In the previous article, we discussed how to determine if you’re really at the research and demo stage. If you have determined that yes, you do have pain points that DCIM can solve, and you do have buy-in from your organization, the next step is to narrow down a DCIM vendor from all the options out there.
Who’s Out There? The Basic Research Stage
A basic search of available tools out there will give you a bird’s eye view of the vendor landscape. Read blogs, run searches on forums, LinkedIn and Google. Make your search thorough: don’t make the mistake of basing your research solely upon a laundry list of vendors that some analyst firm provides. Some folks claim the whole analyst spiel is a bit of a “pay-to-play” scheme: while we will withhold our opinion on that one, needless to say, just a fraction of the vendors that exist are actually reviewed by analyst firms, let alone tested. The ones showcased are not necessarily the better ones.
A thorough search may yield over 100 different self-proclaimed DCIM vendors that do fulfill one or more DCIM functions. From here, you should be able to narrow down your vendor list to a couple dozen – at most. Why? It will be pretty clear that if you need, for example, cable management, server temperature and power monitoring, VM discovery and customizable dashboards (to name four random features), most vendors will miss one or the other.
I have done research like this myself in previous roles: I remember researching software technologies, such as: performance management tools, root-cause analysis software and reporting engines.
What worked for me? A simple spreadsheet. For example: create a column for each important feature and characteristic you need (see pt. 1 and pt. 2 of this blog series) and create a row for each vendor. Paint a cell for each vendor that, at least on the surface, fulfills a feature. As you haven’t seen any demos yet or test driven any software, go ahead and make some assumptions – err on the generous side. You will cross check the features with your narrowed down list later on.
Unfortunately, there isn’t such a table publicly available (I wish some of the research firms would provide something thorough like that instead of watered down partial analysis), but as an example, here’s how our other product, netTerrain Logical (our Network documentation tool) stacks up against some of the competitors (according to a wikipedia entry for Network diagramming tools).
Analyzing the ‘Vendor Credentials Show’
So, what about the vendor credentials? Every vendor will naturally play to their own advantage here. Let’s be honest: the big ones will beat their chest with their sheer size while the small ones are going to claim they are more customer focused or agile or something along those lines. The old vendors will tell you that experience is the main thing; the new ones will tell you that their technology was created from the ground up and is not some hodgepodge of acquisitions and odd tools. They may all have a point and it may be valid in certain contexts: I have been on both sides of that conversation and I have heard it all.
We are a rather small company, but definitely not the smallest player. We are not old, but we were founded before DCIM really became a household acronym and before that our founding team worked for decades in the inventory and IT visualization space, so we are definitely not new either. We have no beef or affiliation in this exercise in futility. Because, let’s be frank, that’s just what it is. It’s funny to read some of the presentations from fellow competitors. “We are a fortune 500 software company with 20,000 employees and 700 gazillion dollars in revenues per minute”. Who cares? If the DCIM tool is vaporware and the support is bad those numbers mean exactly zilch to the customer.
What does matter is if the software actually delivers upon the promised functionalities, support, upgrades, and ROI. A vendor may have unhappy customers or customers not using the tool, especially once they pass a certain customer mark (say 100 customers), but if a DCIM vendor has their act together, most of their customers should be happy using the DCIM tool. In a recent survey we did for our DCIM product, 95% of respondents said they would recommend netTerrain to others. I guess that’s a good number. Ask the vendors on your list if they have conducted similar surveys. Also, be sure to check their website to get a feel for the customers they currently have. For example, here is a partial list of our clients for your enjoyment.
Another consideration is the software’s longevity: is the vendor going to be around for the foreseeable future? You may want to go with a very large software vendor because, just like certain banks “they are too big to fail”, right?
Wrong! I have witnessed several dramas involving large software makers killing a product (sometimes for borderline arbitrary reasons). Not only that, large companies tend to jump on the bandwagon of a certain hyped up acronym rather late in the game by simply acquiring another smaller player. So they bought their way to the market by patching up a number of point solutions. We know how many of those solutions turn out to be. Unfortunately, you may only find out when it’s too late…
So you should go with the small software vendor, right?
Not so fast. Growing markets like DCIM tend to overshoot in terms of vendor count, and the failure (via bankruptcy, less-than-honorable acquisition, etc.) of many small vendors is inevitable. It is already happening in DCIM and will continue to happen as the market matures. Simply put, DCIM seems overcrowded.
If you ask me, I would avoid startups. At least in the Silicon Valley sense of “we-get-plenty-clicks-we’ll-deal-with-those-pesky-profits-later-once-we-burn-the-series-B-round-of-funding”, if you know what I mean. VC backed companies? That’s not a plus in my book. I understand many a reader would be irked, but I’d rather go with a bootstrapped company every single time. When the founders put their own money where their mouths are, to me that speaks volumes. A VC company MAY be the real deal, but a bootstrapped, profitable company that has been around for a while, most certainly is. Building a sustainable business organically takes time, patience and doesn’t happen without going through the motions. In general (at least that’s our experience) it also means that the very founding team had to, at some point, perform every single duty there is without any shortcuts or gimmicks.
It’s like good food: it takes time and patience to marinate it properly.
Small companies may not provide you with actual hard numbers, like revenue or profit figures, but they should be able to tell you (and even prove after signing an NDA or something along those lines) that they run a tight ship.
So, in sum, the correlation between a software maker being large and the stability of the software is virtually zero but going with a startup or a small company that doesn’t have sound financials is probably not good either.
See all the logos in our client list? Be careful with those logos! Even our own list is not 100% representative of our DCIM install base. 4 of our 5 top customers are not there, but then: about 30% of those logos are exclusively using our other product, netTerrain Logical (about 50% use both). With a decent list like that, you should infer “ok, these guys are for real” and move on. Now if the list is too small or the vendor is too big, proceed with caution.
For large software companies, their DCIM offering may be one of 1000 products they sell, so a broad list of logos without context may not mean anything in terms of DCIM. The logo-dropping exercise may also be unfair towards new companies or very small ones. Not having too many customers doesn’t mean the tool is bad. But, I do believe it could mean the software and/or process is immature.
I remember our first customer. They still are a customer (and a very happy one, managing about 3000 racks with netTerrain). They recently renewed maintenance for about the eighth time. I will always be thankful to them: they took a huge leap of faith. Our product back then was nowhere near to what it is now. We may have been lucky as back then there were only a handful of DCIM products and DCIM as a market was basically not defined. Take into account that software is only one part of the equation. There’s the installation, the deployment, customization process, maintenance process, patching, support, training, user guides, API and so on. All aspects that are important and may not be visible during the software test phase. So, if you are ok trying out a new product ask yourself: do you really want to be the guinea pig?
In the next (and final) article, we’ll discuss how you can get the most out of demos — and how to ensure you choose a DCIM solution that will deliver on its promises.