It’s no secret that when clients talk to Gartner, they often ask about the differences between vendors’ solutions. In addition to end-user clients, we speak regularly to vendors and I talk to roughly 25-30 on a semi-regular basis (in the Networking, ADC, WOC, DDI space). Thus, one of the things that analysts often ask vendors is “What is the differentiation“? This comes up so often, I’ve considered printing a “Where’s the Diff” T-shirt, modeled after Wendys’ “Where’s the Beef” marketing campaign in the mid-80s… Vendor responses to this question vary widely, ranging from
a) The technical: “our processing algorithm is 63% faster because of our proprietary XYZ technology” to
b) The very simple: “we’re the only vendor that provides this“; which often is only partially true, to
c) The very un-differentiated: “we have an OpenStack plugin“.
However, perhaps the most common response from vendors is “our architecture“, which is (in my opinion) the worst answer. While many (well at least some) of the vendors truly do believe their architecture is the best, does it really matter to buying customers? No, because in most cases, 90% of clients don’t believe and/or care about vendor’s differentiated architecture. Why Not? Because all vendors claim to have the best architecture – they hardly ever say “XYZ vendor’s architecture is better but we compete on price“. In addition, most buyers are pre-occupied with running their businesses and networks versus debating vendor architectures. Since all vendors tell customers their “architecture” is differentiated, it just noise at this point (along with saying “we are Simple, Agile, Cloud-ready and Software-Defined”).
Instead of architecture, vendors’ focus should be on what value enterprises derive from the architecture. This includes meeting tactical and strategic requirements and use-cases. For vendors, if your “architecture” helps customers do things better/simpler/faster/cheaper or more scalable versus your competition, this is great…but start with that message. Then, throw-in a real-world example, or two, or ten. After that, you can explain the how – which is via your (differentiated) architecture. But please don’t start with architecture, or in another words – differentiate your differentiation message. And for a deeper dive into dissecting differentiation between vendor solutions, you can check out this published Gartner research: Four Key Questions to Ask Your Data Center Networking Vendor.