01 March 2010

The Lessons of Wi-Fi #9: Use Analysts & Audited Financials To Validate Vendor Claims

A loud-talking ranchman applies to a banker for a loan. The banker asks a neighbor if the rancher is a good credit risk. The neighbor ponders for a moment and then replies “Big hat, no cattle.” False bravado is funny when it’s the stuff of fiction, less so in real life – especially for customers snagged by rhetorical barbs.

And yet it happens again and again. Each year the networking world is introduced to “big hat” products with features and specifications so too-good-to-be-true that we let ourselves be reeled in. Why we don’t see through the shiny veneer and ask for proof of pedigree is a wonder. But it happens all the same.

The Lessons of Wi-Fi #9: use analysts and audited financials to validate vendor claims. Neutral independent industry analysts like Burton Group,
Canalys, Gartner, IDC, Infonetics, InfoTech, and Yankee Group can quickly assess vendors' technical claims.

And don't forget to check financials - audited financials - because you want your vendor to be in business should you need assistance or spare parts. If a vendor won't give up the numbers - or the numbers are substandard - then you have grounds for real concern.

A quick example will put the discussion in context. In 2008 a “big hat” four-radio 802.11n access point was announced that claimed to deliver 1.2 gigabits-per-second of aggregate capacity. The data sheet claimed that the four radios worked in tandem, enabling users to dramatically reduce the number of access points and additional security sensors, thereby reaping savings on cabling, connection and installation costs.

Still, the press ate it up. A flurry of articles expounded the virtues of delivering multiple HD streams to an entire building, with perfect coverage, at almost no cost. The world would soon be saturated with multi-adio APs, the unwashed masses blanketed with 802.11n. Wow, where do I sign up?

Fast forward to late 2009. The “big hat” super duper access point was no more. It simply vanished from the vendor’s Web site, its demise a secret. Was it ever built? No. But the company received undeserved publicity and that reeled in some unsuspecting customers

To paraphrase Orson Wells, companies should herd no cattle before their time. Industry analysts can help you separate claims from reality. If an analyst says that a vendor can't excute well, refuses to divulge shipment numbers, and/or lacks technical vision - well, your due diligence is over.

The next time you see or hear about a product that appears to be too good to be true,
separate the hats from the herds - kick the tires, test the features, validate the design. Those impressive features might be chimeras or, as with Aruba's AP-105 802.11 Access Point, the genuine article.