Looking back, I realized I hadn't done one of these "rant" posts in a while. I used to reserve Fridays for a get-it-off-my-chest post, usually focused on all of us hyper-competitive technology vendors.
Today's rant is squarely focused on really bad marketing choices made by otherwise good technology companies. Given my role and my background, I often worry that I'm over-sensitive to this sort of stuff.
See what you think.
Pay-For-Say Part One
The annoying industry practice of paying someone to write a piece of "independent analysis" ridiculously skewed in the vendor's favor is dying, but it's obviously not dead yet.
Not long ago, IBM created a classic piece helping to herald an upgrade to their erstwhile XIV array. Since getting to it requires a very annoying registration process (again, so charmingly old school!), I've take the liberty of posting it here.
Dissecting the logical flaws in the piece takes about 2 minutes, and doesn't require breaking a sweat.
It starts by erroneously implying that the new XIV and the EMC VMAX are functional equivalents (they're not), and then comparing TCO with an uneven mix of real-world and "estimated" costs.
Huh. Maybe I should sponsor an "independent comparison" between the Iomega ix12-300r and the XIV -- comparing TCO? Ridiculous, I know, but structurally the same as the argument presented in this white paper.
Fortunately, there's a detailed disclosure in the fine print at the very end of the document -- that's not my point.
The interesting stuff happens when you go looking for more background about the mysterious ITG -- the International Technology Group. Who might these people be?
A little Google-Fu showed about a half-dozen entities using the name "International Technology Group", and another 3 or so using "ITG". Trying to access their non-existent web site is useless.
A search on "IBM ITG Report" is more illuminating: their entire business seems to be cranking out "TCO studies" for various IBM products: DB2, the iSeries, the Blue Gene supercomputer and so on. It looks like a part-time one-man shop, always on-call for a little friendly "independent analysis" as needed.
I never did find out who's really behind this paper tiger. That's unusual, since just about every reputable anaylst firm goes out of their way to promote the people behind the product.
One thing that struck me as brilliant: the person who's doing this has recently moved their office from El Camino Real in Los Altos, CA to the more lifestyle-friendly locale of Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, about a half-mile from a great surfing spot. Smart person, indeed!
The frustrating part? The IBM products aren't bad -- but their approach to marketing sure is.
Pay-For-Say Part Two
A while ago, I started to hear multiple stories about an interesting tactic popping up on large and competitive storage deals -- a significant additional discount in exchange for being a "marketing partner" -- supporting testimonials, press releases, video interviews, etc.
The sums involved aren't trivial, especially at scale. I would suspect that these additional discounts are funded out of the vendor's central marketing budget. And I can understand how on offer like this might be attractive to an IT organization looking to stretch their investments.
While I personally find this sort of thing distasteful in general, that's more a question of style.
What I think is far more damaging is the complete lack of disclosure regarding the arrangement -- either on the part of the vendor, or on the part of the customer.
We're all familiar with paid endorser disclosures in other forms of advertising -- even bloggers and analysts have a responsibility to disclose who's paying for all the love. If you live in the US, the FTC takes a strong stance on this issue.
Even if we can't hold the responsible vendors accountable, I would implore customers taking advantage of these offers to please, please insist on full disclosure by your vendors.
You owe it to your IT compatriots out there.
Pay-For-Say Part Three
Before I get started on this one, let me be the first to say that -- as a vendor -- I have been as guilty of this as anyone. I have realized the error of my ways, and hope that others will as well.
As a vendor, your job is to build and sell widgets. It's not always obvious that people need your widget, so you craft a story around a made-up "problem" or "challenge" that justifies your existence, and -- hopefully -- your widget.
The bigger the crisis, the better -- right?
You enlist industry analysts, journalists and commentators to weigh in on your issue. Maybe there's not explicit exchange of funds, but these people are *always* looking for something interesting to write about -- even if it's not entirely accurate or justified .
In essence, you're paying these commentators, but in a currency of "things to talk about" which feeds their overall business model. In some cases, they're not shy about asking you to buy ad space, etc.
Look closely, and you'll see this sort of thing everywhere.
The unfortunate part of all this? There are more than enough *serious* problems and challenges in IT today without the need to invent any new ones to confuse people even more.
Next time you see one of those "challenges in IT" pieces, ask yourself -- is this a meaningful problem? Is it worth addressing?
Or is just more reflected and recycled vendor noise?
Vendors have money to spend get their messages out -- and EMC is no exception. That being said, it's nice to know who's footing the bill behind whatever you're hearing -- and that's where transparency goes a long way to making the world a better place.
I think we've collectively made progress in this direction over the last few years, but there's still much more to do. And none of us is perfect in this regard.
Have a great weekend, everyone ...