Over the past year, I have seen some interesting presentations from vendors showing me some things that they have on their future roadmap. Some of these things have already been released to the public. I’m still waiting on the rest. All of this was a result of having non-disclosure agreements or NDA’s in place. The vendors agree to show us some of their stuff that is coming to market soon on the assumption that we will not release this information to anyone else. While I do enjoy knowing about things before they hit the market, I sometimes feel bad for companies that don’t have access to this information. Not only that, I often wish I had access to all vendor product roadmaps. Let’s face it. From the network hardware/software standpoint, we generally do business with only a handful of vendors. I say that as someone who works in a corporate environment. If you are a consultant, that doesn’t necessarily hold true as you may sell a wide variety of hardware and software.
If your dealings with companies are limited to a select few, those companies have a vested interest in making sure you stay with them. One of the ways to do that is to give you a better view into their product cycle so that you know what is coming. Look at the switch market for example. The number of vendors offering products in that space is growing and growing. I recently spent a LOT of time comparing 10Gig aggregation switches between 6 vendors. What if the vendor I use today had a platform that was average or below average in terms of 10Gig capabilities? If I had a hard requirement for a certain number of 10Gig ports and it had to be contained to 1 chassis, my choices are really going to be driven by 10Gig port density. It could be some other factor like power consumption or even chassis size. It doesn’t really matter. As long as my usual switch vendor cannot meet that requirement, I am going to go outside and look for another vendor. If I am dead set on staying with that vendor, I am going to change my requirements, To me this does not seem like a viable option unless it would cause unbelievable pain and suffering to introduce another vendor into the network. If that is the case, you probably need to re-think the whole single vendor strategy. Then again, if that single vendor works for you, then go for it. It’s your network and we each have to make the decisions that serve our company and customers best.
Back to the fictional switch problem. What if I am the incumbent vendor and I know you have a need that I cannot fill today, but will be able to fill that need in a couple of months, or even a year from now? Should I tell you even if nobody else knows about it? This is where the NDA comes into play. If you have done a bunch of research and are looking at alternatives to the incumbent, your mind might be changed if you happen to know something better is coming. Maybe it is far better than every other vendor’s current products you have been looking at. Maybe it is on par with the replacement vendor you have been looking at. Can you wait that long?
After seeing the new shiny thing that is coming out soon, you may decide to stick with your existing vendor. However, who is to say that the other vendors won’t be coming out with even better hardware/software around the same time or a month or two after? This is the point in which I find myself wishing I had access to all the vendor’s product road maps. I know some vendors will do an NDA on the notion that it will get them a sale, but I don’t know that I am going to be able to spend a bunch of time with every vendor to the point in which an NDA can be put in place. Perhaps it is best to bring in the consultants/integrators that sell products from a number of different companies. I would suspect they have some sort of idea when it comes to the future direction of certain product lines. Or maybe not. They might be in the same boat as I am.
The last thing you want to do is buy a product and have an even better solution appear a week later. I do think that most vendors will let you know that a better product is coming rather than lose the sale as long as the dollar amount is high enough. I don’t think company X is going to reveal a whole lot about their future road map if the net gain is a couple thousand dollars. Then again, if the salesperson has had a REALLY bad quarter all bets are off, but at that point you can smell the desperation in their sales pitch and I tend to be put off by that. That leads me to the thought that you really have to consider a wide range of factors when dealing with vendors. To me, the product has to meet the technical requirements above all. After that, cost is important. Right along with cost is the experience the vendor will give you. What are the hardware/software support capabilities of that vendor? What is the direction of the company? How long has the company been in business? If it is a recent startup(ie less than 2 or 3 years), who are the people running the R&D for these products? Are they known in the sector they are doing business in? In other words, if they sell security solutions, are they using experienced security professionals to develop the products or is this strictly an “academic” operation in which someone had a decent idea and got some venture capital funding? Granted, you can’t always figure all of that stuff out, but if you can, it sure helps when the decision making time comes.
To sum it all up, I think the smart vendors are going to tell their customers what is coming and when they can expect to see it for sale. It helps people like me plan for things down the road. I’m more interested in a vendor that is constantly updating their technology as opposed to one who releases new products with lesser frequency than leap years occur. When it comes to NDA’s, I don’t think the size of the customer should matter either. Small companies can get big relatively quick in this age of acquisitions and mergers. IT professionals DO talk to each other and tend to trust each other’s opinions MORE than a vendor paid “performance test” by an “independent lab”. If you are a vendor and want to show me your road map, I promise not to tell anyone outside of my company. I don’t even want you to buy me lunch. I might just put pictures of your hardware up in my cubicle and drool over it all day until I my manager lets me buy it.