Is Network License Becoming Predatory? A Lot of Networkers Seem to Think So

I recently threw this poll out on Twitter for 24 hours. I purposefully avoided defining “predatory” to let those responding apply the concept as they saw fit. Sure, it’s only Twitter, and arguably an informal poll. Those responding are assumed to be networkers in my circle of reach.

poll

Two hundred and sixty-four people chose to reply, and of those, 93% think that at least certain vendors are becoming predatory in their licensing methods. 48% say that the networking industry in general is becoming predatory. Only 7%, or 18 out of 264 respondents, do not see networking licensing becoming predatory.

My Take

I cannot speak for anyone else, but can share my own opinion based on over 20 years in the networking industry- mostly on the customer side but with enough time spent as an analyst and provider to have perhaps a more well-rounded opinion on the topic. Let’s start with a dictionary definition that I have in mind: to be predatory is to seek to exploit or oppress others. And to me, I would vote YES on that Twitter poll.

I’m assuming many factors influence how people answer a question like this. Again, I can only speak for myself. Longevity in the field means more opportunities to have felt exploited- like way back when I attempted to buy my first thin-AP network management system. I ordered it based on a quote provided by the vendor’s sales person (around $20K for a site license), and waited. And waited. And then queried about when we should expect it. The answer? “Sorry, we’re discontinuing that, now you have pay per access point and you are bigtime into six figures (like really bigtime)”. The fact that I ordered well ahead of the switch to the new paradigm meant nothing to the vendor, nor did our long-running history together. Pay up and shut up. That would be the start of almost two decades of FEELING exploited by vendors on occasion. Locked in. They say it, we pay it. A long history of this stuff makes you more sensitive to just how bad it’s getting today.

(I get that younger customers, and the just out-of-college fresh-faced vendor product manager sitting in my conference room may be oblivious to my personal history of feeling screwed over. Yet that history is relevant.)

The bigger your environment and the longer you’ve been with a specific vendor, the tighter the “vendor lock” can be, BTW.

OK, so those of us who have been around longer have seen more of the evolution of licensing, with each incarnation bringing more advantage to the vendor while said vendor masterfully spins tales of how the new model somehow works in the customer’s favor. Sounds great, until it doesn’t 30 seconds into the conversation. I’ll skip over a lot of the individual milestones on my own timeline of licensing frustration, but will report that NOTHING happens in licensing that isn’t meant to separate the customer from more of their budget dollars while frequently getting mostly buzzwords, promises of a better way, and hype in return.

If I was a marketer, I’d want to be in networking because the whole truth is generally optional, and you have broad freedom to weave ambitious tales hoping that customers bite…

 

You NEED this new dashboard- look at all the problems it helps you solve!
I don’t have those problems.
You MUST have those problems- because we have a new dashboard that solves them!

 
And so it goes. Except now marketing and licensing have fused into this convoluted, strange mess that seems to be the new industry reality.  93% percent of my poll respondents have issues with this reality. A few examples that to me are quite predatory:

  • The wireless survey tool maker who significantly raised their support cost because “we have a bunch of innovation coming”, only to raise their costs even more “because we just did a bunch of innovating!” But I don’t use any of the “innovation”- why am I paying for it? Don’t be a poop- just pay up.
    • The wireless vendor selling wallplate APs with mandatory license requirements for an NMS we don’t use. Stop whining, after three years, we don’t REQUIRE that you renew the license you don’t need anyways. See how customer-friendly we are? You want that access point, you buy that MANDATORY license you neither want nor need!
    • The switch vendor who now licenses individual hardware components. Now we buy hardware, then we have to lease what we bought or it stops working.

Bundles of BS

At any point when you have to buy something you don’t need or want, you are not getting VALUE regardless of how it’s packaged. A very popular commonplace methodology is to take every blasted feature no matter how minor and give it a grand name, to take every interface, every card, every everything and artificially elevate it in importance to where it’s worthy of its own license. Sleazy, yes- so to take the dirty edge off, lots of these now-fantastic offerings are combined together and priced less as a bundle than their individual artificially-valued individual components would be. The end result is a feel-good marketing ploy that makes you buy things you don’t need as part of some fantastic bundle that even the vendor’s own SEs can’t make sense of. Predatory? You make the call.

Innovation Is Defined By the Customer- Not the Vendor

Simply put, innovation is just a new way of doing something. Not all new methods are good for or applicable to a given customer, so to tout innovation as a justification for price increases, money-sucking license subscriptions and other unsavory-to-the-customer methods is very much predatory (and frequently tone-deaf). WE tell the vendors if they have delivered useful innovation. Not vice versa.

innovation2

Simply churning out new buggy products isn’t useful innovation, no matter how flashy the marketing is or who you pick from Hollywood to do your commercials.

Is Silicon Valley Is Becoming Leisure Suit Larry, Inc.?

Who among us loves going to the car dealer? You never really get to know what the cost of the vehicle is, so you haggle and fight for “your best discount” off of some arbitrary, agreed upon fake number. That discount will be different for you than it is for me. You have to pick your way through marketing buzzwords, try to fillet off the “add-ons” and hold your nose when you realize that you are stuck also buying B and C that you don’t want just to get A. You may also have to demand not to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for “shipping” licenses that are nothing but a string of characters in email. It hasn’t always been this foul, but it does seem to be getting worse.
93% of people who took my poll agree, to some degree.

4 thoughts on “Is Network License Becoming Predatory? A Lot of Networkers Seem to Think So

  1. Henry Ch

    The behavior is driven by profitability. Software sales represent high-profit margins and the steep discounting on the hardware side leaves little margin for vendors. This reality is driving almost all vendors to focus on licensing. We used to describe Microsoft and Oracle of being predatory because of their licensing model, and unfortunately, the focus in licensing is also becoming a norm in the networking/hardware world with everyone trying to demonstrate that they’re a software company; hence, deserve the premium on that feature or bundle license that they charge you.

    Reply
    1. wirednot Post author

      Hi Henry, thanks for that comment. I don’t disagree, but where it becomes problematic for me is where vendors need 25 slides to explain how easy their licensing is, and claims of innovation simply mask gratuitous change and complexity. I’d be more OK with everyone being a software company if we weren’t being charged high prices for buggy, low quality code that a slick marketing vernier is supposed to make up for.

      Reply
  2. Henry Ch

    I definitely agree with your observations. I worked in the vendor world for a long time, and I actually experienced the process when my company went through the transition. It was a very disruptive transition not just for customers but also for the sales teams. In order to justify the “values”, the company was bundling all kinds of features, tools, bells, and whistles. Single year vs multi-year, bundle vs. ala carte. It was a painful process for both customers and salespeople. 5 years later, I think the process is must smoother now, but most people still don’t see the “values” that companies try to justify with the bundling and packaging.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Why I’m Going To Sell You a Wi-Fi 6E Access Point | I Don't Know Squat About Networking

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