Just last week I posted commentary on an analyst’s article on eWeek. Ironically, there is currently a hot discussion going on over at ByteandSwitch on another article from the same analyst. (I am purposely not linking to the article, if you want to read it visit B&S and look for Data De-Dupe Guide 2.) In this case, the discussion revolves around the analyst’s objectivity. The reality is that analysts are paid to write vendor centric papers all the time which is not problematic as long as articles are identified as such. The issue here is that the article on ByteandSwitch is vendor centric, and the author is positioning the content as vendor agnostic. The author further compounds the problem by incorrectly summarizing the available capabilities of shipping deduplication solutions. In his Mr. Backup blog, W. Curtis Preston writes about some of the errors.
The above situation brings up a bigger question. Analysts have two primary audiences, end users and vendors. Their challenge is to balance the needs of the constituencies. Vendors want the analyst to say favorable things about their product and its competitive positioning. When the product has clear benefits, the analyst’s job is easy. When the product is weak, the situation becomes much trickier. An end user wants an unbiased view of the market. In an ideal world, you would hope that the analyst would provide a truly unbiased opinion; however, if company A is paying an analyst $50,000 to do a whitepaper while company B is not, which company do you think would be in the forefront of the analyst’s mind? The answer is obvious, company A.
A good analyst should maintain their objectivity and keep enough distance from any given vendor to offer a broad perspective. I am not suggesting that all analysts are biased or that they do not provide value, but rather that there is a natural conflict. My experience with industry analysts at SEPATON has been positive and the resulting write ups have been fair and balanced. In the ByteandSwitch article, it appears that the analyst was unduly influenced by the vendors that are paying him which is very problematic.
In summary, you need to be aware of the conflicts that exist in the analyst community. As an end user, when engaging one of these firms to provide technical evaluation, you should ask which vendors are currently under contract. You should also ask for clarification on how they avoid conflicts. When reading articles on the Internet, you should always keep this conflict in mind. Most analysts do a reasonable job in maintaining an independent viewpoint; however, the conflict is always there and as we see in the ByteandSwitch article it can easily be abused.