surprised I was when I started receiving calls from my customers asking if I had a cloud they could use.

While the concept of cloud computing as we know today dates back to the ‘90’s, the actual adoption of that concept into mainstream business practice has been a slow one. In recent years, however, the cloud has matured from that emerging technology into a proven delivery platform used widely throughout enterprises. Customers are clamoring to get their head in the cloud, as well as their applications, their data, and sometime, even their workforce!

Simply put, my favorite definition of the cloud is that it’s just someone else’s computer. But, here comes the tricky part- deciphering what being in the cloud means to each customer. Just like with the cloud image, we both see the same heart but have slightly different interpretations of it.

Virtualization technology is at the heart of the cloud,  giving customers the ability to use a shared proxy of compute resources that allows them to move away from solely footing the bill of expensive CAPEX investments to using more agile OPEX dollars and sharing the expense of owning hardware assets with other businesses. However, handing over control of any aspect of your business to another entity should not be taken lightly. After all, nobody cares about your business as much as you do. In order to successfully utilize cloud computing, companies need to have serious conversations between the management, finance, and IT teams to layout each crucial piece of the puzzle before shopping for a cloud provider, or even a business partner to assist them in utilizing this type of resource.

Security is the primary hurdle faced in cloud use, same as the privacy, compliance, and business SLA’s. Some considerations to discuss when implementing a cloud strategy are:

1. Rate the applications and functions of the business in terms of their cost, manpower to manage, critical uptime, and security or privacy risk. This will give you a clear picture of what could be put outside of your datacenter and into someone else’s hands.

2. Understand what internal products are in place or would need to be purchased in order for the business to do their part to secure sensitive data before sending it outside their doors. Organizations should not automatically assume that a cloud deployment will be any more or less secure than their own internal data center and need to proactively help to assist their provider in managing security.

3. Keep in mind that access to your applications and data is dependent on your internet connection.   Given the items you have identified as candidates to put with an MSP or cloud provider, how will your business function if the connection is unavailable for an hour? 12 hours? 24 hours? What is the loss to the business? Customers who implement cloud computing on a large scale should consider purchasing a backup internet circuit

4. Putting data into the cloud is relatively easy but what SLA’s need to be met if you need to bring your data back? And what will the cost to do that look like? This factor is especially important if you are using cloud resources in a disaster recovery plan versus just housing offsite copies of your backup for long term retention, which most likely won’t need to be accessed often, if ever.

Obviously, this list is not all encompassing. It’s meant to drive thought and conversation internally, and prepare you for questions that partners like Great Lakes Computer will need to know when working with you to develop the best possible use of cloud computing to fit your business.    

Thursday, September 3, 2015

“Nothing is trivial”: The Unsung Heroes of Nimble Storage OS 2.3.4

Here’s a bit of movie trivia, name the movie with this quote:  “Nothing is trivial”

Nimble Storage recently released their latest operating system, 2.3.4, to the masses and I have to say, I’m very happy with the subtleties they baked into their interface.  I’ve always been a fan of looking beyond the major features, past the ‘industry disruptive’ tech, and finding the little nuances that make your life easier without you even noticing.  I’d like to highlight a couple of these features that I’ve come to appreciate with the latest Nimble update.

First of the two features is a simple search box:

Some might not even notice, some may have noticed and just shrugged thinking, “I only have 10 Volumes, no need to search.”  Trust me on this; you will be doing yourself a disservice by overlooking this feature.  Type in a letter, just one character, and you’re immediately returned categorized results containing that character.  Volumes, Users, Initiator Groups, just about every object is searched and returned in the results immediately.  This may not seem valuable unless you have a large number of volumes in your Nimble Group. I tend to agree with you on this, but think for a moment about a recent VMware feature, Virtual Volumes.  Once implemented, this will create a Nimble Volume for each VM file associated with the virtual machine (vmdk, vmx, vswp, etc.).  This means you can say goodbye to your handful of Volumes and welcome a much longer list of Volumes in your Group.  The benefit of VVOLs is for another blog series, but it’s not going away.  Starting to see the value of this Search feature?

The second feature is more subtle.  It’s a Hotfix checker built into the Nimble Windows Toolkit.  This is compatible with Windows Server 2008R2 SP1 onwards and checks for recommended storage stack hotfixes prior to installing the NWT.  If you’ve installed previous versions of NWT, then you may be familiar with the recommended hotfixes - it’s a pretty extensive list.  In addition to the initial checker, a hotfix monitor service is setup that will continue to validate the presence of hotfixes on every reboot.  You can imagine this will be updated to check for new hotfixes as they’re needed.

Seeing these included with the latest release from Nimble brought that movie quote to mind.  Any guess on the movie?  Need a hint?  Here’s the full quote from the movie:

“It’s funny, little things used to mean so much to Shelly.  I used to think they were kind of trivial, believe me, nothing is trivial.”

Sometimes I think there’s so much noise and so many buzzwords created in our industry that the little things go unappreciated.  So, what are you favorite subtle features?  What ‘small’ feature would you like to take from one product and put into another to make it better?