Busting through vendor FUD for more informed IT decisions

In the highly competitive and cutthroat IT industry, every vendor fights for your business -- sometimes using fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) to downplay competitors and bolster their own products. The virtualization

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market is no different.

Vendors may twist the facts or omit key details to look better than a competitor. In extreme cases, they deliberately spread misinformation. These dirty tactics are examples of FUD, and they're designed to sway your opinion.

With the possibility of FUD muddling your IT decisions, how do you obtain the correct information to make informed purchases? If you thoroughly research products and ask the right questions, you can combat vendor FUD in all its forms.

How to recognize FUD
Vendors spread FUD in many different ways, including ads, articles, blog posts and social media outlets such as Twitter. FUD battles begin when one vendor fires a competitive dig at an opponent, and it results in a return volley.

In many cases, FUD attacks are acts of desperation from a vendor that will do anything to get your business -- or at least your attention. By casting FUD, the perpetrators hope to influence your decision-making process in their favor. Sometimes FUD is subtle and hard to detect, while other times it's blatantly obvious. These tips will help you navigate FUD-dy waters.

Challenge vendors' claims
Some companies make bold statements and provide outrageous statistics. But you shouldn't take them at face value. If a vendor shows you questionable performance numbers, ask in detail how they were obtained. Generally, the numbers from tests in controlled environments differ from real-world statistics, and there are many variables that influence test results.

Do your homework on a vendor
Read through the vendor's website to gather as much information as possible, but don't stop there. If you do some digging, there are usually outside sources of information available.

Google is always a good start, but it's often unorganized and can be overwhelming. Vendors' support forums, where customers sound off about their experiences and issues, are another good source of information. You should also look at competitors' websites, but take that data with a grain of salt.

The best sources are independent people in the industry that have written blog posts and articles about the specific products and technologies. Typically, they offer the fairest opinions.

The information that you gather during the homework phase ensures that you can ask all the right questions and properly interpret the responses during the next phase.

Check customer references
Most vendors provide customer references, but they are usually handpicked (the best customers or the ones that had the best experiences). While it's worth checking them out, ask around to get a wider variety of opinions.

Take advantage of social media, industry contacts, LinkedIn, product-review sites, forums and other places where you might find users, or at least comments from users. This research ensures that you hear about both the good and bad experiences from existing customers. When looking at products on Amazon, for instance, I focus on the bad reviews, because I want to know what people don't like.

Run your own tests
Testing products in your own environment is probably the best way to determine how various vendors stack up.

Testing software is easy, but hardware can be tough, because many hardware vendors do not let you try their products before you buy them. That shouldn't stop you from asking, because some vendors will let you evaluate hardware -- especially if it can result in a large purchase. You wouldn't buy a car without taking it for a test drive, and the same should be true when buying products for your data center.

About the expert
Eric Siebert is a 25-year IT veteran with experience in programming, networking, telecom and systems administration. He is a guru-status moderator on the VMware community VMTN forums and maintains vSphere-land.com, a VMware information site.

This was first published in September 2010

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