We all know how IT marketing works – unless you exaggerate your claims at least as much as your competitors do (the activity politely called “Bulls**t bidding war” by Tom Nolle) you’re soon just a footnote in the IT history. However, you don’t have to use the same approach in technical conversations.
The meaning of present tense
When someone writes “a vendor HAS something”, they’re almost always right – I’m positive every vendor working in a particular area HAS a half-baked proof-of-concept of almost anything related to what they usually work on. When the remark implies that the “vendor is SHIPPING that same thing”, it’s a totally different story.
Speaking of “vendor is SHIPPING” or “vendor HAS ROLLED OUT” claims, I would expect that product to have:
- Product description and data sheet listing its major features;
- Product documentation (available as publicly as any other product documentation from the same vendor) describing installation, configuration, and maintenance of the product.
Finally, “vendor X has demonstrated feature Y in product Z” is usually true – after all, one cannot trick everyone attending a trade show with a works-great-in-PowerPoint feature. However, it’s a long step from “vendor X has Y” (which has been demonstrated) to “vendor X is shipping Y” (which might not happen for years, if at all).
The data sheet facts
Vendors would commonly claim “product X has Y” in their data sheet with no supporting evidence in their product documentation. While I understand that data sheets, product releases, and product documentation are never published at the same time, this one annoys me most – it forces me to dig through product documentation checking for existence of every new claimed feature in product configuration guides.
Last but not least, data sheets would claim that “product X supports Y in hardware” which in the days of merchant silicon usually means “our supplier claims their hardware supports Y.” Will the software part of the equation (the control plane protocols) ever materialize, even though the vendor writes about the technology like it’s ready to be used? Let’s wait and see, it took HP three years to ship TRILL.
Oh, and then there are the fun claims I totally love like “our hardware supports SPB, EVB and VEPA.” These technologies use existing data plane encapsulations (at least SPBV in the SPB case), so any hardware that has shipped in the last 10 years supports them.
Separating wheat from chaff
Once a year, I try to figure out how closely the reality matches vendor claims in a Data Center Fabrics Update webinar. I spent the last few weeks digging through the data sheets and product documentation of six major data center switching vendors (which explains my current grumpy attitude), found the expected gaps between promises and documented features, but also huge amount of progress. More about that in follow-up blog posts.
Please note that it’s impossible for me to stress-test every new feature in a production network. I can tell you what vendors claim is working, but not how well it actually works.
Product documentation is usually not as inflated as data sheets – after all, we all understand how marketing works, but most vendors don’t want to risk dealing with angry customers being misled by product documentation – but you will always find features that don’t work too well at scale. Your comments describing these deviations are thus always most welcome.