Jan 9, 2017
In IT circles we have all heard the popular expression “you never get fired for buying X” where X is your established incumbent vendor. In some ways the phrase excuses the complacent decision maker who would rather make the safe choice of buying the market share leader or incumbent vendor rather than taking a risk and going through the work of evaluating a range of vendors and picking the vendor that best meets the requirements of the company.
I believe that statement largely holds true for mature markets. Want to buy some premises-based storage? Pick EMC. How about an Ethernet Switch? Go ahead, buy Cisco. Maybe the business needs some PCs. Dell would be a logical choice there. However, I feel this argument falls apart when markets are in transition, where the alternative vendors may be the best choice since the incumbents are trying too hard to hold on to the old world.
I’ve actually seen this play out in my career. When I started working in “Corporate America”, a rather large Wall Street firm employed me. The company’s primary compute platform was an IBM mainframe, so anyone who needed a computer had a “green screen” on their desk. I was part of a group hired to bring a graphical work environment to the employees. The team I was part of selected Windows on Compaq desktops. The IBM mainframe contingent wanted to stay with the incumbent and pushed hard for OS/2 on micro-channel computers. Sticking with the incumbent vendor in that situation would have cost the company millions as we would have found out in a short period of time that was the wrong decision and would have ultimately required replacing them with WinTel machines. For IT, sticking with the incumbent would most certainly have resulted in termination of the decision makers who favored the safe choice over the right choice.
Roll the clock forward to today and network managers have become complacent with their WAN infrastructure and service purchase decisions. Expensive MPLS services terminated into dedicated routers have been the de facto standard now for nearly two decades. The current market leader has been fine all these years so sticking with them must be the right thing to do, right? Even if one is considering an SD-WAN, going to the incumbent vendor is safe and won’t get decision makers fired, right? In the words of Donald Trump – “Wrong!”
Incumbent vendors often fear new technology, as it threatens to cannibalize their existing installed-base business. For example, why would a PBX vendor aggressively push customers to VoIP when it kills its traditional core business? This is why you rarely see incumbent vendors remain the mainstream choice on the other side of a market transition. The industry is littered with “safe” choices such as Lucent, 3Com, Nortel and Madge who didn’t see or want to admit that a market transition was underway, ultimately dragging their customers down with them.
The SD-WAN market is very broad and includes the market share leaders in MPLS services, WAN optimization, routing and other WAN related product categories. However, if one pulls back the covers one will quickly find that the solutions are either immature or simply a repackaging of older technologies disguised as an SD-WAN solution.
A good way to think of the difference in approaches between an incumbent and a challenger is that the technology leaders in SD-WAN, as opposed to the share leaders, are trying to transform the WAN and make it more agile by disrupting the status quo. The incumbent vendor’s first order of business is to maintain the status quo and then slowly migrate the customer to a next-generation network at a pace that won’t dramatically impact the vendor’s top line revenue.
If you’re person who is responsible for your organizations WAN, make the following New Years resolution:
“I resolve to not make the safe choice with respect to WAN technologies including MPLS services, WAN optimization, and routing, but will do the due diligence required to find the best technology”.
This will help the company evolve its network faster than its competitors and adapt to other market trends faster.
Happy New Year from ZK Research!