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Early Stages of Product Decline

One of the worst things that can happen to anyone selecting equipment for a new network infrastructure is to receive the End-of-Life notice a week after the gear has been deployed in a production network… or maybe it’s even worse to be stuck with a neglected piece of technology full of bugs that the vendor never fixes because they’re chasing other shinier squirrels.

If you’re careful and watch what the vendors are doing, you might be able to save the day and identify the early phases of product decline. Here they are (as seen from the outside) in approximate order:

End of promotion opportunities. In most corporations aggressive hunters fare better than meticulous farmers, and product development is no different. As a friend of mine working for a large corporation once said “The culture here rewards launches instead of steady improvements. Like in academia, publishing a paper is valued more than running ISS”.

Once a new product loses its shiny luster and enters “now we have to make it work” phase, some people drift away looking for more lucrative opportunities. While this phase is really hard to spot from the outside, the next one isn’t…

End of product manager interest. Vendors love to promote new stuff like it’s the best thing since sliced bread. A few years later, that same thing barely gets a mention at a vendor technology conference - a clear sign that there’s no real marketing push behind it anyway. At this point, the next phases of decline are almost unavoidable.

End of developer interest. Imagine you’re fixing bugs on an old bit of spaghetti code while everyone else works on sexy new stuff. While the code you’re working on might be crucial to whatever your company is doing, nobody recognizes its importance anymore, because it’s always been there.

Some developers make it their mission in life to make a particular bit of code work flawlessly (and that’s why bugs in old stuff are still getting fixed), but most smart people quickly figure out it’s time to move somewhere else.

End of active marketing. At one point in time, Cisco was still selling dozens of data center switch models, but (as I remember it) only Nexus 3000 and Nexus 9000 series switches were mentioned on their web site - a clear message to anyone who was willing to get it.

Checked the same web page today, and it includes Nexus 7000 and MDS directors. Either I got it wrong back then, or someone got extremely unhappy…

When a vendor finally figures out it makes no sense to prolong the product agony, you’d get the above-mentioned End of Life Notification (with various end-of-something dates depending on the vendor support policies). By that time, the product is probably on life support, and is kept alive to avoid annoying the customer.

Want an example?

The last release of Cisco Nexus 1000V with at least a few new features was 5.2(1)SV3(2.1) from July 2016, the last “real” release was 5.2(1)SV3(1.1) (December 2015).

VMware officially announced discontinuation of third-party vSwitch program in March 2017, a week after I blogged about it.

End-of-life announcement for Cisco Nexus 1000V was issued on February 1st 2019. The poor product was in limbo for over three years.

AVS (virtual switch for ACI) is going down the same slope. While it has regular maintenance releases, the last release with more than a feature shipped in early 2017, and last years’ releases were mostly fixing bugs. Not surprisingly, there’s no end-of-sale in sight ;)

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2 comments:

  1. One thing that I've found can make reading the tea leaves a little easier is to frequently make your vendor reps give you roadmap updates - say, every year or so.

    I did this a few years back when we were planning out a refresh of our Juniper/Trapeze wireless network to the up and coming new 11ac standard. I had our reps give us a roadmap, and it didn't consist of much more than adding the new standard to the APs and adding one to all the version numbers. After a vendor comparison ended up going with Aruba instead. This proved to be the right decision a couple of weeks later, when Juniper announced they were canning that product line, stopping development on the new gear, and referring all wireless customers to Aruba.

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  2. Hi there,

    I would also add, as a further early stage hint that something might gonna go not as expected at some point, the sudden announcement from VendorX of a brand new backbone/SP router series that is not in continuity with the design (e.g. silicon, software and so forth) of the backbone/SP router series from the very same VendorX you happen to currently have in your network and with the main fear being that what you currently have in your backbone network is not gonna be further developed for the Backbone/SP space anymore but only for the Edge/SP space.

    Cheers
    Andrea

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