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Analyzing vendors and technologies is a difficult and rather tricky science. Of course, you have industry pundits, stock analysts, and others (like myself) making predictions all of the time, but how many of these predictions will be correct six months or one, two, three, even 5 years out? And no matter how much analysis and planning goes into a prediction, a bit of chaos theory will always come into play when you are dealing with people. Being in the right place at the right time is another important factor that's difficult to account for.
Still, the real issue comes down to the “haves” and the “have nots.” Of course, just because a company is, for now, one of the “haves,” an industry leader, and at the forefront of technology does not mean that it cannot become a “have not” extremely quickly. Sure you have WorldCom/Enron-like criminal behavior that can take a company down very quickly, but the same result can also happen purely from a technology fall from grace.
Often, though, as you have seen in the above example, the problem is quite different. A common case is the company forced to change from a technology leader blazing the path for others to what is now a reseller of commodity products. Some companies understand this evolution better than others and are able to seamlessly make the transition from leader to commodity reseller. This happens for a variety of reasons — sometimes it's due to marketing, sales, or engineering, or perhaps the ever-popular corporate leadership causes it. Whatever the cause, whatever the reason, the result is that vendors come and vendors go.
What can you do with all of this information? The good news is that for the most part you need not have to do anything. The market is self regulating, and you can often completely recapitalize equipment long before companies come and go. So for the most part, dying companies are not an issue, as hardware and software is generally recapitalized long before companies fail. The key term here, though, is generally, as this is not always the case. Here are a few examples of services that are difficult to transition:
- A multiple Petabyte HSM archive – This is really hard to just switch over every few years given the time for migration
- Tape backups that might need to be saved for years for legal reasons – Finding tape drives and backup software might be difficult if you are constantly switching
- Large proprietary databases – Moving data around databases is expensive and time consuming
All and all, much of this market churning happens over long enough periods of time that the writing can be seen on the wall. The key is to be aware that it happens and will continue to happen; it's all part of human nature.