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Approach Virtualization Management Platform Selection With Careful Eye

With virtualization, vendors no longer push sales. Instead, they solve customer problems through services.

In a fairly recent blog, I was asked to clarify what I meant by a "careful eye" in the evaluation and selection of virtualization management platforms. (Thanks, Laurie Head, vice president, AIS Network Cloud Hosting.) A "careful eye" means buying software, not services; walking before running; documenting requirements; and taking advantage of how the software industry has changed for the better.

I'll begin with an obvious observation. The good old days of fat IT budgets with unlimited shelfware purchases are long gone. Most vendors have responded to this phenomenon in one of three ways:

  1. They focused on selling services to diversify revenue streams. These vendors simply focused on bundling services with software to counter the risk of the solution becoming shelfware. While vender revenue often improved, customer adoption frequently did not.
  2. They focused on delivering products. These are the vendors that actually get it. Customers like to buy products that solve problems and prefer to avoid buying products that require lengthy and costly service engagements. These vendors focus on solving the customers' problems and usually understand the importance of simplicity and value. In most cases, these are also the folks who have embraced customer-friendly sales and licensing models.
  3. They maintained the status quo. These vendors have stayed the course and are undoubtedly in denial or are in the process of closing their doors. Their early retirements should have been no surprise, as they have kept legacy business and pricing models and failed to deliver any quantifiable value to their customers.

Within the big world of cloud computing, there is no shortage of management solutions. What continues to amaze me is how few software vendors have appreciated the magnitude and scope of:

Tightened budgets

  • Reduced headcount or existing headcount managing more systems
  • Lack of appetite for shelfware
  • Changes driven by the try-before-you-buy culture in enterprise and SMB sales; and
  • The impact of non-committal subscription pricing models

With an ever-increasing need to solve an overabundance of real-world cloud challenges, it appears not all vendors are embracing how organizations are evaluating and selecting products. After all the procurement beatings and lost opportunities, you would think vendors would start focusing on simple, integrated products – ones that are easy to price and most importantly, to sell.

While I must admit virtualization and the cloud have contributed to data center complexity, it doesn't mean your management platform should be adding to it. As a vendor and former data center operations manager, I'd encourage everyone to evaluate solutions with the following in mind. Your careful eye may just save you some headaches, save your company a truckload of money, and in the process, might even get you that promotion you've been wanting.

KISS principle: Keep it simple, stupid. Keep a careful eye out for vendors that have embraced simplicity over complexity, delivering product over services and offering flexible licensing models.

Flexible and simple licensing models: Vendors should be willing to work with you on a pricing model that works for your organization, and I am delighted to see various licensing models that now include subscription (monthly, quarterly, yearly, including maintenance and support) with simple termination clauses. Keep a careful eye out for vendors that are looking to lock you into a perpetual license agreement with expensive support and maintenance agreements. These are also the vendors that typically reject any return policy.

Try before you buy: Not too long ago, this meant numerous harassing sales calls, usually a painful discovery call, four site visits by a sales engineer, an insane procurement process to prevent shelfware purchases, one procurement officer, two lawyers to decipher the agreements, and at least one accountant to understand payment terms and return on investment. Back then, this was easy because the procurement team and accountant didn't understand software, IT didn't understand finance, and the vendor furnished more return on investment (ROI) documents than software. Fortunately for consumers and unfortunately for vendors, those days are long gone. Try before you buy now means keeping a careful eye out for vendors that make their software readily available (free download, no qualification calls, and no assistance required to install and deploy software).

Cloudified: In the pursuit of higher valuations and riding the hype, keep a careful eye out for legacy solutions rebranded as next-generation cloud solutions.

Integrated management capabilities: While we live with the reality that most good software products are typically acquired by larger organizations, it shouldn't be at the expense of the end user. Be wary of cobbled together or acquired solutions that deliver a wide range of management capabilities on top of a wide range of products. A suite of products can be a viable option, but a suite shouldn't only mean that collateral and pricing have been suite-a-fied. Avoid products that are developed on different platforms (for example:- Java and .NET), as it is difficult to rationalize and consolidate these product lines.

Embedded best practices: Organizations should focus on adopting products that include a wide range of industry best practices (for example, processes, automation, security, and reporting). Why? Good vendors leverage their customer bases to build innovative solutions and in the process embed these best practices into their products. These should be out-of-the-box best practices that the average admin can execute. Focusing on the coolest and latest technology in the hands of the average admin will most likely result in another shelfware purchase. The goal of every virtualization or cloud management platform purchase should be ease of use. Focus on vendors that pride themselves on delivering content regularly (best practices, automated processes, and reports), but keep a very careful eye for ones that try to nickel and dime you for it.

Open and extensible: When purchasing a point solution or management platform, keep an eye on vendors that acknowledge they cannot be the best of breed for everything. These are the vendors that both honestly and truly understand the modern data center and have invested heavily into Web services to facilitate integration with other best-of-breed management solutions (for example, Web services integration with ServiceNow or BMC Remedy - IT Service Management).

Walk before you run: With all the advances that virtualization has brought to the data center, I often encourage organizations to walk before they run, and sometimes to crawl before they walk. It is easy to get pulled into the hype and the full potential of your virtual data center, but most people and organizational processes are not ready for high-speed change. Take a methodical approach to adopting a virtualization and cloud management platform – one that supports your immediate needs, while enabling you to grow into the more advanced features tomorrow. For example, what is the point of fully automating the delivery of IT service requests (VM requests) if an organization only provisions a handful of new VMs a year? Keep an eye out for evolutionary approaches and question revolutionary sales pitches.

Painful past experiences (shelfware projects), greedy vendors, and current constraints on IT budgets have fueled a much-needed change in how IT evaluates and selects products. Vendors that have evolved from pushing shelfware to solving customer problems, delivering products instead of services, and adjusting their licensing models should rejoice. They got it, just like their customers did.

About the Author

Jason Cowie is the vice president product management at Embotics.


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