Arm Wrestling

Competition Fuels Innovation, Better Customer Choice and Value

Arm WrestlingA total of 13 vendors made it into the 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant for WAN Optimization, with Riverbed Technology racking up its seventh consecutive year in the leader’s quadrant, and Cisco once again ranked as the only challenger. However, this year marks a major change in the market: Silver Peak vaulted from the crowded ranks of Visionaries to finally offer customers a real choice in what has been up to now largely a one-horse race. This should result in a WANOp market that is more competitive and innovative, which should be good for everybody (even Riverbed).

I’ve seen a lot of vendors come and go over the last four decades, and while the regulators and litigators have had their days in courts — e.g. IBM’s 1956 Consent Decree which lasted 40 years, and a multitude of Microsoft antitrust suits — customers still tend to be the ultimate arbiters of success and failure. Deliver what customers want, when they want it, at a price and format they want, and you’ll succeed more often than not.

Better technology can still be disruptive, stated Forrester Research Analyst Richard Fichera in a recent blog about servers. “The perception that a technology segment is even remotely stable can be dangerous to incumbents — in retrospect, going into the new 21st century a certain collective complacency among the market leaders about the implied oligopoly of suppliers and the neatly assigned silos of storage, networking and servers.”

Disruption may be putting it too mildly. According to recent data from Gartner, 70% of CIOs will change their technology and sourcing relationships in the next two to three years. Although primarily talking about IT services, the research giant noted that technology and service providers need to determine and demonstrate how their offerings can underpin, support, enable and accelerate the digital business revolution to remain relevant to their customers.

“Digital business is an unstoppable and irresistible catalyst for change — change that will affect the fundamental foundations and baseline assumptions of every business,” said Eric Rocco, managing vice president at Gartner. “Buyers want speed and agility.”

Blogging about the GMQ, Silver Peak CEO and founder David Hughes said the latest reports confirm the company, propelled by a software strategy that gives customers more flexibility, better pricing and increased simplicity for optimizing their networks, is the fastest growing WAN optimization company, outpacing the likes of Riverbed, Cisco and others. “Our software strategy is paying off and putting Silver Peak in the driver’s seat for reshaping how customers think about the wide area network and how to optimize their enterprise connectivity.”

Riverbed was no less bullish about its showing, noted Paul O’Farrell, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Steelhead Business Unit. “Steelhead launched the WAN Optimization market 10 years ago and has set the standard for the industry continuously for a decade with over 50% market share and unmatched performance and true ease-of-use.”

Trying to be all things to all people, i.e. the not-invented-here syndrome, almost never works, especially when markets are growing and changing rapidly. As identified by Gartner, the WANOp vendors bring different strengths to the market, focusing on areas where they believe they can excel, and avoiding — or at least expending fewer resources — on those areas where they don’t.

While the traditional deployment model has involved internally-installed appliances managed by the enterprise IT staff, Gartner is seeing increasing interest from enterprises in bundling WAN optimization with their WAN services, as well as network service providers expanding these solutions to include router-based WAN optimization and WAN-embedded WAN optimization.

The bottom line is that new and emerging demands require new solutions and if the existing vendors don’t meet those demands, new ones will.